Saddlery isn’t cheap. But if you buy good quality ‘English’ leather and look after it properly, it can last for donkey’s years. Which is just as well, really.
In the early 19th century, the regimental Colonel was responsible for procuring all enlisted dragoons’ basic kit, the cost of which he then re-charged to the government. So it would seem to make sense for the Colonel to buy the best quality he could find, but there are stories of parsimonious officers obtaining inferior equipment before invoicing Horse Guards (HQ) for the best!
Many of these frauds must eventually have been found out, however. Equipment had a specified ‘lifespan’. A saddle, girth and pistol holsters must last 16 years, a bit 12 years and a bridle, breastplate etc. with all associated strap-work 6 years. So any regiment which put in more than the expected level of requisitions, due to excessive breakages, would have fallen under suspicion.
And this lifespan caused problems for individual cavalrymen. If you lost your horse for any reason you had to make darned sure you made every possible effort to retrieve your saddlery – a little difficult if you were under fire on a battlefield at the time. Because the danger was that unless your commanding officer was prepared to sign that the equipment was ‘lost due to enemy action’ you could be called upon to pay for its replacement. And only earning two shillings (10 pence) per day as a Private Dragoon, you might spend the remaining years of your enlistment paying off the debt!
But back to longevity. As an example, take the bridle in the picture – a double-bridle, more modern, civilian version of that described in an earlier post. The bit was bought for this particular horse, but most of the bridle belonged to my wife’s old horse, bought for him in 1997. The bridoon reins came from the ex point-to-pointer before that, and the curb (narrowest) reins were made in 1974 and belonged to my first horse, who I bought as a four-year-old, and we lost, aged 27, in 1995.
Not a bad lifespan for strips of cowhide impregnated with tannin, eh?
And that’s why we call it the ‘dead-horse bridle’.