One of the most underutilized pieces of tack I know of is the ever absent grab strap that should be connected to the d-rings of every saddle. You won’t see one of my saddles without one. It’s usually overconfident teenagers that are the hardest to convince of its necessity. They see it as a sign of weakness, an admission that they are fallible (pun intended). I see the absence of it as a sign of poor training. There are many reasons the strap is necessary in training that have nothing to do with falling off. I will cover a few, although there are many more than I can cover in a short blog.
- When riding a young horse, or really a horse of any age, care should be taken to never, even one stride, bounce on the horse’s back. One unbalanced bounce can make a tentative horse tighten his back to protect it from pain. This is a trust issue that is hard to overcome once the horse becomes defensive.
- The horse that snatches at the rein will persist if he is successful at disrupting the contact. It is never permissable to snatch at the horse but holding the strap lends stability to the rider’s hand and the snatching horse will soon desist with the evasive behavior if he is unsuccessful at altering the length of rein.
- When the rider’s response is delayed, even for a moment, because his brain is occupied with self-preservation, the training suffers. This occurs frequently when flying lead changes are introduced. The few seconds that occur when the disobedient horse bucks or evades by dropping behind the rider’s leg are the critical determining point over whether the horse or the rider has the upper hand. No matter how skilled the rider is, if the resistance is not immediately addressed with forward driving aids then the training opportunity is missed and the disobedience is reinforced. If the rider is already posed with the grab strap in hand there is no hesitation between the resistant act and the corrective response.
- When working on the seat, as all riders should do, it is not beneficial for the rider, or the horse, for the rider to bounce on the horse’s back. When being lunged for seat work, hold yourself into the saddle to get the feeling of a correct seat. Nothing is gained from practicing bouncing.
- Horses that have become confused about stepping forward into the contact can become more confused if the rider does not keep a consistent point of reference for the horse to find his balance. Help the unbalanced horse find stability by using the grab strap to ensure the consistency of the connection.
The most common complaint about the strap is the difficulty a rider feels in holding it and riding at the same time. Frequently I will attach a double ended snap to both ends of a strap to lengthen it. In this way the reins can be held as usual without disturbing the rider’s balance. With the strap lengthened to accomodate the rider’s hand position there should be no difficulty riding with certainty while holding the strap. If there is still a problem after lengthing the strap, it is probably not the strap, and the rider may need to go on the lungeline anyway. With a grab strap.
So, forget what the railbirds think, pick up a strap for your saddle and don’t be embarrassed. In the end, it is the effectiveness of your training that impresses a good horseman, and a good horse.