Trials and Travails of a Tack Snob

 | June 2, 2009 12:25 am

Peekaboo - 2008 0328-5 Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am self-centered, arrogant and more than slightly conceited.  In addition, I have exquisitely “discerning” tastes, pretenses to education, and sophistication.  Put simply: I am a snob.

I like to have nice things and I enjoy browsing and shopping in tremendously stuffy stores.  I want people to think about the overall experience and quality,  and I have an extremely low tolerance for when they don’t.

Unfortunately, being a snob is substantially easier when you have the income and social standing to support it.  In what I consider to be one of the tragedies of existence, I have neither.  In a genuflection to reality, therefore, I take the approach of owning a very small number of high quality things.  Quality, not quantity.

While I try to apply this rule to most things, there is one area of my life where I make absolutely no compromises: horsemanship.  My tack needs to look, feel and hang a certain way.  Some of these preferences stem from the “need” to look a certain way, but many are practical.  I hold strong opinions about how things should be done and get more than a bit fussy when life doesn't follow my lead.

Consider, for example, a specialized riding hackamore that I often use (seen modeled by my somewhat evil mare, Peekaboo).  I like for it to be made from yacht cord, with a 25 foot lead rope and rawhide touches and tassels. (Style is just as important as substance in most everything.)  While I might be willing to concede that my hackamore is a glorified halter, the various evolutions I’ve added are extremely important to me.  I’ve ridden quite a few colts, and I’ve found that spending the first 30 to 60 days in a halter helps develop a foundation that will last for the rest of the horse’s life.  The tugs, weighting and motions of the halter are first instilled on the ground and then transfer to work under saddle.  You can use a halter with 8 foot rein and 25 foot lead right from the very beginning without having to change tools and this can make a big difference in the horse’s overall development.

There’s just one problem: I’ve never been able to find a 35 foot lead made of yacht cord and I’m simply not willing to go with nylon.  (The yacht cord is important because I like its feel, weight, and durability.)  Additionally, no one makes a halter with rawhide and tasseled accents. (What can I say, I’m a sucker for horse hair tassels.)   Because no one sales the tack I want, I am left with only one alternative: I make it myself.

Hand made (by me) halters, headstalls, riata, and a large variety of other things made from rawhide (in addition to those made of string, leather and miscellaneous baling twine) all hang in my tack locker.  Each one was (more or less) lovingly crafted with an eye to detail and quality.  But even taking the route of the obsessive connoisseur doesn’t solve every problem.

Like … how can the materials for custom, hand-made tack cost more than the store-bought finished product?Don’t believe me?  Consider my quest for the perfect lariat (a handbraided piece of rawhide wonder known as a riata) some 60 feet in length.  I’ve been saving for rawhide so that I can braid it for a while now.  Naturally, it will be my third riata since I just can’t seem to keep my hands on the others.  The first one that I created was both spectacularly beautiful and according to a good braider friend of mine, utterly unusable.  Thus, it hangs in my office as decoration.  On the second round, I created a usable piece of kit (which quite unfortunately parted my company during a weekend roping clinic).Braided Reata

Thus, we are now on round three.  From the first two attempts, I have given up trying to find usable rawhide in my local area.  The local leather supplier largely pedals crap, and overcharges to boot.  My first experiment in buying hide from California was an utter disaster.  It was only after a great deal of searching and writing to every commercial braider in the Western US that I was finally pointed to a nice little website that sales quality stuff.  The catch?  It’s horrifically expensive and the supplier is often out of stock.  Apparently, there is a reason why most serious raw-hide braiders both treat and cut their own string.  Pity that I don’t really have the time, space, or overall desire to do so.  Gives new perspective to, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”  More depressing, you can find a perfectly passable riata on e-bay for between $150 and $200 dollars (a little less than it would cost me to braid my own).

This situation doesn’t only apply to raw-hide or leather.  Oh no, getting hold of the rope of preference (double braided yacht-cord) is just as difficult.  There are only three stores in my area which will sale it by the foot, and each one overprices it horribly (often 2.00 per foot or more).  It’s even difficult to find it online for much less (about $1.60 per foot from u-braid it).  Given my taste for longer leads, it is essentially impossible to get rope cut for less than fifty dollars.  And yet, fifty dollars can buy a huge amount of crappy rope. Even worse, you can buy a Parelli hackamore for about $75.  What. The. Hell?

It’s just not fair.  Since when are raw materials more expensive than finished products?

I suppose that I could use inferior materials, but that would lead to an inferior product.  And inferior products are simply intolerable.  Truly, it is a curse to be gifted with superior taste.

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