Sunday, April 19, 2009

Use A Night Latch (Chicken Strap) for Safety

I was bucked off my horse last fall while penning cattle. It was the first time I'd ridden my new gelding in that situation, and he didn't react as well as I'd hoped he would. When my horse started to pitch, I made a grab for the dog collar I had running through the gullet of my saddle, but only got my rope strap instead. I should have maintained a hold of the rope strap, but instead went for the saddle horn. By that time, it was too late -- the saddle horn was under me as I was being thrown forward out of the saddle.

That dog collar I was grabbing for was my "night latch" or less charitably, "chicken strap" and I'm pretty confident that if I'd been able to get to it, I would not have been thrown. After I picked myself up again and regained my breath and my horse, I realized that I'd placed my rope on top of the night latch making it very hard to find in an emergency. The dog collar was also tended to lie flat against the pommel making it hard to grab quickly.

I searched online for a better night latch and came across one made by the Platte Valley Saddle Shop. The unique thing about this night latch compared to a dog collar is that it is designed to hold a hand-hold loop up, away from the pommel. I ordered one for my saddle and one for my wife's and have been very pleased with them. They're much easier to find and grab in an emergency and they're also very well made and compliment the saddles. The picture shows both night latches on my saddle.

So if you ride in a western saddle, I strongly recommend purchasing one of these to provide a quick hand hold if you need one. I've also recently read that a night latch is a better hand hold than the horn because it doesn't tend to pull you forward out of the saddle -- instead you can pull yourself right into the seat. The best night latch I've ever seen is the one built by Platte Valley Saddle Shop.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Safety Stirrups Build Confidence in Your Riding

I was bucked off last fall. It made me a little apprehensive about riding my horse, because he hadn't bucked with me before and there was no particular thing that set him off. I decided to invest in some safety equipment even though I was only banged up a little from this incident.

I had seen safety stirrups in several equine catalogs, and I thought I'd invest in a pair to make it less likely that any future bucking event would cause me to get hung up in a stirrup. I ride alone most of the time, and if I were dragged by my horse, it could be awhile before someone misses me and even longer before someone finds me.

The stirrups I'd seen in the catalogs protected the rider by opening when the rider falls backward out of the saddle. However, I'd been bucked off and fallen forward. I did a Web search for "safety stirrups" and found a unique stirrup from a company called STI. The STI breakaway stirrups release both forward and backward and the video on the home page was pretty compelling.

I purchased the stirrups and I've been using them for four months now. They ride well and look good with my saddle. I haven't been bucked off again, but I've tested the release mechanisms and they work exactly as advertised. I'm more confident in my riding too.

If you're considering safety stirrups for yourself or your kids, take a look at these. They're not the cheapest safety stirrups on the market, but they're well made and look like they'll function when they're needed.

Yield the Hindquarters for a Preride Safety Check

Several years ago, I spent a week at Bob and Betty King's Cowboy School in Chochise, AZ. It was a great experience and I learned much, but one particular Cowboy School tip helped me recently. Bob taught me to make sure that my horse would willingly yield his hindquarters in both directions before stepping aboard. My gelding normally has no trouble with the exercise, but last week he was obviously bothered when I asked him to yield to the left. He threw his head up and he tried to back away from the pressure. When I asked him to try again, he backed away and started to buck at the end of the lead rope. After three or four jumps, he stopped and I moved in to check his saddle fit, girth fit, etc.

Everything appeared normal so I just walked him around a bit more and then started with some easy backing exercises before moving again to yielding the hindquarters. This time he was much more relaxed and performed the exercises correctly. I climbed aboard and enjoyed a great 1 1/2 hour trail ride.

I know that if I hadn't performed the hindquarters exercise, my horse probably would have bucked with me early in our ride. There was no other indication of his troubled state of mind when I caught, groomed, and saddled my horse. Thanks Bob and Betty!

A good description of the exercise is contained in the groundwork section of Marty Marten's book, Problem Solving.