May 2015 - Horsey Humor
Written by Bob Goddard
Saturday, 02 May 2015 02:00

Trouble with Tack

by Bob Goddard

One of the first lessons I learned after becoming an equestrian is that it’s not all about riding. There is a set of supporting skills one needs to master in order to make horseback riding fun, safe and not so humiliating. High on the list is the ability to understand and apply tack.

The Great Book of Horse Knowledge tells us that the word “tack” is actually a shortened version of “tackle.” Tackle is a generic term for any kind sporting equipment, a’ la “fishing tackle.”  While equestrian tackle consists of a wide and bewildering variety of items, the main characters appear to be the saddle, the halter and the bit-bridle-reins combo.

Books have been written about saddles. Someday, I’ll write another one to correct everybody’s mistakes. However, here I would like to focus on halters and the bit-bridle-reins.

Halter Falter

The first thing a new equestrian has to understand about a halter is that it is not an inanimate object. A halter is a living organism. Each one has a unique personality and they all share a penchant for practical joking.

In my instructor’s hands, a halter is docile and respectful, like the well-disciplined, well-behaved children we read about in fairy tales and satire. As she holds it up for my examination, the concept makes perfect sense: the long nose goes here, this part goes over the ears and this part buckles underneath. It is beautiful in its simplicity and innocence.

However, the moment the halter touches my hands, it becomes a little monster. The brat spontaneously twists into an indiscriminate jumble of nylon straps and buckles. I hold it out in front of me, trying to reestablish the obvious opening where the long nose goes, but something is wrong. It’s upside down or inside out now. I’m not sure, but I know I can’t put it on the horse this way.

I attempt corrections. Maybe flip this strap over … hmmm… this other strap here….no, that doesn’t do it… perhaps unbuckle this and attach it over here… It’s trial and error and hoping. But instead of regaining a its functional shape, the halter becomes a Chinese puzzle where every solution creates an even worse problem. Within seconds the thing looks like an Interstate cloverleaf designed by Pablo Picasso.

At this point, I hand the little doppelganger back to my instructor. Neither of us comments, it’s obvious what’s going on here. She utters the magic phrase: “Like this” and the halter rights itself as if it’s become a mere extension of her hands. Then, with one smooth motion, the halter practically jumps from her hands and attaches itself to the horse’s face like a magnet. I’m convinced that if the little devil had a tongue, he would be sticking it out at me right now.

The Toothless Gap

The Great Book says that in order to truly understand horse tackle, you have to do more than just look at it. Now that I’m an equestrian, I’ve had plenty of opportunities for meaningful contact with bits & bridles. The learning has been extensive and eye opening.

Getting a horse to take a bit is not easy for the beginner. It took many attempts before I actually succeeded in this obviously three-handed procedure. The first time I did it, I experienced a smorgasbord of emotions. I felt astonishment (that I was successful), supreme satisfaction (it worked!  It really, really worked!) and guilt.

Yes … guilt. And it wasn’t just because one of the horse’s ears was plastered beneath the browband or that the throatlatch somehow got into his nose. These things happen. I felt guilty because I was unable to comprehend why a horse would allow a member of another species to go inside his mouth with a metal object like that. And more to the point, was this not hard on their teeth? I know what it feels like to accidently chomp down on a fork with no food on it.

I raised this concern with my instructor. She pulled back the horse’s lower lip and revealed something wonderful. There was a space in the horse’s mouth where there were no teeth, a glorious toothless gap between the incisor and molar.

I was impressed.

“Did you do that?” I asked her. I thought maybe it was a common practice to remove certain teeth when the horse is young. After all, these folks are not above removing other parts of a horse as it suits them.

She shook her head. “No, Nature did that.”

Wow. Nature sure knows how to think ahead. Without out the toothless space, I’m afraid riding horses would be rather problematic. Think of the historic consequences. Humans would have found farming and war and English Pleasure classes so much more difficult. Indeed, civilization as we know it is only possible because of the existence of the toothless gap.

It’s amazing what you learn after you become an equestrian.

Freelance writer Bob Goddard lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and assorted pets. His book is Horse Crazy! A Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Parents of Horse-Addicted Girls. To order, and to read his humorous blog, “Bob the Equestrian,” visit