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View Full Version : English, French, Italian and American Bridle Leather - What's the difference



redlight
Apr. 13, 2009, 05:19 PM
It seems every time I look there is another brand of bridles out there. They all look nice but really what is the difference in all the different leathers used for bridles and how does that make the prices what they are? I'm not including Indian or Spanish leather as it doesn't have the quality that the others do. What about two bridles made from english bridle leather but one has a $100 price tag and the other has a $600 price tag?

In your opinion who has the best leather for their bridles?

findeight
Apr. 13, 2009, 05:28 PM
Leather from the same hide and not pieced together from various different scraps.

Leather tanned at the same time and not from different batches at different times in slightly different chemical or vegetable based processes.

Probably give the edge to non chemical tanning to the extent possible.

Leather properly dyed and conditioned before being assembled.

Leather not coated with heavy silicon based products or waxes or over dyed to attain that well used patina...that bleeds out for a year.

Other then that, it makes no difference. Properly selected, tanned, dyed and prepped for sale leather is non national/ merely a matter of treatment as all countries listed have produced great, high quaility leather goods...and a bunch of crap.

Look past the national origin to quality.

For that matter, alot of, say, "French" leather is made from Argentinian produced hides and alot of Argentinian leather products are from those same hides tanned and dyed in France then returned for assembly. Go figure.

mvp
Apr. 13, 2009, 10:04 PM
All good, well-tanned leather all over the world is getting tougher to find. A tack guy told me that this is the result of two phenomena-- the demand for beef is dropping and traditional tanning methods which are very polluting, are being changed in order to keep up with improving environmental laws.

I have noticed:

For saddles: English calf-skin tends to be a bit thicker and more stout than french. If you want to ride in jeans in your "mortgage payment saddle" pay attention.

For bridles: findeight is right. You need to see the leather. It's origin might not be easy to determine, nor a good guideline.

I think Germany's idea of bridle leather is even stiffer than the English one. I'm not a fan of even the nicest Stubben bridles, for example.

Sedgwick (sp?) is a major tannery that does a good job. They produce leather for Edgewood and what was Aramas and Harmon Kraft bridles, and now seems to be the Smartpak line of similar-looking bridles.

Bevals started making its new-market colored bridles out of Italian leather. I think its finish is NOT all that and a bag of chips as that company wants all its products to be. It's color is even but seems opaque and not receptive to oil. I'm comparing these to the older New Canaan line.

I'm not a fan of the "don't oil!" finish on Hadfield's very expensive Havana bridles.

I think tack manufacturers think they are working for people who don't want to take time to initially oil and then later clean their tack. That's too bad. Caring for tack is not rocket science and done correctly it will allow a bridle to last a generation.

So, it's worth the time spent looking at saddles and bridles "in the flesh," buying the best real quality (not reputation) you can find and then caring for your tack.

Lori
Apr. 13, 2009, 10:13 PM
I know I have posted on this before, but to sum it up:

Start to finish product makes the difference. There are MANY ways to tan hides.

Walsall England turns out the best pit tanned, hand curried leather due to the calcuim content in their water and their hand processing. http://www.je-sedgwick.co.uk/jes/4230/editorial/d/behind+scenes/artid/2512. So, to a point, where the tanning is done does make a difference.

Best cuts are from the back and butt leather. I personally use the butts for my strapgoods.

I like the American leather from Muri McDonald for western tack, Hermann Oak coming in second. The American tanned "English Bridle leather" is very nice, but still does not have that exquisite feel and smell that Walsall tanned hides do. I do not have Italian or French backs here, but I do like those that I have seen and felt in person on the finished product.

Lori
Apr. 13, 2009, 10:27 PM
Sedgwick (sp?) is a major tannery that does a good job. They produce leather for Edgewood and what was Aramas and Harmon Kraft bridles, and now seems to be the Smartpak line of similar-looking bridles.

Edgewood still uses Wickett and Craig American tanned hides, as did Aramas.
Harmon Kraft is more like an Indian tanned leather unless they have changed over the past couple of years.

mvp
Apr. 13, 2009, 10:29 PM
Good call! Thanks, Lori. By the way, I dug the Sedgwick's site. Now I want something beautiful, unorthodox and custom. Just what I need.

PROTACKGUY
Apr. 13, 2009, 10:46 PM
Have to agree with Lori, made some good points.

A few other observations.
By the way Lori is right that Aramas was always made with American leather, as was the original New Cavalry and Edgewood and Ovation American leather bridles.

Today the unfinished leather in English or American or Italian leathers may come from just about anywhere. The tanning process has a great deal to do with the qualities of the leather as well as how it is dyed.

This varies from tannery to tannery and one tannery can make a totally different leather than another. However in speaking about quality leathers, all countries mentioned do a good job of vegetable tanning and drum dying.

The largest distinction is the finishing or currying process. This is where they put the oils and fats back into the leather and where they achieve the "look and feel" of the leather.

The English have a great process and companies like Sedgewick, who only finish leather, not tan it, have established the standard. However in recent years the quality has gone down and some other English finishers do a better job like Pittards.

The American leather has an extra step in the finishing and that is to infuse the leather with fats and oils thru heat and pressure. This provides a more supple leather but can stretch a bit more.

The italian finished leathers do not have the same fat infusing steps that are taken in English and American leathers. But they do a remarkable job in achieveing a flawless, polished look. In time they will not wear as well, but do offer a great look at a lower price point.

The differences in a $500 English bridle and a $200 Englsh leather bridle made in India is often the result of the higher labor costs in England as well as the mark-ups that certain "boutique" vendors charge for their product. Leather quality is often exactly the same.

chawley
Apr. 14, 2009, 02:56 PM
Have to agree with Lori, made some good points.

A few other observations.
By the way Lori is right that Aramas was always made with American leather, as was the original New Cavalry and Edgewood and Ovation American leather bridles.

Today the unfinished leather in English or American or Italian leathers may come from just about anywhere. The tanning process has a great deal to do with the qualities of the leather as well as how it is dyed.

This varies from tannery to tannery and one tannery can make a totally different leather than another. However in speaking about quality leathers, all countries mentioned do a good job of vegetable tanning and drum dying.

The largest distinction is the finishing or currying process. This is where they put the oils and fats back into the leather and where they achieve the "look and feel" of the leather.

The English have a great process and companies like Sedgewick, who only finish leather, not tan it, have established the standard. However in recent years the quality has gone down and some other English finishers do a better job like Pittards.

The American leather has an extra step in the finishing and that is to infuse the leather with fats and oils thru heat and pressure. This provides a more supple leather but can stretch a bit more.

The italian finished leathers do not have the same fat infusing steps that are taken in English and American leathers. But they do a remarkable job in achieveing a flawless, polished look. In time they will not wear as well, but do offer a great look at a lower price point.

The differences in a $500 English bridle and a $200 Englsh leather bridle made in India is often the result of the higher labor costs in England as well as the mark-ups that certain "boutique" vendors charge for their product. Leather quality is often exactly the same.


Great stuff PROTACKGUY. Do you have an opinion or preference of a good bridle under $250 based on the leather quality, tanning and finishing process, and construction?

Romany
Apr. 14, 2009, 04:55 PM
It's understandable - but saddening - to note how many of the higher-end saddlers in N America and in Europe are now having their work finished, assembled, stitched, etc, in countries where labour is cheap and labour laws are a little more flexible.

redlight
Apr. 14, 2009, 05:13 PM
This is really interesting! I wonder how many people think about this stuff when they buy tack? ProTackGuy what is your opinion on french leather for bridles?

I thought Sedgwick did dye their leather as if you go on their website it shows the different colors of the leather.

The tricky thing is you really don't know much about the leather unless you actually look at the bridle and also know what you are looking at.

I just find it confusing when you read that one brand has italian leather, one has english leather, one with french and so on. How do we really know where it's made and what tannery it comes from? If I read Italian leather I think so big deal what tannery and where is it's origin? As one of the other posters mentioned, some french leather comes from Argentina. We shouldn't only be looking at price as the determining factor when buying tack.

BAC
Apr. 14, 2009, 05:24 PM
By the way Lori is right that Aramas was always made with American leather, as was the original New Cavalry and Edgewood and Ovation American leather bridles.

According to the Edgewood store on ebay, their original stuff was made from English (Sedgewick I think) leather but due to the tanning process or something they discontinued using that leather and switched to domestic (American) leather for Edgewoods.

PROTACKGUY
Apr. 15, 2009, 09:23 AM
In regards to old Edgewood using Sedegewick. Seems reasonable, as Wicket and Criag may have had an exclusive agreement at the time with New Cavalry.

In regards to best under $250 bridles, hmmm let me check prices in some catalogs to find the brands that meet your price requirements.

I will give you my perferences, but it is really best that you see the bridles yourself and make your decisions...

Dapple Dawn Farm
Apr. 15, 2009, 10:26 AM
No mention of the ADT (Arc de Triomph) bridles...I'm assuming it's french leather, yes / no?

PROTACKGUY
Apr. 15, 2009, 10:42 AM
No mention of the ADT (Arc de Triomph) bridles...I'm assuming it's french leather, yes / no?

I believe they are made in Moracco.
Not sure what leather they use.

redlight
Apr. 15, 2009, 11:14 AM
ADT's are french leather but where assembled I don't know.

So if you were looking at two bridles and one had a high price tag but you knew what country it was assembled in and a second less expensive but same quality leather but assembled in unknown country which would you buy? For example you have Hadfield's which are Sedgwick leather assembled in England and many other brands with the Sedgwick claim that carry a much lower price tag so obviously not assembled in England. Maybe it's a question of how brand loyal you are or are you simply motivated by price?

PROTACKGUY
Apr. 15, 2009, 02:15 PM
Thanks redlight you are moving us closer to the true picture.

You are so right in that leather in of itself does not govern the price of the bridle,

However the use of the word "assembled" as in where a bridle is made, tends to minimalize the impact of the manufacturer.

Bridles are not just assembled in different countries as an automobile might. They are crafted from leather every step of the way, the finishing details, the stitching qualities, the usage of the leather as in using the best cuts of leather, the quality of the hardware, the knowledge of what works and does not work, the sizing of bridles and of course the reputation of the manufacturer to stand by the product adds a lot to the picture.

BAC
Apr. 15, 2009, 02:33 PM
Bridles are not just assembled in different countries as an automobile might. They are crafted from leather every step of the way, the finishing details, the stitching qualities, the usage of the leather as in using the best cuts of leather, the quality of the hardware, the knowledge of what works and does not work, the sizing of bridles and of course the reputation of the manufacturer to stand by the product adds a lot to the picture.

I agree. When the leather on the noseband of my Hadfields bridle started lifting up from the stitching Cindy Hadfield replaced it at absolutely no cost to me, even though I most likely caused the problem by over oiling it instead of using the recommended Leather Therapy. And nobody stands behind their products better than Antares does either so I am happy to pay a high price for their bridles also. Try reading the thread on bridles from the Beval sale and see the dissatisfaction in the smaller details that made quite a few people say that they could live with it only because they bought the bridle on sale but would be very disappointed if they had paid full price for them. Its for reasons like this that I always buy the best quality I can afford.

PROTACKGUY
Apr. 15, 2009, 03:18 PM
BAC, yep certainly agree with you. There are so many details on a bridle that contribute to the finished product. Sometimes details, like how the keeper is stitched on or how it is re-inforced makes a huge difference in ease of use and longevity....

20 years ago there were a handful of bridle makers that really knew what they were doing. Today the number of good bridle makers is not that much more. But due to an over abundance of Indian makers, virtually any equestrian import company in America can find bridles from India at low prices


There are damn good companies and bridles made in India, but the problem is that few importing companies have the experience or patience to care about quality and establish standards like the old "Millers" did. "Millers "would use their expertise to go to a low labor cost country and "teach" them how to make a proper product. There are still a few companies today with the expertise to do that. Unfortunately there are also many companies that just send a bridle to India, say "make it in English leather " [ which by the way may not even be English leather ] and then they try to sell it as something special.

While some folks think paying for a brand is a rip-off, the truth is that often the brand means alot. The brand may mean that the people who either make or import the bridle have some clue as to what they are doing and have a stake in making sure that they back up the product they sell. In other words they not only know what they are doing they care about their reputation and bend over back wards to make the best at whatever price point they compete in.