One of the most baffling things that people new to the horse world encounter, is the great array of equipment available, and it’s uses. There are a lot of books and other assorted pieces of literature that pretty well cover the uses of such equipment, but little is said about how to differentiate between good and bad .
The first thing most people look at is the price tag of the selected item, and here lies the first clue as to the quality. If it seems to be cheap when compared to other similar items, then it is probably inferior, however this is not always the case. Sometimes the item may be of good quality, but is simply old stock, and therefore the price has been reduced. Similarly the other items may be priced up to give the impression of quality; this ploy also increases profits for the retailer.
Nowadays there seems to be four classes or categories of equipment :-
The best being saddlery that is hand-made by highly skilled trades-people using the best materials available. Most of these products originate in countries like Australia, England, Western Europe and the United States of America.
These places also produce good saddlery of a lesser quality, using lower grade materials and quicker methods of manufacture, thus reducing the cost whilst maintaining strength and durability.
There is some fair quality saddlery being produced in third world countries, using imported, high grade materials, and low cost labour. This considerably reduces the price tag, and can be very difficult to discern from high quality equipment.
Equipment made in third world countries using locally sourced materials of varying quality. This is the lower end of the price scale, and some of this equipment can become unsafe rather quickly.
Learning to discern good leather from bad takes time and experience, however there are a few rules of thumb. Firstly the best leather is quite firm and has a nice clean finish on the "top" or "grain" side. When it is bent or folded it won’t show any cracking, nor will the surface wrinkle as if it wants to separate from the lower layers (this is termed "floating grain"). The underside or "flesh" side should be tight, and fairly smooth . It shouldn’t be rough, or hairy looking. Close inspection of the grain side will reveal that the holes which the hairs came from are very fine. This is the easiest way to tell Indian leather, as the hair holes are much larger, and very widely spaced due to the hides coming from buffalo, and not beef cattle. Lastly but not least check for stretch and any nicks, or cuts that are not immediately visible. High quality leather will not stretch much, and will spring back readily.
If you have any queries please do not hesitate to email me, or catch up with me on Facebook, and I will gladly answer any of your questions.