"Proven Products for Horse and Rider"

Holding Manufactures to a Higher Standard

Words about leather, stainless steel, webbing and neoprene
by Cathy Sheets Tauer


Leather is produced in 3 stages:  1) Preparation – leather is salted or cured in a brine solution – rinsed, hair removed and treated with enzymes.  2) Tanning.  There are two choices of tanning.  One is mineral / chrome tanned (using metal chromium) which produces a product that has the ability to stretch and is used in shoe uppers, upholstery, garments, gloves and chaps.  It is soft, and strong when thin, it withstands water and steam.  It can also corrode metal and irritate the skin and cannot be carved or molded and has poor edges.  This leather is processed outside the United States and is done in one day.  The other is vegetable tanned (using plant bark containing tannin).  It is used for shoe soles, linings, harness, saddles, holsters, tooling and straps.  It is firm and strong when thick and weak when thin, it has edges and can be carved and molded.  It is compatible with skin and metal.  It also is more expensive for it takes a month to tan.  3) Finishing.  The leather is waxed, rolled, oiled, shaved and dyed or textured.  There are basically 4 types of leather1) Full Grain. Used in high end apparel, shoes, belts, high quality bridles and tack accessories.  This leather has minimal finishing and has not been saddled to eliminate imperfections.  It is the strongest leather type and over time develops a natural patina finish, becoming more attractive with age.  2) Top Grain.  Often referred to as corrected grain is used for saddles, bridles, chaps, belts, boots and other tack.  It has a smooth surface on one side and a textured on the other.  The natural grain has been removed by sanding and an artificial grain added.  The leather usually has a coating of paint and quality can vary.  3) Suede.  Use in chaps, jackets, boot and hats.  Is less expensive and is made by splitting the hide.  It is less durable and not as thick. 4) Buckskin.  Use in hats and chaps and as fringe for jackets.  Is not as common and often tanned with animal brains or fat.  It has a soft supple feel and smoked to give it a honey color. Use your 4 senses:  Touch.  Leather needs to feel supple.  Firm but springy and not stiff.  Limp leather will not hold its shape with used and stiff leather will not break in or shape to the rider properly.  This leather is either over oiled and or also cut from the belly of the animal.  Leather should be able to be bent around it onto itself 180 degrees and not crack on the grain or flesh side surface. If leather shows signs of cracking it will lack the tensile strength to do the job.  Smell. Poor leather will have a bad, sour, or pungent smell (almost like urine which it maybe since some countries still use urine to cure leather) or the leather will have no smell at all and is usually lower priced.  Quality leather has a good sweet aroma.  Sight. Smooth leather that is finished on both the grain side and flesh side inculcates that is was well tanned. Avoid leather that has long stringy fibers on the flesh side.  This is an indication that it was poorly finished or from the belly area of the hide.  Look for clean uniform grain.  Many hide will have deep wrinkles that indicate it was from the neck area.  This is strong but aesthetically unappealing.  This leather would be better served embossed and this shrunken grain is used on kneed inserts or seat area for it provides a measure of extra grip.  Listen.  Listening closely, bend the leather if you hear a sound of cracking wood or sand paper on itself the leather is too dry or stiff.  Care in quality:  Stitching.  Look for straight uniform lines and stitch length.  The higher number of stitches per inch indicates that the manufacturer is concerned about quality.  The basic number of stitches for saddle skirts is six with 12 indicating that the manufacturer is particularly concerned with quality. This quality also is present with the product having a smooth finish and edges finished off with a feel of satin. Dying. Two types of dyes are used.  Aniline dye. This dye penetrates into the leather leaving the natural grain showing. The hides are drum dyed and the dye soaks into both the grain and flesh side.  It provides a beautiful look to the leather.  These dyes are used to create black, Havana brown and other dark colors. Pigment dyes on the other hand resemble a surface painted treatment where the die is sprayed on.  This procedure tends to obscure the surface grain and is camouflaged with theses pigment dyes.  With pigment dying the surface is sealed thus making caring for the leather more difficult.   In many western saddles and tack, no die is used and the leather is left natural with oils such as peanut, olive, animal fats etc., used to darken it to a honey or amber color.  However these un-dyed saddles will continually change to a darker color if not kept covered and only conditioned with non-darking saddle product such as the Bick 4 leather conditioner.  If the saddle is exposed to the sun and the daily wear that a working saddle receives.   The saddle will not be recognizable as the same saddle color you purchased.  Remember every mud and sweat spot shows and even though it will show and look like you really spend hours in the saddle, it also shows that maybe you spent too much time in the saddle – if you get my drift, for the seat and leg area of your saddle will be most definitely several shades darker than the rest of your saddle.  So bare this in mind when purchasing a natural or chestnut saddle.  For the only time it is show beautiful is the day you buy it or unless of course you keep it covered and use it indoors, in an arena, for completions or show, then it will remain in a show like quality state for a long time.

Here are several photo's of the SAME saddle model ordered in CHESTNUT.  You can clearly see how the color chestnut varies right out the manufactures plant.  This chestnut color whether is it is in light oil or natural will naturally develop a patina over time, when exposed to sun light, cleaning, elements of the weather and riding.  So the bottom line is...when you order chestnut, don't be surprised at what you will receive.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel.  All tack that is exposed to a sweating animal should be made with Stainless steel.  Sweat contains salts, which will cause corrosion and look terrible after a time eventually rusting out.  To know if your tack has stainless steel, hold a magnet to the metal and if the magnet does not stick then the hardware is made of stainless steel.


Webbing there are three basic types:  Nylon is the highest quality, most expensive and strongest of all the webbing used in tack. It is used in halters and pet collars and generally has a soft feel with a tighter weave and no stretch. Next is Polyproplene, which is used in horse blankets and less expensive than nylon.  It has a looser weave and is a bit stiffer.  Lastly is polyester, which is the least expensive of the three.  It has a soft broken in feel and has some elasticity to it.  It is also used for halters and pet collars as well as flat leads and also available in rope form.


A word about Neoprene:  Did you know that neoprene is made from petroleum? Did you know that practically all neoprene comes from Singapore?  Did you know that the highest quality of neoprene means that more petroleum is used in the manufacturing of neoprene?  Did you know that this directly relates to quality which means that the product will have a longer life span, by not shrinking, cracking or deteriorating?  The lower quality neoprene usually carries a lower price have less petroleum and more additives / extenders in the finished neoprene sheets, these sheets will shrink, crack and deteriorate rapidly.

The HVF Brand and what it means to you as a consumer:  As a contract manufacturer, we have learned A LOT through the years and the most important thing we have learned is not to blindly trust manufactures trying to sell us a line of goods stating “quality”.   We do our own research and CONTRACT only those manufactures that will supply the QUALITY we require and build goods to our specifications.  It is ONLY this product that will carry the HVF Brand - exclusively, with no other manufacturer mark.  This Branded Product in itself will carry a 3-year warrantee against defects, natural wear and tear, but not customer abuse or neglect.  You will then know that you have the highest quality neoprene, hardware, webbing, steel and parts available and that your money was well invested.


An interesting perspective on price:  Written by  John Ruskin, who lived between 1819 and 1900.
It's unwise to pay too much. But it's worse to pay too little.
When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all.
When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.
The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can't be done.
If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run.
And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.
There is hardly anything in the world that someone can't make a little worse and sell a little cheaper - and people who consider price alone are this man's lawful prey.

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