After thieves have broken in, you may still have some tack to use -- the old, the worn, the damaged. Tack thieves take only the best, leaving the rest behind. Only the good stuff sells quickly.
There are two types of tack thieves. Each works differently. The local thief steals one or two saddles, usually in the daytime when he knows people aren't home. Usually only one stable is hit at a time.
The interstate thieves almost always strike at night and take all of the good saddles and bridles. If four or more saddles are taken, or several barns are hit in one night, it's probably the work of an interstate ring. They generally steal from barns that are within a five-minute drive of an interstate or major highway. No one knows how these thieves decide which stable to hit, so everyone is vulnerable.
Both the local thief and the interstate ring know your barn and your routine. They know how many good saddles you have and the best times to steal. Most likely they have scouted your stable, perhaps coming onto your property to ask about boarding or about horses for sale.
There are ways to protect your tack. A strong padlock on the tack room door can foil the local thief. So can the sound of a dog, donkey, goose or other territorial animal, especially if you respond to it. Many thieves have walked away with saddles because no one came to see what the dog was barking about.
If a car drives up, find out who they are and what they want. If the purpose for the visit doesn't match their questions (such as saying they're interested in buying a horse, but then asking about your business hours and number of employees), be alerted. Copy down their tag number if you're suspicious.
Burglar alarms work. There is plenty of evidence that a simple, properly installed alarm covering the tack room scares thieves. The most effective alarms turn on lights and start a horn or siren. Some alarms will even call the police.
If you have tack stolen, knowing whether it's a local thief or interstate ring can help you look for your saddle. Local thieves sell locally. Watch for used saddle and tack ads in newspapers and on bulletin boards in your county and adjacent counties. If it sounds like yours, check it out. Place notices, and tell all your friends about your loss. Report the theft to your sheriff or police, and provide as many details as possible.
Mark your tack so you can prove it's yours. You may have to stand before a judge who knows nothing about horses, and who will need to know that you, not the thief, are the rightful owner. It may take months to find your saddle.
Chances of recovery are slim for tack stolen by an interstate ring. These rings take saddles and tack across state lines and sell back into the retail trade.
Reid Folsom is a security consultant specializing in farms and ranches. If you have information that could help his study of tack thieves, call (800) 326-2524.