It’s true: I’m tacky. No, not the kind of tacky describing a person who uses the wrong fork, forgets to send thank-you notes, and wears mis-matched socks (although I may have done all those things on occasion). I mean a person who has a tack room overflowing with the bits, bridles, martingales, sidechecks, surcingles, fly spray bottles, cavessons, fuzzy bareback pads, leg wraps, halters, hackamores, saddles, brushes, splint boots, dented salt block holders, lunge whips, cruppers, sidepulls, latigos, and other assorted detritus that horse people yearn to own.
If you’re born with the horse-loving gene, as I was, perhaps being tacky is inevitable. It started with the pony Santa brought and the white rope halter and lead that he wore. I still remember coveting the wee English saddle that the neighbor girl brought when she taught Brian to ride. It was a pony-size wonder with fittings to match. And then, ponies always lead to the Ben Hur connection: Carts and harnesses that would confuse an architect but are no challenge to a horse-mad girl of 8. It’s possible I never had the harness on exactly right, or adjusted to Pony Club specifications, but it worked and we hardly ever turned over the cart or broke important bones.
With school came the power of the mailbox, and my life-long addiction to mail-order from Miller Harness catalogs. For free, I discovered, they’d send you hundreds of pages of tack; dreamy things like German saddles and silk top hats, pacing hopples and stainless steel buckets and gadgets to keep a horse’s tongue from getting over the bit. I studied those catalogs, and the ones from Kaufman’s and Ryon’s and Luskey’s, admiring the clothes, but relishing the tack. Probably, I was the only kid in third grade who could identify an Uxeter Kimberwicke or chambon from thirty paces.
Sometimes, if I worked it right, I’d talk my mom into writing a small check for something–a never-rust curb chain and hooks, perhaps–and then I’d carefully write a letter to order my prize. I always filled in the official order form from the catalog with a dream order (way beyond our means) in the first days after it arrived. I just practiced filling in the exact boxes and lines–just in case. The wait for my curb chain was awful, getting off the bus and running a country block to the mailbox, hoping, wishing, that each day was the day. Forget toys from cereal box tops, I was looking for that New York City postmark on a slim, brown, rattling box.
We shopped the local tack emporiums, too, of course. Left to entertain myself at the feed and fuel store while Mom bought groceries, I’d study the fish and birds and lawn seed first, then make my way to the sacred back corner where the horse supplies were kept. A leather lead shank, a quart of Hooflex, a rice-root brush–these were the things I wanted, not lip gloss or earrings. And sometimes, when the adults around me paid attention at Christmas, I got those special gifts I can still remember opening: the royal blue nylon halter and lead wrapped in white tissue and inside a shoebox, packaged by my Grandmother’s loving hands with reindeer paper and a red bow. That seems a gift from last year, not 30 Christmases past.
I miss the thrill of the hunt: discovering a new tack shop, or a catalog with things I haven’t seen before. As an adult, I’ve become jaded to tacky treasures because, now, I can simply buy what I want. And I have… seven western saddles for two horses, three English; dozens of bridles and maybe 100 bits. Though I don’t ride much these days, my tack room houses a lifetime’s worth of tack and memories. Usually, I can tell you where I bought each item, when, and about how much it cost. My recollections are more accurate for the older items. A hunt bridle from Harrod’s in London that I carried in my backpack for 3 months; a rolled pony halter that was a gift from a neighbor, a pair of spurs purchased at a yard sale: each item has a history and pedigree.
I’ve been fortunate to visit most of the larger tack shops and hundreds, maybe, of smaller ones all over the world. Recently, though, I’ve discovered the ultimate used tack shop. No, not one that requires a car trip, but the Internet. Auction sites like e-Bay have powerful search engines that let me relive my childhood by searching for things like Crockett bits, Marlboro hunt boots, and buckstitched headstalls. From the prices I’ve seen, I’m not the only one out there remembering a childhood spent on horseback. Sometimes, I think about listing some of the tack I don’t use, but, just in time, I decide there’s no good reason to part with a pony headstall with diamond spots, Monel stirrups, or the cutback saddle I had to have but never used. The reality for me is, I’m tacky, always will be, and proud of it.
? 2002 Suzanne Drnec
Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse and an antique Arabian.