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Once stolen, horses and tack can be difficult to relocate and in some cases are never found. The chances for recovery are a lot better if one can PROVE that a particular saddle or horse belongs to him/her. It’s amazing the number of individuals that go to a police station to identify a saddle and then aren’t “too sure” if that rig is theirs or not simply because the color isn’t “quite right” or their saddle “had two cinches and silver conchos” instead of just one cinch and no conchos on the saddle they are inspecting.

If one is the unfortunate victim of thievery be it horse or tack — REPORT IT AT ONCE TO THE POLICE OR COUNTY SHERIFF!! Don’t wait until after you call your husband, wife or come home from work. Call the police first, your husband or wife second and then third, your employer to tell ’em you won’t be to work because of the theft.

In fact, if not sure whose jurisdiction the theft was in — city police or county sheriff — one should find out NOW who’s in charge. In the case of horses boarded in a stable in the county, the county sheriff would be called. Or they might be in the city limits in which case city police would be called. If tack is taken, the jurisdiction is where the structure is located be it a home, tack room or vehicle. So if you can’t immediately say where your horse or tack is located — county or city — there’s no better time than the present to check it out. Knowing NOW saves time in running around trying to figure out who to call. You may THINK the horse is in the county but city limits change and county lines weave around so get a map and find out — now. Gather the appropriate phone numbers now and keep them in a file where you can find them quickly if needed.

After reporting the theft to the proper authority, don’t touch anything!! Leave everything as you found it. Doors open. Locks hanging. Medicine bottles and supplies rummaged through. Wire cut. Fingerprints may be ‘lifted’ from something that can be used in court if a suspect is taken. So a good rule of thumb is don’t disturb it — but take pictures. An inexpensive disposable camera sold in stores everywhere is excellent for this and can be stuffed into a vehicle glove compartment to use for emergencies, be it a theft from barn, pasture or a vehicle accident. It’s not only helpful for police and yourself but for insurance reporting. A picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to explaining on an insurance report. Better yet, inventory all of your horses and tack on film or videotape NOW, before a theft occurs.

Once the police arrive (and in some jurisdictions don’t expect instant arrival) you should be able to give them an accurate description of what is missing. Think about the scene and as you are waiting write down what you remember. You might remember that bridle in the back being taken but forget to mention it when filling out the police report. Making notes helps to jog one’s memory even if you suddenly remember that the blue Navajo blanket was actually loaned to a friend and not stolen — just mark it off your notes.

Be able to give the police an ACCURATE description of what is missing or the horse stolen. Serial numbers on tack, markings on a horse, etc. should all be related. The officer taking the report will probably have no idea what a bosal, a hackamore, a hand-stitched headstall is or even the difference between an English saddle from a western saddle. Not many police officers own horses so the best chance of getting something back is to prevent its theft in the first place:

1. Make sure tack is stored SAFELY. If in doubt take it home. It may take 10 minutes longer to saddle a horse because one has to lug equipment from trunk of car to mount. But you know it will be there. And if hauling equipment around in a pickup or vehicle, make sure its out of sight. The same rules for protecting packages after shopping at a mall apply to tack!

2. Put your driver’s license or social security number on tack. One can even take it completely apart and engrave or burn into leather the numbers in a spot that is not noticeable. Inside of fenders, under skirts, inside of bit shanks are all excellent locations. Mark the leather in several places, as criminals may disassemble a saddle and swap parts. Don’t use a phone number — one could move and the phone number would change. Some police departments have ‘loaner’ etching equipment and burning stencils which can be borrowed for a few days so you can accomplish the task over a few days. Once all the equipment has been marked, make a list of each piece and where it’s marked. Then file the list with your emergency phone numbers and keep the file in a safe place.

[Drivers License numbers may also change: If you move out of state, CA will keep your DL in the system for 5 years then delete it. Your Social Security number will never change and follows you all of your life. –Ed.]

3. On tack rooms use heavy-duty locks. Use heavy chains around and through cans which store tack and make sure the can itself is chained or bolted down. If not, the can will be loaded up and opened later. Sort of like a late Christmas present in a can!! Have all hinges mounted to the inside or under the hinge itself. Hinges on the outside or uncovered can be opened with the best lock securing it simply by removing the screws from the wood. The hinge falls down and its simply push the hinge aside and swing the door open for ‘gathering’!

4. If sharing a tack room, know who you’re sharing it with and who they are sharing it with. Too many people wandering in and out means loss of control. Tack is not cheap so tack room entry control is important. If you see someone you don’t recognize, don’t be embarrassed to say “May I help you?” and ask their name. You may thwart a theft.

5. Take photos!! Of all tack. In color. From the front, back, both sides, on a horse, off a horse, bottom and top. Any scars or dings — picture ’em. Again, pictures will help set an insurance value on tack and for an officer who doesn’t know English from western saddles that picture should be in his file. Once the photos have been taken and developed, make extra sets. One for file, one for reference, one if needed and an extra just to have.

6. Tack can be tossed into a vehicle and driven away but stealing a horse takes a little more ‘effort’. Consequently, know the people who are fellow boarders. Talk to owners and get to know the horses. We all like to talk about our horses but find out who you are talking to before telling ’em that the grey down the island is a purebred Arab worth three million dollars or that the Paint is a world champion cutting horse or the two horses in pasture, well, no one ever checks on them! Any stranger wandering around a barn should be stopped and questioned and the license number of their car written down — just in case!

7. Know who is allowed to USE a horse. Every Tom, Dick or Sally riding a horse doesn’t give fellow boarders much of a chance to ‘protect’ an animal being walked, ridden or loaded into a trailer. If leasing a horse to many, write the persons’ names down with driver’s license numbers and post it — INSIDE the stall on a wall that can’t be easily seen. I’ve often questioned people about who are they and who gave them permission to ride that horse. In fact where I have my horses boarded the standing rule that everyone knows is that no one is allowed to take my horses out of stalls except my husband. And if anyone sees someone haltering up one of my horses — don’t talk to ’em, just call the sheriff!! Then let the air out of their tires so they can’t drive away…..

8. Ideally every public stable with have an on-site employee. But that doesn’t always happen. So to keep theft from happening, light is a thief’s worse enemy. Have a well-lighted barnyard. Motion sensor lights INSIDE a barn aisle may come on and off as raccoons wander down the barn aisle but it sure attracts attention and is not a welcomed source if a thief walks in. And a barn dog that BARKS is helpful too. He doesn’t have to eat a person’s arm or leg — just make a lot of noise to attract attention. One barn I visited has a siren trip on all barn doors. Boarders know about it — it’s in the barn rules. But if tripped, it will go off for 10 seconds and then shut itself off. It definitely gets attention!!

9. For pasture horses, locate water sources and feed AWAY from roads or driveways. Horses tend to hang around where water and feed are located. So keep them hanging around near the barn. Plant some trees in the pasture close to a barn to afford shade so in the summer, they stay around the barn. And if on a public road dig a ditch inside the pasture about two feet deep, two feet wide. Let grass grow in it. Someone cutting wire won’t drive through it and taking a horse out means having to cross it. It might not be very deep or wide but the whole idea in preventing theft is to make it DIFFICULT. The harder it is or the more difficult or the more attention that may be drawn to an act will cut down on the unlawful act. Just driving into a barnyard after midnight and having “a barking dog come charging down the driveway has prevented theft in one barn” according to one police report. Unfortunately, the thief went a couple miles down the road and took two horses from pasture — they were standing in the corner of the fence by the road where the owner had tossed the night’s feeding!

10. Travelling? Showing? Keep a hitch lock on the trailer (even at home in the barnyard). Tack locked in trailer or vehicle (out of sight) and when putting the horse in a stall, put a lock on the door! Whenever I go horse camping and stay at fairgrounds, I put Master locks on stall doors. I’m more concerned about someone walking by, opening the stall door and taking Sig or Bud ‘off’ than I am of the barn burning down. And make it a point to know where your horse is. One can still have fun and enjoy the adventure but letting a stranger (basically someone you must meet that day or even the day before) take your horse back to the trailer or stall can be asking for trouble!

11. Be unpredictable. Go to the barn at different times. Be seen walking around showgrounds after dark. Let fairgrounds personnel know you’ll be “keeping an eye on the horses and writing down license numbers after the fairgrounds close”. I often go to the barn after a night meeting — say, 1 or 2 am. Or go back at 6 pm when I left that same day at 2 pm. But there are those people who I can set my watch by — they come and go at the same time, every day.

12. And lastly, take color photos and/or videos of all animals to go into a file with your tack pictures. Photograph the horse from left, right, front, back. Take close-up pictures of brands and scars. Close up of any face marking and if the animal has a white inside back heel, get down on the ground and take a picture of that white inside back heel! Digital photos can be posted on the Internet literally within minutes of the discovery of a theft (see You should be able to describe your horse down to the white hairs on his heel. So, quickly — what color is your horse and where are his white markings, hairs and scars? Not sure. Better go look at him and study those pictures!

Some of the above are just a few of the ways to keep animals at home and tack safe. The secret to preventing theft is to remove temptation in the first place. Locks are meant to keep honest people honest and thieves out. A little extra effort or time to unlock a door or unload a saddle may mean the difference between keeping tack and losing it. Knowing who is riding such and such horse may be consider “insulting” by the rider but one will feel better asking than hearing the next day the horse was ridden off by someone and no one knows who! Watching a horse being loaded into a trailer by someone you don’t know and not saying anything may actually be helping the horse to be stolen. So question, ask, keep items locked up and think prevention. Remember, being embarrassed by asking about a horse is a whole lot better than keeping silent. After all, the next horse or tack taken could be yours and no one stopped it because no one asked!!

You can read my full bio here

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