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Original Version Printed in EQUINEWS, "Tacky Subjects" -- April 1995, updated 2016
copyright 1995, 2016 Melody D. Snow

Mistakes and accidents litter the tackmaking process. Some of them are inexplicable, like why those polo saddles I recently made required six tries before they dyed right. Some are pure carelessness, like when I stain an important piece with glue because I'm too lazy to keep my fingers cleaned. But, those mishaps are infinitesimal to the ones I'm about to share.

Why discuss mistakes, instead successes? Because I hope you can learn from them. The discussion focuses on tack, but many of the same mistakes are made by customizers.

Mistake #5 Fear of Failure: For years I wouldn't try the really hard tack items, because I thought I couldn't do it. The result was that I didn't learn a lot of the techniques I should have until much later in my career.

Moral: Try things. As they say, if you aren't failing occasionally, you aren't learning anything.

Mistake #4 Fear of Commitment: This was characterized by a hesitancy to purchase the tools/supplies I needed. I was afraid of spending the money for fear I wouldn't use the tools and because I thought my mom would think it wasteful.

For example, I became interested in leathercraft during summer camp, but I didn't shell out the money to get into it until 1990. (Yes, it is amazing how many tack items you can make without special leather tools.) If I had put just a little bit of effort out back in the seventies, buying a tool here and a tool there, I'd probably be a master leathercraftsman by now. (Of course, I would have had to use the tools.) I've fixed this problem, somewhat, by establishing a yearly tool budget.

Moral: If you're taking up tackmaking or customizing, recognize it will be expensive. Set yearly goals for both new skills and new tools.

UPDATE: Mistake #4b Buying more than you can use: The original 5 item list was composed in 1995. Now, in 2016, I've discovered that in fixing #4, I made another one. I have a whole bunch of tools and supplies that haven't been used. Some, like dyes and glues, go bad and have to be thrown away. So, that investment was totally lost.

Moral: If you buy it, use it.

Mistake #3 Concentrating on Tack Only: I'm a tack fanatic. Sometimes, I think I like the tack more than the horses. My early research was almost exclusively on costumes. I should have spent more time on other events and subjects. It would have given me more understanding on tack and on our hobby. For example, once you understand the difference between horse and donkey/mule conformation, you understand why there is a difference in tack design for them. My solution to the problem has been an active campaign of study over the past 5 years.

Moral: Specialties are great, but a broad base of knowledge is helpful when competing in this hobby.

Mistake #2 Accepting Good, Instead of Pursuing Greatness: This is a design flaw. Actually, the true problem here is I'm not a gaudy person. Once something looks good, I want to call it done. That doesn't always show well, especially if someone else has decorated their costume to the point of gaudy. It has taken me a while to realize that a little more effort can push a good costume over to a great one. (Aside: you get paid better for great costumes. Not that I'm even getting a buck an hour now . . .)

Moral: When you think you're tack or model is good enough, look it over again. Can you improve it? Then do it! Go for greatness!

Mistake #1 Not Documenting My Tack: This is not only my biggest mistake, it's the one I'm most ashamed of. I've been making tack for over 15 years, but I've only been keeping design records the last five or six. Update: In 2016, I've been selling tack for 36 years.

Keeping notes on your work is very important. For one thing, it reminds you of what you did last time, so that you can improve it. It saves you time in the long run. When I go to make a bridle or saddle now, I just pull out the file with its notes and patterns and get to work. Before I started keeping files, I would redesign the costume each and every time. I've also found that I can lift whole portions of a saddle pattern or of the directions from a file and build a new tack item. That's very handy.

Moral: Keep notes of what you've done. Save your patterns. And take photos, too!

Article Copyright 1995, 2016 Melody D. Snow

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