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Long-Term Tack Display:
The Unexpected Risks to Model Finishes
Original version printed in THE HOBBY HORSE NEWS, FEB/MAR 1997
copyright 1996, 2005, 2009 Melody D. Snow

Have you got a favorite model that looks great in that special costume? Were you ever tempted to leave the tack on the model, showing it off to everyone that visited? Beware! It could ruin your horse's finish!

I first became aware of this potential problem with a Hong Kong Clydesdale tacked in cheap harness. One day as I dusted him, I realized the area under the harness was darker than the rest of the horse. He'd been sitting on a sunlit shelf for years. The light had bleached the paint unprotected by the harness. I chalked this problem off to "sun exposure."

Then, I began swapping ideas and tall tales with fellow tackmakers. Model damage from tack is a real problem. It ranges from the sun-bleached incident of my Clydesdale to black dye oozing from a saddle pad ruining a friend's model. It can happen with Commercial-made or Hand-crafted tack.

What makes the problem so insidious is that it doesn't happen with all types of tack. You may display a western saddle for months or years without trouble, but an English saddle may do you in. Or vice versa. It depends on the display conditions (sunlight, humidity, etc.) and on the materials used in the tack construction. The only way to be certain a model won't be damaged by long-term tack exposure is to never leave him tacked up after shows or photo shoots.


If you still want to show off your new saddle, consider using a miniature saddle stand. Simple stands display just the saddle, while more elaborate ones have hooks for bridles, breast collars, and cruppers. It may not be as pretty as when on a model, but it is safe.


If you absolutely can't stand to leave the costume off the horse, you aren't alone. Several tackmakers I talked to left tack on models for long stretches of time without any problem. Sue Rowe (Sojourner Studios) had one horse that had been wearing the same bridle continuously for nearly 11 years. As I stated before, display conditions and construction materials seemed to be the factors that lead to damage.

With this in mind, there are several things you can do to minimize the risk of damage to your model's finish:

1. Test display the tack for a week. Use an rrh (repaint/remaking/hairing)body prospect, preferably a white or light-colored one. If you don't have a white model, consider stripping the paint off your rrh (repaint/remaking/hairing). I don't recommend painting the horse white, unless you know how that paint reacts when dry. If the paint is tacky, but the OF model isn't, your test will be invalidated.

Check the model at the end of the week. Is there any damage? Is the tack sticking to the finish? If yes, don't display on a long-term basis.

2. Avoid problem materials, when possible. For example, suede, especially black, has been known to cause trouble. Hand-dyed leather and laces are also risky. Here, though, the browns and blacks seem to set well, but the exotic colors, like reds and blues, don't. NOTE: Industrially dyed leathers generally do not bleed unless drenched in water. However, I have had a report that all chrome dyed leathers are a risk factor. Colored felts also fall into this category.

Another problem material can be plastic. LSQ (live show quality) tack isn't usually made with that, but some OF (original finish) horses have come with plastic tack. With the Breyer plastic saddles, the only problem I've heard of is possible fading caused by sunlight exposure. However, I have had a report that the plastic in Marx horses can have a chemical reaction with the plastic in the saddles when left tacked up for years and years.

3. Be very careful of all metal parts on your tack. Ideally, all rough edges should have been filed down by the tackmaker. However, some applications, like Peruvian Stirrups, require pointy edges to be authentic. Metal parts offer the highest risk of damage when tacking or untacking. However, if you live in earthquake risk areas or have a house that shakes violently when you run the washing machine, stirrups may become a hazard in display situations as well. Wrap metal stirrups with some sort of protection to avoid damaging the display model and its neighbors.

4. Choose temporary adhesives used to "tack" things in place with caution. I personally prefer to leave tack fit a little unpolished or to make mock nosebands to hold bits rather than risk an unexpected result from a temporary adhesives.

That said, I have never heard of any chemical reactions caused by Mini-Hold Wax (tm), a product specially formulated for miniature use.

Quake Hold (tm) is another good product. This poster putty-like product is specially formulated for museum use. I have yet to use it long-term on tack, but I do secure horses to shelves with it and have not had any trouble.

I am skeptical of regular poster putty as some formulas will leak an oily substance after years of use. I've been told this only happens to paper products, but I have had a report of it happening on fabric. In my personal experience, I have 2 art prints that have been damaged because I used poster putty on them. Because of this, I won't use regular poster putty on tack or models at all. I stick with Quake Hold. : )

I have no reports on other temporary adhesives, like Aileenes Tack-it. This product is sometimes used on smaller scale tack or on leg protection items. Theoretically, it only comes in contact with the tack it is applied to, but accidents do happen. If you have experience with long-term exposure of this product to model horse finishes,

5. Place a protective pad under the saddle and under any "problem" materials. This pad can be white felt or chamois. If you cut it exactly to the saddle size, it won't show or detract from your display. Smaller felt pieces may be placed under wide harness straps or breast collars.

6. Don't leave a tacked model in direct sunlight.

7. Avoid extreme heat. Don't store a tacked model near heat vents or fireplaces. Don't leave him tacked in hot, unventilated rooms during the summer.

8. Humidity is dangerous. During wet seasons, untack your horse. Don't leave tacked horses in rooms with humidifiers.

9. Check your horse periodically. This should be once a week for the first month. If there is no problem, just check once a month or whenever you dust. Do this even if the model is in a glass case. The moment you see any damage or stickiness, remove the tack!

10. Tacked horses should never touch their neighbors. Just as tack can damage the horse that it is on, so it can damage any other model it touches. Be sure there is plenty of space between the tack and any neighboring horses.

11. Consider displaying your tack only on inexpensive models that you can afford to replace if they are damaged.

Remember, while most tack won't damage your model, it only takes one accident to ruin that collector's piece. Be cautious!


Special thanks to fellow hobbyists Erica Bonomi, Celeste Gerber, Kim Jacobs, Diane Northington, Sue Rowe, Kathy Wiggins, and Susan Bensema Young for sharing their experiences with me. Thanks also goes to the gang at Model Horse Blab.

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