Last week a few instructors were discussing the tack and turnout of our rides at Pony Club, and how we have been marking them.
One of the instructors for a senior ride claimed that he never gave tens because “there is always room for improvement”. This threw the junior ride instructors into panic as some of them had been very generous and were throwing tens around left, right and centre.
From this, I compiled a list of things that I look for in the tack and turnout inspection and how riders can strive for perfection.
- Who cleaned the tack and pony? I always ask my riders this. Sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes they admit to having been helped. If a child has cleaned their tack themselves and groomed their pony (I`ll permit Mum to have plaited if the child`s age warrants) then they tend to me marked slightly more generously as I`m taking effort into consideration.
- How well has the tack been cleaned? This depends on who has done the cleaning, but in general I look for the tack to be pliable, no grease underneath the noseband (or any other part of the bridle for that matter), straps to be in their keepers, girth guards on correctly and covering the girth buckles, bits to be clean, stirrup irons to be shiny (try some Brasso) and the underneath of stirrup irons to be clean. No mud in the stirrup treads or at the front of the knee rolls from yesterdays gallop. I also like numnahs to be attached correctly and check the girth is clean and the martingale is in the middle of the girth, not pulled up around the elbow. The senior instructor suggested that in order for a rider to get a ten in their tack and turnout all leather holes should have been cleaned out with a matchstick. Personally, I like to see that no lumps of soap have been left. Plus, if the tack has been cleaned as opposed to washed, the holes don`t tend to fill with soapy foam, so are usually cleaned out sufficiently when the tack is wiped over with the damp sponge initially.
- Safety of the tack comes into consideration too. Have they checked their stirrup leather stitching? Are the reins still providing sufficient grip? Does the tack fit the pony? No, I`m not a saddle fitter, but I`ll cast my eye over to make sure it is suitable for the pony and rider and the child hasn`t accidentally done the cheek pieces up too high, giving the pony a maniacal grin when he wears the bridle – on the first day I may ask why a pony wears a piece of equipment, but that`s just me being nosey! Last week I was told that a pony needed side reins because he had a tendency to snatch his head down whilst trotting. The side reins were fairly loose and looked ineffective and over the first couple of days I didn`t see the pony attempt to snatch at the reins. However, the rider decided he would go without them the next day and did we know about it! The pony seemed to sense the lack of side reins as soon as his jockey got on, and began snatching immediately. Funnily enough, we put the side reins back on for the next session!
- You can always tell if tack has been strip cleaned, and cleaned with a hot damp sponge and then traditional saddle soap used, and it is by far my preferred method. The tack seems to be really clean – a bit like exfoliating in the bath before you put your face cream on. So often these days you see sprays and creams wiped over dirty tack, making a bodged job and bringing the marks down.
- It`s difficult to be fair with tack as a rider who is lucky enough to have new tack will automatically look cleaner and smarter, than the other child on their hand-me-down cobbled together tack. However, you can always tell if the tack is clean, and I try to look at that more than whether the cheekpiece is the exact shade of brown as the browband.
- Next I`ll look at the pony. This can be difficult as a child with a grey pony, or a coloured, has a lot harder job that one with a bay or chestnut pony. Again, I look for effort, and if I see the attempts to wash a stable stain off on a grey then I will accept that. But I won`t accept stable marks on the dark coloured horses! The same goes for white legs. I don`t want to see chalk piled on top of off-white socks, I`d rather see the remains of the washing off effort and then a good brush to get the kinks out of the feathers.
- Another quick test I do is to see if I can run my fingers through the pony`s tail. If I can`t it`s not been brushed enough. A bit of baby oil can help stop it knotting when it`s been brushed thoroughly.
- Hoof oil is nice to see on, however if the ground is dusty it can cause the hooves to look dirtier when the dust sticks to it, so I would proceed with caution there! Plus, if it`s a long way from the lorry the hoof oil can get brushed off in the grass by the time I inspect you. I always check to see that the hooves are in good condition – you can tell if they see a hoof oil brush regularly or not.
- I like ponies to be turned out for their breed. Yes, we`re all in Pony Club, but if the pony is a cob type then I like them hogged and clipped, or fully feathered and brushed through. If they are a native then again I like them to be in their natural state, albeit clean and tidy. Otherwise I`m afraid the ponies need to be plaited, quartermarked and be trimmed correctly.
- Then we turn to the rider. Again, some riders are in too-big hand-me-downs, whilst others are freshly pressed from being at a county show the weekend previous. I make sure the clothes are clean – no grubby marks on jodhpurs from where they`ve wiped their hoof oil brush against their leg as they`ve stood up, and their shirt tucked in, tie tied correctly and matching their jacket colour – no pink ties with green tweed jackets please! For the Pony Club, hats need to be tagged to show that they are up to the correct standard, so on the first day I always check for the tags. I like the hat to be suitable for the discipline, and would always recommend children had skull caps without fixed peaks for all round riding – you never know when they will take an unrequested dismount.
- Jodhpur clips are important too, and I think I prefer these to chaps in tack and turnout, but I understand why a child would prefer to wear chaps. Clean boots, with no poo on the soles either! They should all be wearing gloves too, and have their jacket fastened.
Overall in tack and turnout I think it`s more important to see that a child has tried their hardest to present their pony and themselves to the highest standard, than whether they achieve perfection. It`s always good to look for ways to improve presentation, but I prefer to see someone doing a good job of what they have, rather than have the newest, shiniest equipment. Perhaps as instructors, or judges, we should be allocating a mark out of ten for effort? So we have sub categories of Pony, Rider, Tack, and then Effort, to give a maximum score of forty? Which would enable you to distinguish between areas that can be improved and you can mark more fairly as you do not have to balance out the cleanliness of the tack with the effort the child has put in, and you can give feedback more easily.