Let me be honest about this--when I started writing tack tips for this blog I assumed my primary audience would be people with established tackmaking skills. It was never my intention to teach beginners how to make tack. There are so many other resources for that, and it just didn't occur to me that I might have anything productive to add. However, I've talked to a lot of newbie tackmakers in the last couple months, and it seems I may have been wrong in my assumptions. There is still a need for some basic, getting started type information, and over the next couple days I'm going to do my best to point aspiring tackmakers in the right direction. As always, input is appreciated. Please let me know if any of this is helpful!
Probably the easiest way to start making tack is to buy a kit and put it together. There are a lot of advantages to this approach. Kits are an affordable way to test your interest in tackmaking. Should you decide tackmaking is not your forte, you won't be much out of pocket. Most kits include all the neccessary leather and hardware, so you shouldn't have to run all over town looking for supplies. You will need to provide your own glue and tools, but these are basic things that can be easily purchased at any hobby shop or borrowed from your father/boyfriend/husband's tool box. Most importantly, kits include patterns and instructions to help you get started.
For some twenty years, Carol Williams' Rio Rondo (http://riorondo.com/) has been the number one resource for model horse tack kits. Projects range from simple (halters) to complex (Western saddles) and come with clear, well illustrated instructions.
Melody Snow also sells a selection of tack kits. I have not seen these in person, but you can check out her online catalog here: http://www.unicornwoman.com/index.htm
Once you've decided to pursue tackmaking in earnest, I would highly recommend buying Susan Bensema Young's Guide to Making Model Horse Tack. Susan is one of the hobby's premier tackmakers and this book is worth every cent of its $56 price tag. I particularly like the chapters on braiding and harness. You can find ordering information here. While you're there, check out the entire website. Susan's work is amazing!
Carrie Olguin's Kerioke Entertainment is a more recent player in the field of model tackmaking information. She carries nine different instruction books that cover big topics like saddle making, costume making, and tooling. You can view her website here: http://www.keriokie.com/index.htm. She also has an eBay store:
I recently purchased my first KeriOkie book. I haven't made anything with it as yet, but I've looked through it and my first impression is a good one. It is obvious that a lot of time and effort went into this publication. The instructions are detailed and well illustrated and the book comes with four complete saddle patterns.There is a wealth of tackmaking information online. I would recommend subscribing to the Modelhorsetack Yahoo mailing list. The homepage is here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/modelhorsetack/?yguid=232082844. This is a friendly group and there are often good discussions on various tackmaking topics. Be sure to check out the archives!
The Tack Room forum on Model Horse Blab (http://modelhorseblab.com/) is also an excellent resource. In fact, that has become my go-to place when I have a tackmaking question. The only downside is that you do have to be a Blab subscriber to access this form. The annual cost is $18 ($10 a year if you're under 18).
Of course, some of the best tackmaking resources come from outside the hobby. Books about real tack are an invaluable reference for the model tackmaker. Here are a few of the titles in my personal library. Look for books with good clear illustrations--sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words!
Tack catalogs are also an excellent source of information and inspiration. Last but certainly not least, find some real tack to look at. Go to a tack shop or a horse show or a stable and pay attention to what you're seeing. Notice where the buckles go and how different pieces attach to one another. Study proportions. No one taught me how to make an English saddle or bridle. I didn't buy a kit or read a book. Instead, I looked at my real tack. I took my bridle apart and reassembled it. I turned the saddle upside down and studied it from all angles. I did my best to copy what I saw. I still do that today. There is no better way to learn.
Kits and books are a wonderful way to start, just remember that's what they are--a starting point. They may help you to progress much faster than you would strictly through trial and error, but you shouldn't become too reliant on them. Don't be afraid to experiment. There is no one right way to do things and nowhere is this more true than in the field of model horse tackmaking!