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Identifying stolen tack

From: Flora

Dear Jessica, last night our stable was robbed and we lost almost all of our tack. Western saddles, English saddles, all of our bridles, even our halters and leadropes, they even took the dirty ones that were on the stalls. They cleaned out the tackroom, even the saddle stands are gone. My son's old pony saddle is gone. Everything is gone. Now everybody is saying "Oh, your insurance will cover it, don't worry" or "Why weren't you more careful?" I'll never get my good old trail saddle back, and it was the most comfortable saddle in the whole world. My son is grown up and doesn't care about the pony saddle, but I wanted to use it for my grandchildren, and now I can't.

My husband drives for a trucking company and he's on the road this month, so there is nobody I can talk to about this. I have to start over now, and this time I want our tack to be SAFE. I can't keep it in the house, there just isn't enough room. I already got the lecture from the police about keeping the tack room locked and keeping the barn door locked and all that. But I want to know how I can get my tack back if they find it. My neighbour says that his wife marks all her tack, so when their place was robbed about ten years ago the robbers didn't take her stuff but they took all the saddles and bridles that belonged to the boarders that didn't have marks. I guess I should have marked my tack. How does that work, and does it really help? If I had put my social security number on my saddles with a marking pen, where should it be on the saddles and do you think it would help me get them back? I feel so upset and angry. Flora

Hi Flora! I'm so sorry about the theft. Of course you are upset and angry! Even if all your tack was insured at replacement value, it's horrible to know that someone wicked was on your property taking your possessions whilst you were asleep or away. And NO, don't feel bad because you didn't put your social security number on your tack, that's not a good way to mark your tack (more about this later).

If you haven't already done this, call the sheriff and call your neighbours. Alert Farm Watch and the Farm Bureau. Let everyone know what happened to you - it could happen to them. It's never too late to start paying attention to unfamiliar cars and trucks in your neighbours' driveway - and it's always a good idea to write down those license numbers, even though it's also possible that the thief was local.

There used to be a saying that local thieves sold locally - and it's still true some of the time, check all the local tack shops and feed stores, anywhere someone might be persuaded to buy tack cheaply for resale. But also check the eBay listings for items that match the ones stolen from you. Honest people aren't the only ones who enjoy selling items from the comfort of their own homes.

From your description of what's missing - that is, EVERYTHING - I'd guess that whoever robbed you was a small-time thief or a person in a big hurry. Professional thieves are picky - they'll take only the items that are expensive and/or unmarked. Local thieves may simply dump everything into a box and sell it at a local tack auction. A lot of auctions are very casual about the provenance of the used (and sometimes the new) items that come through - so you may want to go to ALL the tack auctions in your area for a while, in case you can identify your saddles.

I hope that when you called the sheriff, you could identify your saddles. A lot of people can't, unless they've got a trophy saddle with a competition name and date carved into the leather. A lot of stolen tack just disappears. If it IS seen again, your chances of reclaiming it are much higher if you can prove that the saddle is YOUR saddle. This isn't easy. Your saddle on its rack in the tackroom, with your cinch and your saddle blanket underneath, and your bridle hanging over it on its hanger, is instantly recognizable as YOUR saddle. Your saddle, with no cinch and no blanket, perhaps with its silver removed, sitting on a table at the police station under very different lights, may not look familiar even to you.

When you use a saddle every day, you can be so familiar with it that you can't really describe it properly. You can't assume that city police - or county sheriffs, for that matter - are even vaguely familiar with horses, let alone tack. It's hard to describe a saddle to someone who isn't familiar with saddles. The words you use every day make no sense to someone who doesn't ride. "Saddle horn" may ring a bell, but "pommel", "cantle" "tooling", "rigging", "skirts"... huh? "Seat size, deep-seat or close-contact, dressage or jumping....huh? Oh, and the colour... it's BROWN - or maybe BLACK. "Havana", "Newmarket", "dark oil", "light oil" probably won't mean anything at all to a busy city policeman. If someone stole your barrel saddle with the new hot-pink or bright-orange suede seat, the colour of the seat is the ONLY thing about the saddle that will sound familiar, not the size or the tooling or the round skirts or.... If there's silver on your Western equitation saddle, could you describe the plate and the conchos exactly? If there's a thin line of contrasting-colour leather between the skirts and seat of your English saddle - as there often is - could you say, right now, whether it's cream, tan, brown, or red? Are you sure?

Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words. This is one of those times. If you have photos of your tack, make copies for the police. If you don't, plan to take photos of your new tack when you get it. Take photos of all of it, from all sides, showing the markings if you've marked it (as you should - more about this later). Pictures will help you identify your tack if someone finds it, they will help you with your insurance claim, and they will give the police an idea of what your tack looks like.

Do you have a tack inventory? If not, plan to start one soon. This can be as simple as a notebook record with a handful of snapshots attached, or it could be a detailed description of every item of tack, with those photographs attached - and a video tour of your barn and tackroom. No matter how you do it, it's important to do it - both for insurance purposes, and so that there will be some faint chance of identifying your tack as YOURS, should it ever appear again. Make two copies of everything and keep one set in your house, one at a friend's house or at the bank - and don't ever leave either one in your tack room.

By the way, you may want to do this with your horses too - make an inventory! Include a detailed description, and photos of each one, and make a videotape.

I won't discuss making your barn more theft-resistant - that's a subject for another day - but I do want to encourage you to MARK YOUR TACK.

If you put identification marks in a highly visible place, your tack won't look as pretty, but it's not going to look pretty to a thief, either. The problem with hiding marks discretely in places not easily visible is that even a thief who doesn't plan to steal any marked tack may take your saddle or bridle by accident.

Either way, whether you want your markings to be visible or subtle, mark your tack. Western saddles can be marked just below the horn, English saddles in the gullet, on the underside of the skirt or panel, or on the stirrup bars. Bits can be engraved - don't touch the mouthpiece, but if you use curb bits, you can engrave the inside of the shank.

Engraving tools, small branding irons, and metal stamps can all be used to mark your property as yours. Engraving pens and metal stamp sets are inexpensive and readily available - and you can often borrow them. Talk to your county sheriff about a Tack Indentification Program - a lot of police departments have pens, etching equipment, burning stencils, etc., and are willing to lend it, or will send someone out for an hour or two of tack-marking and theft-prevention discussion.

MARK IT WITH WHAT? As for WHAT to engrave, you'll be best off to use your driver's license number, not your social security number! Do it carefully and accurately: begin with your state abbreviation (mine would be IL for Illinois), follow that with your driver's license number, and follow THAT with DL (for driver's license). Don't leave any spaces - a thief can use them to add numbers or letters. The first two letters identify your state, the numbers identify YOU, the last two letters say that this number is your driver's license number - and they also make it impossible for anyone to add more numbers to the string.

The reason for using your driver's license instead of your social security number is that there are laws preventing people - even people in law enforcement - from using a social security number to contact a person. Your social security number, your birthday, your cat's middle name - ANYTHING will serve as an I.D. marking if you're standing with a policeman, pointing at your saddle in the back of the thief's truck, and saying "That one, right there, THAT saddle is MINE, look under the flap and you'll see, it says "FLUFFY", and here's my photo of the saddle with the flap held up, see, it says "FLUFFY", that's MY saddle" or "Look, right here, that's my social security number right there on the stirrup bar, I can prove that's my saddle, here's my social security card, see, they match!"

The problem is that this is a very implausible scenario. It's not likely that you will have the opportunity to pick your saddle out of a lineup of stolen goods. If you DO, then your driver's license number will work very nicely. If you DON'T, nothing else is likely to help.

If your saddle turns up somewhere else, say at a pawnshop, or if a sheriff in another town or another state makes an arrest and finds fifty saddles and is reasonably sure that they're all stolen, make an arrest and find your stolen saddle, you will never know. Nobody can track you by "FLUFFY" - and nobody is legally permitted to track you by your social security number.

While you're marking all your tack, keep a list of every marked piece and where and how it is marked, for easy reference just in case. Again, make two copies - one for your files, one to put in the bank or leave with a friend.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Perhaps the information here will help you next time, if there is a next time - and I hope there is NOT.


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