Tacking Up - Pt. 1

Tacking Up, Part I

Aeia waits while her students form an arc around her and Perceval, who stands quietly on crossties. Over one arm she holds Perceval's black leather saddle, and from her shoulder hangs the matching bridle. Once everyone has settled, she speaks.

"Today, I will teach you how to saddle and bridle a runner. We will start with the saddle. As I said before, convention asks you to operate from the left side of the runner, so that is where we will begin." She moves to Perceval's left side, and then holds up the saddle for all to see. "You'll notice that I have a thick, soft pad under my saddle. Never saddle a runner without one of these pads. This particular one is fleecelike and follows the contour of the saddle exactly, only showing an inch or two around its contour." She sets the saddle down carefully and picks up a large rectangular pad. "You can also have rectangular pads such as this one. The shape of the pad does not matter, as long as it protects the runner from chafing and cushions the saddle."

She puts the rectangular pad down and hefts the saddle again onto her arm. "Notice how I put the saddle down, everyone. The front of the saddle is the pommel, and the rear is the cantle. The wooden base running from front to back under all of the leather is the tree. Trees can be broken if the saddle is not treated properly, so when you must set your saddle on the ground, put it pommel-down and lean the cantle against a wall so that the top of the saddle is facing the wall."

"Now, to put the saddle on, first place the pad." She extracts the pad out from under the saddle, and places it over Perceval's back, first draping it over his shoulders, and then sliding it back a bit so it is just behind his withers. "Now put the saddle on top," she says, and hefts up the saddle and places it neatly on the pad. "Some pads, like this one, have straps in the front that terminate in loops. You use these loops to secure the saddle to the pad so that it won't slip backwards while being used." She demonstrates, lifting the uppermost flap of the side of the saddle. Three long leather straps hang underneath. She takes the strap from the front of the pad and threads one of the leather straps through its loop, and drops the flap.

"Now you need to fasten the girth. There are many different kinds of girths, all of which are basically long, sturdy straps with two buckles at each end." She produces one and holds it up. "This goes under the runner's stomach, right behind his elbows. Since you tighten the girth from the left, you actually need to fasten it on the right first." She crosses under Perceval's head and lifts up the saddle flap again, exposing three straps identical to the ones on the left side.

"These are billet straps. You thread two of the three through the buckles from the girth," she explains as she demonstrates, taking the first two straps and putting them through the buckles. The girth now hangs down from the saddle. "After fastening it on one side, you cross to the other and bring it up." She does so, pulling up on the straps to slide the buckles in close. "You want this to be VERY snug. It is usually best to tighten it again once or twice before mounting, because many runners are very smart and know how to hold their breath so that their stomach is inflated when you are trying to tighten the girth. Doing it again later will often catch them off guard and give you a better chance to avoid a saddle that slides around too much."

She turns back to the students. "Your runner is now saddled. You are ready for bridling, which will be the second half of this lesson."

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