Monday, August 9, 2010

Brown dressage tack, Part I: The proverbial brown shoe?

I got a deal on a saddle! I think I did anyway, for this brown County Perfection saddle, leathers, bridle, and girth. It's very dark brown, almost black, but it looks lovely on Riley.

So what's up with brown?
You don't see a lot of brown these days in the dressage ring. But black tack is not a long-standing tradition. In fact black dressage saddles are kind of a new thing. As recently as 20-30 years ago, brown was the traditional color for dressage. Back then if you saw black tack you assumed the dye was masking inferior quality leather.

Top riders have been known to ride in brown tack, and the Spanish Riding School uses brown Stubbens for schooling (white buckskin saddles for shows). Robert Dover rode in the Olympics in brown tack (Kennedy, 2004). I knew a local Grand Prix rider who had a luscious brown custom Amerigo saddle; that saddle looked like it belonged in an art exhibit.

Why be down on brown? Cosmetologists tell you to always use brown, not black mascara, because black is so harsh-looking. I think the same principle applies to saddle color. There are shades of brown to go with any coat color. Lighter mocha browns accentuate roan and chestnut coats. Bay horses would look great in a darker nut or mohagany brown. For black horses, the dark chocolate browns complement the coat color nicely.

Brown tack has some distinct advantages:
  • Brown leather shows off the characteristics of superior quality leather; black dye deadens the patina of good leather -- you can feel the quality but it's harder to see. 
  • Black leather tends to bleed color on our white breeches  -- not so with brown!
  • Many  black saddles  fade to an ugly gray over time.
  • I'm hearing that brown is making a comeback. Frankly I haven't noticed it here on the East Coast. Most people don't buy new tack on a whim, so it may be a slooowwwly emerging trend.
Brown does have some drawbacks -- related more to fashion than anything intrinsic to the color.
  •  If you're thinking of buying a new saddle in brown, make sure the saddle is a keeper. My County saddle rep told me a brown saddle will sell for about 10-20% less than a black one.
  • If you want to make the switch from brown to black, you may have to buy new accessories.  It is tacky to have a brown saddle and a black bridle, IMHO. If the saddle is dark brown, you may be able to use your black girth and leathers.
  • Choices in brown accessories are limited compared to black saddles. For example, I love the EOUS Soft-Touch girths but they don't come in brown. 
BTW, it's not that I hate black. I've had black saddles for years. This is a nice change for me. In the end, it's what you like and what looks good on your horse. Judges just want to see a neat turnout and pleasing picture. 
    Dressage: Is brown tack okay? from Jessica Jahiel's Web site
    Brown dressage tack from COTH
    Brown tack in dressage in the HGS forum Brown v. black in the Ultimatedressage forum
    Brown v. black tack in the Ultimatedressage forum


    1. A saddle is often like a horse--color doesn't matter, as long as it's good.

      How's that? The saddle looks great, and if it fits you both and feels good, then the cosmetic issue means nothing. And you are right, nice brown looks great, especially on a horse like Riley.

    2. I have a brown Cliff-Barnsby saddleseat saddle that I have been "trying" to sell since I decided to go 100% dressage (I'm being maybe a tad unreasonable on price because I'm so loathe to let it go. Fits my boy perfectly and SO. PRETTY.) I would L-O-V-E to ride in brown dressage tack, someday, when I have a bit more flexibility in my budget. I think it's so much softer and more elegant of a look, and suits my chocolate bay-and-white pinto to a tee.

    3. Yep, I had espresso brown tack back in the 1980's when I did dressage! My bridle was dark havana with white padding on the brow and nose bands and my saddle was a dark brown County Competitor. My horse was black and looked just lovely in the dark brown tack. I agree, it has it's place and even looks better on certain color horses.

      Now if they would loosen the dress code and let the riders wear darkest brown or midnight navy blue colored coats instead of black how cool would that be?

    4. I think brown ages beautifully...I love the look of well-kept brown leather. I've been seriously considering brown tack for my up-and-coming 3 year old (who is black). Or even a brown/black combo, like this Fryso, I think he'd look quite dashing with a nice mahogany-line bridle/saddle combo:

    5. I love dark brown dressage saddles. My County Warmblood is black but if I was buying a new saddle I'd consider a deep rich brown if it was a color option.

      I think the deep browns look lovely on many horses - we had a beautiful brown Stubben for our QH but he outgrew it - it looked much nicer on his chestnut coat than the black saddle we have now does.

    6. Catherine Haddad gave a clinic at a farm and she premiered her saddle design that Stubben will start marketing soon. One of the saddles was this beautiful brown.
      I love the color black (I had a moment in hs where I was turning goth so still fond of black). I have to say I fell in love. I also got to sit in her saddle and fell deeper in love.

    7. I wanted a brown dressage saddle because I have a beautiful brown bridle I wanted to use with it. (Un?) fortunately, I ended up with black, which meany buying another gorgeous bridle. Win-win, I guess.

    8. Ha, I was starter of the HGS thread.

      I did end up buying an older chocolate brown Albion dressage saddle. Buying the brown saddle was the easy part: buying the rest of the brown ensemble was much trickier. I must admit that it was very difficult to not only find a brown dressage bridle and girth, but the right shade of brown as well. With black leather, black is black is black. With brown leather, there is havana, sable, chocolate, newmarket, oakbark, hazelnut, australian nut, chestnut, walnut, dark brown, light brown, medium brown, brown brown, etc. I ended up cheating with a black girth since the only brown short girth I could find was a synthetic one from Professional's Choice. For the bridle, I used a hunter bridle with a flash attachment that I already had being that I was a hunter/jumper is a previous life.

    9. My dressage saddle is brown, purchased second hand from an eventing trainer who purchased it in Ireland. I use a brown bridle to "match." Since my horse is gray and now flea-bitten, I've always thought a black saddle and bridle would look better on him. But our brown saddle fits like a dream, and I can't argue with that.

    10. Actually, there are a lot more choices in brown girths with all of the treeless and monoflap jumping saddles using dressage girths. But there are still slim pickings.

    11. Peronally, I detest black tack.

    12. I had a gorgeous colored brown Ansur that I got a deal on, but ended up selling it a few years later after I got my new horse and needed new accessories (14.2h to 16h) and tired of trying to find coordinating brown dressage tack, and since I'm big into matchy-matchy, so I just went black - which does look smashing on my grayish/rose appy.

    13. I would love to use brown tack if only because most brown bridles are of a higher quality and nicer leather than the black ones. I love the suppleness and obvious high quality of even lower-end brown tack. Ah well, I have a gorgeous and comfortable black Stubben that I'm not looking to replace any time soon, so I'm locked in for now.

    14. I've got a black dressage saddle and brown side saddle, so now i'm thinking about buying my *first ever* double bridle, I guess I'll be going with dark brown to try and suit both.

      Brown tack (esp bridles) tends to get a bit darker as it ages /wears / is saddle soaped in my experience anyway.

    15. My first dressage saddle was an old brown Stubben. Although I no longer ride in this saddle, I kept it because it looks like it should be living room decor; the reddish brown is so lovely.

      Black tack complements my light buckskin, but brown leather is my favorite for shoes.

    16. I was shocked when I found out that black was not the traditional color of dressage saddles. Some time as passed since I learned that and I rather like the idea now. I think I heard that horse trends last for ab out 20 years, so it is about time that brown tack makes a come back.

      I like it.!

    17. My friend has brown tack for her Cremello. It looks great on him! I kicked around the idea of brown tack on my gray. He could easily go brown or black. I ended up going with a custom fitted black Albion. It's lovely but now we need a bridle with some bling to match! Loved your post about the browbands... :)

    18. So true, dark brown leather is gorgeous on a bay! I have a new jump saddle for my boy that's a lovely chocolate brown and it's so gorgeous on him. One of the benefits of a darker brown over a lighter one is that it doesn't show marks as easily. Water, scratches, etc show up big time on the lighter and redder leathers. The dark looks like quality and masks wear nicely.

    19. I was buying brown saddles 10 years ago for all these reasons. And black looks strange on chestnuts. I'm glad they are making a comeback. Haven't seen it here in CA but maybe I can sell my brown Stubben Tristen finally. It's beautiful and no one wanted to look at it since it was not BLACK!


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