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Opinions please...biothane vs leather

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  • Opinions please...biothane vs leather

    I was all set to purchase a bio thane "granite" pleasure harness for my first foray into driving, and then I was given some reasons why leather is better.

    I had already been given reasons why biothane is better....

    Now, I need to get it clear in my mind....

    So..opinions please.

    This harness will be for occassional pleasure driving of a draftx in a 2 wheeled cart. He's big, I'm only 5'5" and worry about the weight of leather for harnessing him by myself. Also, I'm lazy so biothane appeals in that way....

    Please give me your ideas so I can make a decision...

    PS...one of the concerns with biothane was that it won't break in a runaway. I hope I never HAVE a runaway, but is it possible to add leather pieces that will give in this event, to a biothane harness...much like a leather safety strap on a nylon halter?

  • #2
    No responses, yet, eh? There've been quite a few threads on biothane vs. leather, but I don't mind tackling it again. I've got about a mile of biothane and leather hanging up in my tack room! The leather belongs to work horse harness too heavy for me to handle and too much of a pain to clean, and also to the remnants of lovely, mid-priced, well-maintained pony harnesses, each of which broke near-disastrously while driving.

    The biothane belongs to the two harnesses that I use all the time. I use 'em, wipe 'em down, check stitching and connectors and put them away.

    The one piece of leather I use all the time is my Eurocollar and its buckled-in traces, which Sparrow wears.

    Some of the newer biothane harnesses are every bit as rich and lovely as leather. Mine aren't, but they do their job.

    As for harness breaking in a runaway -- that's not something I had considered. Are you thinking that the harness should somehow let go of the carriage? While you are on the carriage? Or if you fall off?

    The nearest wreck I have ever had was caused by a piece of leather harness giving way in work.

    The strangest post-wreck scenario I've ever experienced was catalyzed by a piece of harness giving way under stress.

    Under what circumstances do you want the harness to break?


    • #3
      I'm ashamed to admit that I turned my nose up at bioithane harness when first introduced! Considering my years and lack of mobility in my left shoulder, it is on top of my list today, particularly for someone 5'2" to harness a 19H Percheron.
      Have to agree with MySparrow that you need to wipe it down and check it for loose stiching as well as cracks and chips (this after many years of use).
      For the use you describe I'd go with biothane.


      • #4
        I always crack a smile when one of the reasons for choosing harness is that it will (or won't break) in the event of a problem

        Well, I have to say that I really DONT WANT MY HARNESS to break - how does It know what is the correct moment to break and when to stay whole??? To me its like saying you want your stirrup leathers to break - but ONLY at the right moment??? Well when is that Exactly??? Besides, whatever type of harness, when the situation is extreme enough, something will give - whether its stitching, a buckle, or a strap. But I really dont want planned breakage in there.

        What you DO want is a well built harness that fits the horse and is comfortable and made for the job you are asking the horse to do (pleasure, CDE, work, whatever)

        I happen to prefer leather and do heft around a fairly substantial harness for each of our 2 draftX's. The saddles are 5 and 6 inches and most of the leather is double. Many have enjoyed the convenience of the bio/beta harnesses and the improvements in the build and look of these harness in the past 5 years has been exponential. Some are almost indistinguishable from leather harnesses.

        So find a style and maker that you like and go for it - and enjoy!
        Last edited by Drive NJ; Jan. 3, 2008, 09:22 AM.


        • #5
          I think the OP might have got in a dilemma by something I said on a chat room.

          Personally I would never choose a harness because of just one feature.

          All harness has benefits and disadvantages.

          Rather you need to consider ALL of the above and then go for what suits you and what you're intending to do.

          For me though I'd always choose leather and double stitched and with really good quality metal finishings that won't bend and snap. I've got a biothane set that I was given with a driving horse I bought. But I don't like it and don't ever use it: I've kept it just to show folks when I run through harness types. The 'easy-care' harness I do like and prefer is good quality webbing with leather straps.

          Got to say though that I've never known a leather harness be "too heavy" My grooms are all lightweight young women and I've never ever known any of them struggle to lift a set of leather harness. And I've never been aware that there's significant difference in the weight compared to a comparable biothane set.

          A lot of folks say that the main advantage of biothane is the fact you don't have to be so careful and take so long cleaning it. And that's true to some extent. However I like to wipe down all harness immediately after work - no matter what its made of: and to get rid of sweat and mud etc and to check the stitching and joints and buckles. And the leather is no harder to do than any other type IME. And my every day stuff is in hard use and not pampered!

          Only difference with leather is that every month or so (dependent on use) you might want to oil the leather and polish it up.

          And another reason for having leather is that no matter what you decide you want to do, it will be totally acceptable. So if you ultimately decide to go into a local show it will be perfectly o.k. It lasts longer and never goes out of fashion.


          • #6
            Well I'm a biothane fan. At my age I want to spend my time and limited energy enjoying my horses, not cleaning tack. The biothane just takes a quick wipe or hose down - use the pressure washer when going to a show - and it always looks lovely. I've shown against some top competition and have not once been knocked down for not having leather (11 classes entered: 10 blues and 1 yellow). Maybe in the UK or elsewhere it matters but doesn't seem to be an issue in the US.

            That being said you want to get good quality synthetic with all heavy duty stainless steel fittings. I wouldn't want some of the cheap stuff out there - and I'd sure shy away from buying anything from eBay - but the quality harness is very nice. Our harnesses aren't Zilco or name brands but are Amish-made. Not quite as expensive but less than leather. Just be sure to get a proper fit.
            Pat Belskie - ASHEMONT Farm

            PnP Distributors - KUTZMANN Carriages


            • #7
              To start off with, I should say that my harness for my draft team, with neck collars, is a mish-mash of leather, granite and nylon. If I were going out to buy a new set (and had the money), I would definitely go granite. I know many teamsters who have a variety of harness. Yes, leather is lovely -- and heavy, and turns green in the summer. Biothane, the type which looks like patent leather, gets cracked and peels over time. Granite looks and feels like leather, doesn't go moldy, and isn't as heavy. For example, leather traces are made of layer upon layer of thick leather, which is heavy. Granite traces are nylon in the middle, with the leeather-like product on top, which greatly reduces the weight. The traces and the hames are the heaviest part of my harness, so reducing the weight of the traces would be of benefit to me. I'm 5'3", arthritic, and struggle to get the harness on my 16.2 hh mares.

              Almost no one that I know of has biothane lines. They're too light and get blown around in a stiff breeze. Granite has more weight to it, and handles like leather lines. An added benefit is that in the dead of winter up here in the frozen north, the granite stays more flexible than leather, and is much easier to get into and out of buckles.
              My Equestrian Art Photography page


              • #8
                When I had my horse, I had a beautiful russett harness for him. However, I quickly realized I was spending as much time on the leather as I was driving. I can tolerate dirty plastic but not dirty leather. I got a biothane harness for him and loved it.
                When I got my pony, I only bought one harness, a russett and black biothane from Country Carriages. I use it for everything, CDE, Pleasure Shows, whatever. I don't think I have ever been marked down for it but I don't go to Walnut Hill either.
                I really love leather, I just want a staff to care for it.


                • #9
                  Well, I am sure with DNJ on not wanting ANY harness part to break, EVER! Harness doesn't think, so planned breaking point will sure come back to bite you. They ALWAYS break at the worst possible time.

                  I can not think of one wreck I have been in or watched, that breaking parts would have helped. In fact, harness holding firm, allowed people to help animal and driver out of his situation. Any loose part, give, would have encouraged horse to jump, struggle harder, getting into a worse situation.

                  Well broke in driving horses are MUCH more accepting of the "peculiar" wants of their handlers. Traces between the legs in training, rubbing of odd straps and carriage parts on body. Sudden lurches and jerks while pulling just happen. Noises, yelling. Not a big deal. Ours usually think this is just another weird submission thing, stand and wait quietly until someone fixes stuff.

                  The most important part of your harness is the hardware. Quality buckles and rings, good stitching to hold them in place. Buckles need thick tongues, so they don't bend under pull. This is EVERY buckle on the harness. Ours are stainless steel, with stainless tongues. Brass buckles need steel tongues for strength. NEVER use brass tongues on a buckle, they bend in half very easily. Then your straps are sliding out of the buckle and keepers, horse is unfastened yet still going along. EEK!

                  Leather is great, yet does need regular attention or it dies. I am not sure it is greatly heavier than biothane, but weight does add up. Especially if you are over 30, have lots of years cleaning barns and riding. Shoulders get worn. It is harder to hoist heavy stuff up over a horse back. You COULD consider it your "weight bearing exercise" for improving bone density!

                  We have a set of 4 webbing harnesses, by Tedman. They are WONDERFUL for carting about. You can put the whole individuals harness on one arm to throw up on 17H horse. I can CARRY all 4 harnesses in ONE BAG to load for trips. Bridles in their own bag. Not the case with the dressy leather. We put two backpads with cruppers, 4 traces, the pair's lines in one wheeled bag for show. Still heavy to pull about. 4 Collars each get their own bag. Two bridles with bits in a bag. Does make for MUCH more to pack, but SO MUCH easier manage individually. We cart each bag around because they ARE heavy. I am not making packing into an endurance contest, how much can I carry. Easy to hurt yourself with such weight and all the "up-into the trailer" trips. Then everyone has to stay home.

                  We also have Zilco harness, which is a bit lighter than leather. Haven't used it much yet. Other ladies who drive like their biothane, say it is lighter. Many are older, have past injuries or problems, so weight is a consideration.

                  As Thomas said, you should be wiping off the harness after each use. Your hands on the straps, feeling the straps, looking at the parts, is your best method of finding problems, preventing accidents, whatever kind of straps you have. Biothane is not self-healing, or fail-safe to use.

                  YOU have to look at any harness stitching, check it over after each use.

                  I NEVER want any harness parts "breaking for safety" in any circumstances. It may be expensive, but I can repair carriages, even the antiques.

                  My horses wear double layer, steel hardware, nylon halters when they are haltered. Thick, heavy neckropes with expensive snaps. I don't want that halter or rope to ever break either. Horse is well trained to tie and stand, not ever pulling back hard. I consider it much more dangerous for him/her to be running loose, hurting someone else or getting hurt, than possible dangers of being tied, hard-and-fast, where I left them.

                  You do your best to prevent a bad situation from EVER happening with solid basics, good horse training, good RELIABLE harness and equipment. Pay attention to your surroundings ALL THE TIME. You avoid "situations" like iffy horses and drivers at the activity you are attending.


                  • Original Poster

                    Yes, Thomas...this question did come from what I read in chat, where you said something about biothane "not breaking"....I couldn't pursue it in chat, with all the others there, so I figured if I put it here you'd see it!

                    I couldn't imagine when you you want a piece of equipment to break..can you expound on that a little? Or did I misunderstand?

                    This is the harness I "think" I've settled on.


                    It is made in-store by the same third generation Old Order Mennonite craftsmen who do all the leather work for my business. If I haul Echo up there, they'll even fit it to him for me!

                    Any comments about the look and/or price? It will be $550.00 Canadian plus 14% tax....



                    • #11
                      I like a mixed harness. In my climate leather lasts nearly forever if it is maintained. My grandfather has a set that is 80 years old and has been used hard most of those years. I would guess that at least 100 days a year. Many of the parts have been replaced over time but it is still the favorite harness of day to day use.

                      I like beta lines, bio/nylon/bio sandwich traces, and leather every where else. just my preference. LF
                      Lostfarming in Idaho


                      • #12
                        It doesn't look like that bridle has a noseband. That is required in any ADS competition and should be included. Ask how wide the saddle is, is the breastcollar padded? It is hard to tell from the picture if it is ok or you would be better off spending maybe a little more and getting something that meets all the needs.


                        • #13
                          I think you said you have a cart, 2-wheels. The harness under light horses, Granite, doesn't show a bridle. Maybe I am looking in the wrong place?

                          As mentioned, you should ask about width of saddle and breastcollar. Wider distributes weight better, over a wider area of horse back and chest. You may notice it is easier to pick up or carry things up with wider straps, than with skinny straps that cut into your hand or shoulders. I would call 4" and up a wider size on the saddle width.

                          With a cart, horse can have large amounts of weight put on saddle when passengers enter or exit, on hills going up or down. Just very hard to get shaft float in those conditions so horse gets the cart shaft weight on the saddle.

                          With a 4-wheel carriage, there is never any more weight than the shafts themselves. Shafts won't float because they have the independent pivot point where they attach to vehicle.

                          Looking at the saddle of the harness shown, the saddle does not appear to be stiff, like it contains a tree. Harness saddles need a tree to prevent weight bearing on the horse spine. Just like any kind of saddle has a tree to prevent pressure on the spine during work. Spinal vertabrae are not designed for weight pressure. This is especially important in the cart where short times of heavy weight are possible.

                          Many Amish built saddles on harness are designed for 4-wheelers that have little shaft weight on the horse. It is pretty common to use the same harness, no-tree saddle, on the horse in a cart. Doesn't make it right, but because it is common, no one thinks about it in harness selling. May not offer a tree in harness saddle at the harness makers! Many of the folks driving, have driven a lot, don't even know about trees in the harness saddle.

                          You have to be an informed consumer, ask for the tree in your harness. Places like Smuckers deal with many carriage horses. They automatically have trees in all the saddles, except maybe a draft work harness for Pairs or logging. Other shops have different customers, never ask for trees so they don't build harness that way. You might want to measure your rein length, to have the size you need for your vehicle instead of the "standard" length that could be too short or miles too long. I want reins to come back to my hands when seated, with enough lines left over past my hands, to sit on the ends. You might want a narrower width than the inch wide reins common on Amish harness. For them, quality and thick, heavy reins, are the same thing. To be good quality, any leather, all reins, must be very heavy, to last very long times. Inch wide, thick, is way to big for most hands, hard and tiring to use for any length of time.

                          You also might pay for some extras, like buckles on the crupper, at least one. It can be hard to fold and pull the tail thru a sewed in crupper. Much easier to open one side, lift the tail and put crupper under tailbone, buckle shut. You will want to measure the trace length, the ones shown have no adjustment. They probably have a couple slots at the end, your only way of shortening too long a length. We have buckle in traces on the breastcollar. This gives us more options in adjustment to the different vehicles, with different horses. If you only have one vehicle, traces should be the correct length, which may not be the "standard" measurement.

                          You will want buckle-in billets for the bit end of reins. Snaps are very unsafe, break easily, unsafe on reins or holdback straps. Conway buckles are common on the snap ended reins, hard to use in daily work. Pay for the billet ended reins, so much easier to use. Plus you check those billets for wear each time you bridle the horse, put the reins on bit. Good safety feature!

                          Sorry all this has added to the basic price, but such features make harness easier to use, a better value in resales.


                          • #14
                            Yeehaw!!! Isn't this fun?

                            Ask 3 horsemen you'll get 4 opinions. Which is, after all, the fun doing art...which is driving and riding. Lots of opinions, most of them correct, it's all taste usually.

                            For your cart...you want a wide saddle, 4" at least. You may want to consider gig tugs, they float on the saddle, slipping side-to-side when needed and putting less stress on your horses back and withers. They cost a little more, but are worth it.

                            Definitely get the crupper with buckles on it, both sides, it makes for a better fit.

                            Go for stainless steel hardware, brass is inherently weaker and you have to polish the stuff.

                            I've got lovely harness from Martin's Harness in Harrisonburg, VA....nice stuff but a pain to clean. It's Amish-made and it doesn't have buckle-in traces...that was a mistake.

                            I've also several sets of betathane harness from Camptown Harness...they use a mix of leather and betathane. Leather's on the bridle, the blinkers, the crupper and next to the horse on the breastcollar...all the spots where comfort will be an issue. I also got it with their Freedom collar...it's very sculpted and looks a lot like the Zilco collar. this harness weighs nothing.

                            I also use a leather Eurocollar that Andy Marcoux sells at his shop (neat design and it does work and it's adjustable for size...a little narrow in the buckles though, so I can't use some of my traces...which sucks).

                            I use the beta harness almost 100% of the time...it's easy to keep clean, which is better for my horse...I can hose it off on him, and it looks good, it doesn't mildew.

                            If I had my own farm and tackroom, I could set up a nice harness cleaning station, some great places to hang the clean harness where it would stay clean and non-dusty etc. and I wouldn't care as much about the convenience of betathane; but I board and keep my harness in a big metal office type of storage cabinet where I've mounted harness racks, I've got a computer exhaust/cooling fan mounted on the side of the cabinet that keeps things dry...but it's just a stopgap measure to keep the harness from being stolen and with air moving around it.

                            Have fun...go for quality.
                            "Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc"


                            • #15
                              Let me tell you what I don't like about that harness:

                              No buckles on the crupper
                              Narrow saddle
                              Single wither strap (do you call it a neck strap?) - I prefer them split to spread the weight bearing to the breast collar. And its VERY narrow
                              No turrets on the wither strap
                              Breast collar doesn't look as though its well padded or wide enough to me
                              Looks like there's no trace tug buckle and its all in one piece (stitched in??)
                              Is the crupper just attached to the backstrap ?? No buckling adjuster!
                              No buckles on the quarter straps (the ones that go down from the loin strap)
                              Where's the bridle???

                              Got to say it looks pretty cheap and chatty and of the sort I can buy wholesale for £60 ($120)

                              I can't help thinking you should be able to get something a heck of a lot better than that and I'll have a look on the internet tonight to see if I can find something better.


                              • #16

                                I have purchased 3 beta harnesses from an Amish harness maker in Illinois. It has some of the parts that Thomas is looking for but not all. I competed in Pleasure shows and CDEs with them until I purchased the russet and black beta this past Spring. I do have a leather show harness that lives in the closet and comes out occasionally for a special show or CDE.

                                You can find one like it at www.gscart.com They run just under 500 bucks.

                                Please search some more and find one that will be comfortable for your horse.

                                Cheap harness is not something you want--especially if it is minimal. A driving wreck is not something you want to experience.

                                Good luck


                                • #17
                                  Cinder, you might be able to order something based on that harness in the picture (Aaron Martin uses the same picture, or one very similar), but upgrade the parts as Thomas1 suggested. I know that one can order individual parts as needed (I have, from Aaron Martin). You might also be able to find some good used harness at one of Carson's sales. Just be sure that someone you trust has a look at it for possible weaknesses before you hitch to something.
                                  My Equestrian Art Photography page


                                  • Original Poster

                                    First, I'd like to thank everyone for the wealth of information....

                                    DraftDriver....Martin and Brubachers actually work together, so that is why they use the same pics.

                                    Many Amish built saddles on harness are designed for 4-wheelers that have little shaft weight on the horse. It is pretty common to use the same harness, no-tree saddle, on the horse in a cart. Doesn't make it right, but because it is common, no one thinks about it in harness selling. May not offer a tree in harness saddle at the harness makers! Many of the folks driving, have driven a lot, don't even know about trees in the harness saddle.
                                    Very interesting info there...that is the sort of thing I need to know. I'll have to research that....

                                    I'll keep looking....I really need a "Driving for Dummies" book that has the info in one place! Thomas!...get started on that!

                                    In the meantime....good beginner driving books to start me off?




                                    • #19
                                      I've heard good things about "The Essential Guide to Carriage Driving" Robyn Cuffy and Jaye Alison-Winkel. Available at most carriage shops and probably Amazon as well.

                                      For how to, people like the D Ganton book.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        I just ordered 2 books ro Amazon on driving...can't recall the names...I'll let you know hpw they were for a complete newbie.