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by Downunder Horsemanship

Safety Starts With an Equipment Check

By Classic Equine

Although we have an indescribable bond with our equine partners, the fact still remains that they are large and powerful animals. We saddle them each day to train, ride down the trail, or even compete on them without even thinking about the possible consequences we might face if there is a malfunction with our equipment. It is vital that we as equine enthusiasts take the time to double-check our equipment and tack before each and every ride. You should create a routine that is completed and becomes a habit before you put your boot in the stirrup and swing your leg over your horse. These rituals will ensure the safety of you and your horse. Here are some items you should include in your pre-riding check:

Blevins Buckles

The Blevins buckles are on the fenders of your saddle. They are designed to be easy to adjust, but they can become loose over time, especially if you change your stirrup length often. You should always check to make sure the buckles are completely closed and snug. If the sliding component is loose, meaning it will slide up or down freely, you should tighten it by squeezing both hands against it, or use a pair of vice grips to gently clamp down on the metal pieces on either side to increase the tension on the slider. If the Blevins is loose, it could slide up or fall off easily. Also, if they are not tight, it will cause unnecessary pressure on the fender holes, causing them to stretch out. A secure Blevins buckle protects the integrity of your fender hole adjustment. It’s good practice to glance at your fender hole adjustments regularly to ensure they are not stretched out and also check your Blevins buckles for a nice secure placement which will both create a long-lasting life of your saddle fender.

If the Blevins buckles are not in the proper place, you could find yourself in the dirt.

Blevins buckles are at their best when they fit close and very snug. Squeeze the sliding cover to flatten and increase tightness.


Another lifeline in your saddle’s integrity is your stirrups. Stirrups are equipped with a rod or bolt and two nuts at the top of them. Your body weight is supported by the rod/bolt and the nuts. It is critical that you check before each ride to make sure the bolts in both stirrups are straight and the nuts are tight!

Chicago Screws

Chicago screws might in fact be one of the smallest pieces of equipment that we use on our tack. Although they are tiny, they have a huge impact. Losing a Chicago screw on your bridle would mean your horse would rely on your bridleless training. While most horses are not trained to be ridden without a bridle, this can be remedied by simply checking to make sure the loops and Chicago screws on your headstalls are secure before every ride. One popular pro-tip is to buy a bottle of “Locktite,” which you can purchase at your local hardware store, and dab a small amount of the liquid on the screw before tightening it to its secure position. This allows you to still change the headstall if needed, but keeps the Chicago screw from loosening off the tight position. You could also use a drop of clear fingernail polish in place of “Locktite,” but be cautious since the nail lacquer is designed to remain in place unless a chemical agent is used to remove it, which would make it more difficult to change out your bit.

Latigos & Flank Billets

Latigos may be pronounced as latties, lat-ee-gos, ladda-gos, or lat-i-gooo, and is named for the leather it is produced from. No matter how you pronounce this piece of equipment, it is critical that you are diligent in checking and replacing it. You should always replace the latigo and off-side latigo every year. It is a small investment that will save on medical bills in the long run due to an accident from a failed latigo. You should purchase a high quality 1-3/4” x 6’6” latigo for the cinch side along with a 1-3/4” single- or double-stitched offside latigo.

There are different types of latigos and off-side billets needed for different equestrian uses, such as for ropers, cutters, and/or ranch use. We suggest using a single ply off-side latigo, looped through the cinch first and then doubled up through the saddle rigging and back through the cinch. DO NOT USE DOUBLED & STITCHED.

This picture illustrates the correct application of a single-ply off-side billet, looped through the cinch first, doubled, and ran through the saddle rig, then back down through the cinch to secure.


This pictures demonstrates the incorrect application of an off-side latigo. This can be extremely dangerous. Using this incorrect application could cause serious bodily injury to you or your horse.

The latigo that we feel is best for speed and performance events is a doubled and stitched latigo or single ply off-side latigo, which should be looped through cinch and doubled up through the saddle rigging and back through the cinch.

We recommend both the cinch side and offside latigos be tied by a professional, someone who specializes in leather work or has experience, or be instructed by a professional. An incorrectly tied latigo is as extremely dangerous and as devastating as having a latigo break. Annual latigo replacement is one of the best insurance policies for you and your horse.

This photograph shows an incorrect tie that is very dangerous.


You should replace ties or latigos once a year to prevent breaking of the leather.


You should double-check your ties to make sure they haven’t worked loose over time.


This photograph demonstrates the correct way to secure a double stitch off-side latigo.


Above is a photograph of the correct way a tie on an off-side latigo should look from the underside view.


A flank billet is the strap used to secure the flank or back cinch. It is vital to follow the same procedures, when securing the tie on a flank billet, as you would securing a latigo. The flank billets don’t wear as fast; therefore, they do not usually need to be replaced as often, but should still be check as part of your equipment safety checklist before each ride.

All latigos and flank cinches have a center break and fold over where the leather attaches to the saddle. This point will oxidize against the metal rigging and becomes fatigued which will cause it to be prone to breakdown. Along with checking the latigo ties, you should also check the condition of the leather underneath its break-over point on all metal d-rig or c-rig locations of your saddle.

Flank Hobble

The buckle strap that holds the back cinch to the front cinch is called the flank hobble. This strap is definitely one of the most important items in your equipment check that could cause you and your horse to be injured. This piece comes in contact with a lot of heat and sweat causing it to break down. If the hobble breaks, it will allow your back cinch to go back into your horse’s flanks, which in turn could unintentionally cause your horse to buck. Martin Saddlery’s flank hobbles are made from biothane which has no stretch and is a material that is the most resistant to horse sweat and the heat.Your saddle and tack take a plethora of daily abuse, so remember to create and maintain an equipment safety check before each ride. It is vital to be aware of the condition of all of your saddle’s parts and your equipment you use. When it comes to the safety of you and your beloved equine partner, equipment safety checks are essential! Keep Your Ride Fun and Safe!