Everything Else Grumpy Old Bags

Grumpy Old Bags: Things Designed for Horses that are all WRONG (and sometimes dangerous!)

Ooh, I get to vent about a real pet hate of mine: things sold in the equestrian market, and presumably therefore supposedly designed for the job, which can have really negative consequences, without the unwitting rider/handler (and that has been me, and probably will be me again in future!) realising.

Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 19.08.17First on my list – metal framed saddle racks. This sort of thing:

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This is the type to go for, no damage done with this one!

I had NO idea there was any problem with these until decades ago when I took a saddle to be checked/reflocked and the saddler asked me whether this was the sort of saddlerack I used. He could feel the indentations in the panels, lines from where the saddle had sat on the tubing. Of course if you put one saddle on top of another, as many people (and tack shops!!!) do, it is even worse… the bottom saddle gets extra weight on it and therefore extra-deep indentations, which are apparently the devil for a saddler to try to eradicate – a total reflock is the only real solution if you want smooth panels again to keep your horse comfortable.
I’ve had this backed up by three different saddlers since… it’s a known problem.
And, it’s ridiculous, when this second style of saddlerack is also freely available, at the same sort of cost, looks just as good (better, in my opinion) and won’t do any damage to the panels as the saddle hangs on it from the gullet. So, a big fat thumbs down to whoever invented the top style of saddle rack, because it surely wasn’t a saddler or a horse lover!

(If you have the top style in your tackroom, don’t despair… a thick piece of dense foam, cut to the same size as the top of the saddle rack so it fits right to the edges, and taped in place, does a perfect job, giving a nice even sacrificial surface for your saddle to sit on.)

Another is short saddlepads, that finish well short of the end of the saddle’s panels at the back. (As you can see, I have a bit of a mania about horse comfort.) There is no way this can be comfy, making a ridge of pressure right across the horse’s spine under the back of the saddle, pushed on by the rider’s weight… the spine is of course exactly the bit that the saddle is supposed to protect the most! Better no saddlepad than a too-short one. Or, better still, ones that are long enough… they are out there!

How about ill-thought-out lorry interiors that horses can slice themselves open on? Many years ago, having travelled a horse on a 10 minute journey, with travel boots on, I opened the ramp to find a scene reminiscent of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, so I am speaking from bitter & expensive experience. The (well known) company who had converted the lorry for me had used a metal right-angled capping piece on the top of the stokboard. My horse, pawing very high in his impatience, had managed to bring the front of his fetlock down on this fairly sharp edge, completely splitting it open. I will spare you the pictures – suffice to say that it was grim, there was blood absolutely everywhere, and it took a lot of sedation, stapling, bandaging, and box rest to repair him. My vet was seriously unimpressed with the design of the box and the way the horse had been able to injure itself, and wrote a letter to that effect (f.o.c.) for me to send to the manufacturer, whose reply was basically along the lines of ‘sod off’. Lesson learned here, anyway! I replaced the capping with a smoothly rounded piece, readily available.
Now I check such things meticulously, but often, until you see it go wrong, until that one-in-a-thousand horse does it, you don’t realise the danger is even there.

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 11.21.45And then there’s Plastic/composite stirrups which are claimed to be strong enough, but aren’t – the rider doesn’t realise there’s a problem until they snap. I know someone who has had these snap while mounting – and she’s a small, light person! In the case of a friend of mine, one of his (newish, not-cheap stirrups) snapped in competition as he and the horse landed over a 2* fence. He managed to stay on but damaged his back very very badly in doing so. There are many victims of these snapping, so I would not use them.

Also, bits that snap. There’s one make in particular which has failed many times, in some cases bits that were new. Absolutely no excuse for ‘metal fatigue’ in those cases.
Metal fatigue isn’t really a valid excuse anyway… I have bits that are many many years old, by reputable manufacturers such as Sprenger and John Dewsbury, which are still going strong after a lot of use. I have never heard of a bit by those manufacturers breaking.
I’m sure the possible ramifications of a bit snapping – the loss of control, the lacerated tongue and mouth – are obvious. 🙁 🙁 🙁

Nylon headcollars. The beauty of leather headcollars is that they are not stronger than a horse’s neck. If the horse gets caught, panics, and starts throwing itself around to get away, the headcollar will break.
Nylon headcollars usually do not have ‘break points’ and therefore will not break in this grim scenario. If you’d ever seen a picture of a dead horse, trapped by its nylon headcollar until it either suffocated or broke its neck, you wouldn’t forget it.
I use nylon headcollars every day to lead horses around, but I won’t leave one on unsupervised in the stable, or on a horse in the field, ever. Just not worth the risk.

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This horse was VERY lucky to heal so well after such a horrific injury, caused by electric rope fencing. Photo shared with permission.

Last but definitely not least: polypropylene rope fencing. If it is always electrified (ideally from a mains energiser, not a battery, so that you get a really ‘hot’ fence that horses really respect) it might be alright, but the damage it can do if a horse does get caught in it is absolutely shocking, and probably has to be seen to be believed. To which end, I make no apology for including this gruesome series of photos.
An entangled horse which keeps kicking and pulling to try to free itself will saw into its flesh, through tendon and ligament, and eventually into and through bone.
The rope won’t break, no matter what, unless you have put specific break-points in it (cut the rope and wrapped it on itself so that it will pull apart in a worst-case-scenario situation… but of course this compromises the efficiency of the current getting along it.)
I know two people who have had a young horse get entangled and saw the rope into its leg as it kicked and struggled to get away. Both had to be shot – one immediately, as there was no hope, the other after six months of box-rest and every possible care.
The horse whose leg is shown in this sequence of photos is very lucky, in a bizarre sort of way. If the tendons at the back of the cannon bone had been sawed right through, to the bone, there would have been nothing to be done, I believe. Lots of careful nursing led to a happy outcome in this case, although I don’t know whether the horse will get 100% normal use of the leg.
This stuff is dangerous to people too. I read about someone who was in the field when the horses panicked and went through the polypropelene rope fence and dragged it into her, pulling it against the back of her legs at speed, doing significant damage. This stuff can be, genuinely, lethal. If you’ve got it, I implore you, make it safer if you possibly can.

Decades spent around horses tend to give you a ‘worst case scenario thinking’ outlook. I am probably a Health and Safety person’s dream… I see things on a yard and think “what if a horse…” and then do something about it.

So, that’s my list… for now. Some just appertain to horse comfort, and some to safety. I hope my Grumpiness can be forgiven, since it’s such an important topic.
If you have any suggestions to add to this list, to give us all a heads’ up, please do!




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  • Hi, can you share the name of the bits you feel are unsafe? I had no idea that there was any danger from them.
    PS I agree with lots of your concerns – especially about the horse’s back. I hate it when people have numnahs on without pulling them up at the wither. Must be tight and uncomfortable for the horse. I also hate nosebands being pulled tight – how can a horse so softly when its’ mouth is jammed shut like that?
    Jane x

  • Eek I have those stirrups and never considered they would present a risk! You take it for granted that they are designed to be fit for purpose. What style would you recommend?

  • Personally, I use Sprenger bendy-sided stirrups. I have 2 pairs of the ordinary ones and 2 pairs of the Bow Balance ones. The ancient ones and the newer ones are indistinguishable. Stainless Steel is the key, I think.
    As far as the bits are concerned, I have to be careful and not risk defamation or libel, I think. I haven’t personally had 1 fail because I won’t use their bits! But if you go onto Nick Gauntlett’s Twitter Feed from 24 Jan 2015, there’s a photo, and a tweet above the photo, and it’s fairly obvious who the culprit is.

  • The bit that Nick tweeted about is the exact same one that broke for me too. I had always championed this bit in particular and it was a massive shock that it failed, on a 5 year old, simply walking up the road, no tugging or fast work involved, the rein was picked up as the horse spooked and suddenly there was nothing in hand…

  • spring loaded top bolts on stables. Young horses love playing with them Once had one go through the palatine artery that runs across the roof of the mouth of a horse. Blood everywhere!
    Lead rope clips .. The ones that you just snap onto the ring rather than have to draw back..one quick downward movement of a horses head against a rail and they embed themselves in the horses lower lip.

  • Breast bars that don’t release. I have a trailer with one breast bar. I had a hystrionic mare who went over the breast bar and was jammed up to her stifle. I couldn’t release her as the bar needed special equipment to undo it……very, poor design. I now carry spanners to release the bar should anything like that happen again.