Everything Else Tip of the day

Tip of the Day – Could your tack be a problem?

Buzz loves his 5-point breastplate - but not all horses do!

Buzz loves his 5-point breastplate – but not all horses do!

I thought of this earlier when I remembered a case I’d had a couple of years ago. The horse in question was a pretty decent 2* horse. Over the course of the season his show-jumping became rather less fluent than normal and he’d roll the odd pole, which was most unlike him. He progressed to chipping in on the odd ocasion and started occasionally stopping, which he’d never done before. I’d given him a good check-over, but couldn’t find any obvious problems. The dentist was happy, the physio found some tight spots around his shoulders but he wasn’t really any better after her treatment. We were on the verge of sending him to one of the big equine hospitals for a diagnostic work-up when something changed. The owner took him to a jumping clinic to pop some little stuff and forgot to pack her 5-point breastplate. The horse started out sticky, as he had been for the past few weeks, but gained in fluidity over the course of the clinic and was nearly back to his old self by the end of the lesson – albeit over what were, for him, pretty tiny fences.

Then the penny dropped. At the beginning of the season they’d had a break-in at the yard and all their tack was stolen. When the insurance money came through they bought him a rather flashy new 5-point breastplate in a totally different style to the one he’d worn previously. This pretty much coincided with the start of his jumping problems. Obviously the horse felt restricted round his shoulders and unable to produce his trademark flamboyant jump. Once we suspected the breastplate might be the culprit the owner left it off and the horse’s jumping improved so much over the next couple of months that he was back to jumping clear round Intermediate SJ tracks. The breastplate went on ebay!

So my tip is that if things are going wrong strip everything back. Take off the breastplate and martingale, ditch the boots and fancy half pad and pop a snaffle and a cavesson on. Do you still have the problems? If not then try re-introducing your tack a bit at a time to see whether you can identify the problem. I’ve certainly heard of horses which can’t bear certain brands of boot which may touch the back of their knees when they tuck them up over a fence and other horses whose owners have bought them special scientifically-tested pads to level out the pressure under the saddle, but which couldn’t stand to be ridden in them.

You may well have a physical problem or a schooling problem; but it’s quick, easy and cheap to rule out your tack first!

About the author

The Eventing Vet


  • This is so true. Last year I bought a horse with a pretty dodgy SJ record. His previous rider (a mere slip of a girl) rode him in a Sweet Iron Tom Thumb with a flash noseband. He was a also a big head shaker and I was convinced he was scared of the bit. Being a bit stronger I was fairly sure I could ride him in something less harsh and it would make him happier. So we removed everything and put him in a rubber snaffle with a cavesson noseband. He was a bit sticky jumping to start, probably still expecting a sock in the mouth, but he improved so quickly and is a lot better now, and bar a fluffy noseband to make him look at the fences I’m still riding in the snaffle. He’s forward going but not strong. It’s quite amazing what tack people think a horse should have when it’s not right for them.

  • I completely agree with you Sarah. I’ve even gone one step further. I have a horse who is quite difficult on the approach to a fence – he’s really quite strong but if you over-check him he virtually stops and bounces on the spot. I figure he’s had a big old bit in in the past and he’s scared of his mouth. I’ve taken it to extremes and taken the bit out completely. He now SJs in a hackamore. He’s still strong, but a lot happier and more forward and not so over-reactive.

  • My horse hates back boots!!!

    So he is worked daily and SJs without any, however I do make him wear a very thin flexible pair for XC. They probably won’t stop any serious injury but they will help prevent little scratches and rubs on fences.

    But on the flip side, we had a really big gangly TB in to break and he was actually better to work in a breastplate and he jumped better in it. We think it was the added security and support for him (a bit of a worrier)!

  • I had an ex-racehorse, he was not strong but was very forward going. He did everything including cross-country in a rubber loose-ring snaffle and caverson noseband. He didn’t need a martingale, breastplate, flash noseband, or anything else so I didn’t have him wear it! Was always amused when people told me he should be wearing more for XC, I just told them he didn’t need it!