November 2016 - Tactical Tack
Written by Lauren Billys
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 03:36
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Preparing for the worst leads to best strategies in tack selection.

by Lauren Billys

The importance of tack choice really hit me when I was asked to go to breakfast with Martin Cohen, the creator and owner of MDC Stirrups, to discuss the importance of stirrups.  I felt in the least I was getting a good breakfast, but after leaving the meeting my mindset toward choosing my tack had been completely changed.

photo: Kristin Lee Photogrpahy

Martin spoke with me about tack as a strategy and left me with a phrase I have not forgotten: “The test of good tack is not how it performs in the best of times, but how it performs in the worst of times. When things get difficult, out of control or downright dangerous, will your tack be there for you and your horse?”

When I think of my tack as a strategy to help me perform at my best and keep me safe when I am in an uncomfortable situation, it makes me put serious thought behind the items I decide to use during training and at a show. 
Martin’s stirrups, for example, have a heavier weight than most stirrups with a wide foot pad, and the stirrups can be purchased to sit on a 45-degree angle. All these features encourage the rider to keep their leg down because of the weight of the stirrup and the width of the foot pad, but also in case of an emergency dismount, this foot pad and weight makes sure the stirrup will be released from your foot, allowing you to fall from your horse and the stirrup to slide away freely.

Also the 45-degree angle keeps your stirrups in the forward-facing position, which is especially helpful if you were to lose your stirrup while riding.  The thought process behind a seemingly simple piece of our tack sheds light on the importance of choosing good tack. 

Start With “Why?”

When deciding what girth, saddle or bit we will use, we need to ask “why?” Why is this feature important? How does this tack improve my horse’s performance and how does it help me when things go wrong?

Total Saddle Fit is another company I have come to lean on for girths and saddle pads. Their girth product design helps create a more free shoulder movement and has completely stopped the presence of girth rubs and my saddle moving forward onto the horse’s shoulder. Both of which used to be problems with my old tack choices. It is details like these that make me stop and think about what products I am using on my horse.

There is one other detail regarding tack that I truly believe in and it is probably because I used to do this completely wrong. I believe we should practice in what we will show in. When I was a young girl, I would have my practice boots and my show boots, my practice bridle and my show bridle, my practice bit and my show bit.

When I practice now, I regularly will pull out the tall boots for horse shows to ride in. I use my Professional’s Choice show jumping and cross-country boots for jump schools and gallops. By doing this, I can know that my boots will not slip, spin or create rubs. I believe it is important for us to use our tack and know our tack. This way we can rely on it when it matters most.

I encourage you all to think about tack in a new light. Tack can be our best friend or our worst enemy. We must begin to think of our tack with strategy in mind by asking important questions about each feature and then putting them to use in daily practice to be confident that when it is time to do our best our tack will be there for us.

Editor’s Note: See story on Lauren’s regular clinics at Hilltop Stables in Napa.

Columnist Lauren Billys contested the 2016 Olympics in Rio, on behalf of Puerto Rico, and has written about that remarkable experience for us since early 2016. She continues to compete and is accepting students and horses at Lauren Billys Eventing on the Monterey Peninsula. Visit for more info.