Boots, breastplates, martingales, saddle pads, bits (ooh don’t go there!) how much of this is necessary and how much of it is surplus to requirements?
I’m a big fan of the ‘less is more’ approach, which doesn’t mean I won’t use some of the fantastic gear available to me but ultimately you’re looking to train your horse to not require ‘extras’ in order to do his job.
Let’s look at a couple of gear items and the questions you might ask yourself before you reach for it.
Travel boots: Now here’s something I used to put on every precious horse in my care prior to loading but over time I have noticed how HOT they can get over a couple of hours travelling plus how many of the horses LOATHE back boots and will kick and kick and kick until they are at least half off. Eventually I decided that if million dollar racehorses can travel without boots then so can my show jumpers and they have all travelled cool and unhurt since then. My truck set up probably helped that decision as I think if I floated I might be more inclined to use boots - backing off probably increases the risk of a scrape etc. Plus I’ve seen some pretty cool, lightweight protection boots available now so it’s not a no, it’s just my choice for my set up.
Tendon boots/exercise bandages: I used to pop tendon boots on everything for every ride, and then I read an article about the heating of tendons and now use them only when jump schooling or competing. Everybody is different with how they school and the kind of loading on tendons, and the kind of risk on the tendons and there’s not a right/wrong answer but I choose to try to keep the heating to a minimum unless I feel the tendon MUST be protected (like when jumping a decent track).
Breastplates and martingales: I always compete in a breastplate, it doubles as a great ‘oh shit’ strap when required and ensures my saddle doesn’t slip. I only use martingale rings on horses that throw their heads up, the kind of smack you in the face head throw that requires something to save your face! Ultimately, I then start training them NOT to do that so that one day I might remove the rings but my nose is bad enough without getting smashed so the rings stay until I feel safe.
Saddle pads: If your saddle fits perfectly then you don’t require anything extra. If you’re like me and trying to make one saddle fit 10 + horses then a pad might be your best friend. I really like the rubber non-slip style pads, I use them directly on the skin under the saddle blanket to remove pressure points and stop the saddle moving. If I put the saddle on and it doesn’t come even close to fitting I reach for my secret weapon, the Butet felt pad, bloody expensive but worth it’s weight in gold. Somehow a saddle that didn’t fit at all sits beautifully atop the pad like it was made for that horse. I don’t know how. It’s like a magic trick.
Bits: Let’s not go there. Suffice to say, less is more, training is paramount, and if your horse ain’t listening to you there are plenty of things to do before increasing bit power BUT some horses respond to tongue pressure or bar pressure or both etc so it’s best you find out what works for you and your horse.
I’ve used noise reducing ear covers, back boots, blinkers and a variety of different nose bands - it’s actually pretty cool that so much is available for us to use - the point of the blog is to make you question each piece of gear you use, and decide what is, and what is not, necessary to get the best out of your equine partner (and yourself - whips, spurs etc). It’s not about not using what’s available, it’s about using what you need at the time and perhaps focusing on training until it’s no longer needed.
Happy training everyone :) and feel free to share you gear hits and fails!