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Q: I have just bought a youngster from a horse dealer. He has some rugs and a synthetic headcollar but I need to buy all his tack.

I want to buy good quality leather items that will last for years. Could you explain how to find good quality, strong leather?

Tack expert Carolyn Henderson replies: One of the simplest ways of making sure you buy good quality tack is to buy it from an established retailer who has a good reputation and to remember the golden rule – you get what you pay for.

This doesn’t mean tack in the mid-price range is poor quality, but that the cost reflects both the quality of materials, and the time spent making it. For example, a made-to-measure, hand stitched show bridle will be twice the price of a mass produced, machine stitched one.

Saddles also vary enormously in price and you need the advice of a good saddler – remember that the most expensive saddle made of the best quality leather will be no good if it doesn’t fit your horse.

The way a piece of equipment is finished is a good clue to the quality of the leather, for the simple reason that finishing takes time – which costs money.

Things to ask yourself when you pick up a bridle are: Is the leather the same thickness throughout or are certain spots noticeably thinner and therefore weaker? Is the stitching even and are the stitches of uniform size? The standard ratio is nine, 10 or 11 stitches to the inch. Have the edges been rounded and sealed to close the fibres within the leather and help protect it from things such as the horse’s sweat?

At one time, all tack was hand stitched and it is fair to say that hand stitching is stronger than machine stitching. However, most of us tend to be ruled by our budgets and there is definitely nothing wrong with machine stitching when the tack comes from a reputable manufacturer.

Fashions in tack change along with everything else. At one time, bridle leather would have white stitching so you could see easily that the stitches were strong and even. Nowadays, many people say they prefer dark stitching – but remember that this makes it harder to spot flaws. In any case, the stitching soon darkens through use and the application of saddle soap.

When you bend new leather, it may not feel as pliable as it will be when it has been in use forsome time, but steer clear of anything that feels like cardboard or shows signs of cracking.

Do inspect potential ‘bargains’ at sales even if they are new – they may be there for a genuine reason, but they may also be made down to a price rather than up to a standard.

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