Monday, April 27, 2015

Higher Standards Leather Care - Part 1

There's a bit of tried and true wisdom that you will hear not just from horseman, but from people from all walks of life. The saying goes, "Buy once, cry once," and it means you might have a bit of anguish over the price of quality items but they will last unlike products that cut corners.  Even when you're on a strict budget, you'll often hear suggestions to buy high quality tack that's been used and it will serve you well. The other thing you need to remember is that taking proper care of your quality tack will extend its life and be more comfortable for you and your horse.

When I purchased my saddle a few months back I knew that the old routine of glycerine soap and neatsfoot oil was a bit out of date and that I'd need to find a new set of products to care for it. I am somewhat new to caring for calfskin so I needed a gentle cleaner that didn't strip moisture and I wanted to keep that plush and lightly sticky finish that it came to me with. I was also looking for a conditioning balm that would do the hydrating job but not leave a greasy film like neatsfoot oil.

While checking out products I came across a thread on the Chronicle of the Horse message board that had hundreds of reviews for a small hand made brand of soaps and leather balm called "Higher Standards," that had a very loyal following.  As you know by now, I love supporting smaller brands and I'm also a bit nosey so I really wanted to try these out and see what the fuss was about.  The only problem... my "new to me" saddle came to me in amazing condition and was in no need of a proper scrub down so any kind of testing I wanted to do just wasn't going to be enough to get a good read on how the soap and leather balm performed.

I packed up the blue containers, a few sponges and a polishing rag and headed to the barn with the perfect test subject in mind, a tough as nails, will out live us all, Stubben Edelweiss on the rack of lesson saddles.
The Stubben right before I got started.

Underside of saddle flap before cleaning
Some dirt and sweat on the panels

The leather on this saddle is pretty stiff and overall needed a good cleaning.  The stirrup leathers had also seen better days and needed a drink after having the remnants of spring mud cleaned off. I also intended to give the whole saddle a generous coating of leather balm to see if there was any chance of softening up that tough exterior. As I got to work I was quite pleased with how nice the scent of the soap was.  I had the "Ben's Rosemary Mint" scent but this soap also comes in an assortment of vanilla lavender, citrus ginger, and rosemary citrus offerings. The next thing I noticed was that this soap didn't create large amounts of suds but it did glide over the leather and did a great job breaking up dirt and gunk.  I followed the directions of wringing out the excess water from the sponge and wiping off the soap by flipping the sponge over.  There was quite a bit of funk on this old Stubben but as I worked I could see that there was some pretty great progress being made. The saddle soap on its own has a cream conditioner incorporated so instead of a waxy, squeaky glycerin finish I had a soft, semi flat sheen on the leather. What I really liked is that the soap didn't seem to darken the finish and that was quite evident on this havana colored saddle. I also really enjoyed discovering that just a little soap goes a long way.

Next week I'll show you what this Stubben looked like after the soap and conditioner and will even give you an update on how it held up after a week of use. Check back for the after photos and the final verdict and until then, happy riding!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ovation Airform Chafeless Girth

I had every intention of telling you about my Ariat Challenge Contour field boots this week but they're at the cobbler in a bit of a strange twist of events. I'll share that story when I get them back and put a few more rides on them. If you were planning on purchasing a pair for yourself feel free to email me, suitableturnout (at) gmail (dot) com or catch me on twitter @suitableturnout and I'll answer your questions. With that said we're going to jump ahead to what I had planned for next week and talk about a great piece of schooling tack.

I routinely listen to a podcast about horses that does news, interviews, and giveaways called Horses In The Morning that often partners up with Equestrian Collections. Long story short I submitted a silly craigslist ad for their Friday "Really Bad Ads" segment and then next thing I know I've got a sweet gift certificate to spend on horsey stuff. (Thanks HITM crew and Debbie at EC!). I also just bought a new saddle but since I'm still horseless I wanted a girth that was pretty universal, easy to care for, and it had to be cheap.

The Ovation Airform Chafeless Girth does a great job of delivering on those prerequisites. This synthetic girth is very soft to the touch with a nonslip, hypoallergenic cushion that doesn't pinch or rub.  The texture on the underside has almost a basket weave pattern to it and each little dot has a nice pillow quality.

The strong nylon like webbing on the outside of the girth criss crosses right behind the elbow for a nice contoured shape and the elastic on one side provides flexibility. This girth also features roller buckles and can even be purchased with Click-It spring loaded buckles to make adjusting even easier. Ovation offers a few different girth styles of this Airform material in back or brown for dressage, mono flap, and ap / jump saddles.

What I love most about this girth is how easy it is to clean.  You can hose it off, wipe it down with a wet paper towel or sponge and it dries very fast.  The ease of cleanup makes this girth a great option for trail riding, cross country schooling, or any conditions where you're kicking up mud and muck. There's no oiling or polishing needed to keep this piece of tack going strong.  That was always my peeve about the fleece lined girths. They looked fluffy and soft but hay, burrs, and mud could really do a number on their appearance and hold irritants too close to your horse's skin. Plus they didn't look so great after going through the washing machine a few times. Those are all problems you're just not going to have with the Ovation Airform Girth.

I wouldn't consider this girth suitable for the hunter or equitation show rings but I would take lessons, trail ride, go to a horse trial, ride a dressage test, or do a jumper class in it. The one add on I wish this girth had was a center D ring to attach a clip on breastplate or martingale but that's just being picky.  This girth is available from pretty much every online distributor for around $30.00 or splurge on the Click-It buckles for $40.00.

Next week I'll have part one of a two part series on Higher Standards saddle soap and leather balm with lots of before and after photos.  Until then, happy riding!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Stickyseat Eventer Tights

I love innovative touches in riding gear.  As time marches forward we're watching more technical fabrics being incorporated into our classic look and some great construction techniques that are keeping us comfortable on our rides.  Silicone is one of the materials being incorporated into breeches that is making a big difference in our ability to stick to the saddle which is why I had to get my hands on a pair of Stickyseat breeches when they hit the market.

Eventer Tight from Dover Saddlery

The Stickyseat Eventer Tights feature a pattern of small silicone dots that run from the knee patch area to the back of the thigh. This segmented placement of sticky dots allows the fabric to move and flex with you. Some of the major complaints you'll hear about traditional full seat breeches is that the leather or suede seat is too restrictive and can make you uncomfortably hot and sweaty. Those types of problems just don't happen with a pair of Stickyseats by Equestrienne. Those little dots do a great job of keeping you in place when you're on a spooky horse or just need a little extra something to hold on while going cross country or riding through the rain.

The pair I have is a 67% cotton, 28% nylon, and 5% spandex fabric blend in a pull on style with the "Eventer Tight" silicone dot pattern.  This combination makes for a comfortable, lightweight schooling breech that's great for spring and summer. I wouldn't consider this fabric blend quite show ring ready but it's totally acceptable for schooling, clinics and lessons. My main reasoning for that is the high amount of cotton pulls the lederbalsam right out of your saddle and leaves an interesting print on your bum. That said, Stickyseat has a wide variety of fabrics to choose from so I would suggest picking up their latest PerformSport fabric with a high rayon content or their soft and fluffy Powerstretch Fleece winter tights.

Powerstretch Fleece Eventer
Boot Cut with Bling
Stickyseat also offers bootcut tights for saddle seat, endurance, or riders that prefer to ride in short boots. They offer the traditional black and brown hues but they also have a style with a touch of sparkle. They even offer a knee patch euroseat breech with a little extra grip on the seat.

Knee patch Euroseat
I find that these run true to size in the waist and thigh and may even be a smidge generous so double check the size chart before ordering. The length on these is quite long so, to quote the manufacturer," All of our tights run long - these are 4 way stretch and can stretch down to a 36" inseam easily if needed." These tights are also quite easy to care for, machine wash cold, and dry on a cool setting. Mine wash up like new with a scoop of OxiClean and even though they can stand a trip through the dryer I still hang mine overnight. You can buy direct from Stickyseat or from Dover,  Riding Warehouse, and Schneiders and most styles are under $100.00.  Kids and plus sizes are also available so there's something suitable for everyone.

Next week I'll be reviewing the Ariat Challenge Contour field boot. I've had mine for just over a year so I'll let you know how much they've dropped, where they've stretched, and how they've held up. Until next week, happy riding!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dover's Riding Sport CoolBlast Shirt

One of the things I regret not doing during my childhood is taking better care of my skin in the Southwest desert sun. I've had more than my fair share of sunburned arms and glove tan lines from riding over the years and I can only wonder how much aloe gel I could have saved myself if I had access to the great assortment of sun shirts on the market today.  Walk into any sporting goods store, tack shop, or outdoor specialty shop and you'll see a wide variety of gear dedicated to protecting you from the sun. I've tried a few different versions of these sun blocking, moisture wicking sport tops and I keep coming back to the CoolBlast tops by Riding Sport and Dover Saddlery.

The CoolBlast tops are made of 92% nylon, 8% spandex fabric and have a mesh lining under the arms to provide extra circulation.  This particular blend of fabric is known as IceFil and is the same combination that you'll find on the EIS shirts. Tailored Sportsman also has an IceFil shirt with a 91% nylon and 9% spandex blend.  

This fabric has a brushed pattern on the inside that wicks away sweat and brings it to the fabric's surface. This distribution of moisture throughout the light and breezy fabric makes your skin feel cooler as air passes through.  Many of these shirts claim that you'll feel 5 degrees cooler but I don't know a real person who can accurately measure that feeling while simultaneously focusing on inside leg to outside rein. 

What I can tell you is that the Riding Sport CoolBlast shirt is so light that you hardly notice it.  That's kind of a big deal for a long sleeve shirt on a hot sunny day. They have a great amount of stretch with a fit that is not restricting.  This is also where I'd put the Dover house brand on top of some of the other offerings on the market. The CoolBlast shirt is cut a little wider throughout the bust and hangs straight from shoulder to waist with a generous length that stays tucked in.

This shirt comes in nine solid color choices and for 2015 they're offering combinations with contrasting zippers and even ombre and print styles.

I own two of these tops in the long sleeve version but Dover also sells a short sleeve and sleeveless shirt made from the same IceFill fabric.  As you can see by the labels, Riding Sport has kept up with the higher priced sun shirts and they do it at a much more friendly price point. The CoolBlast shirts are listed on the website for $64.00 for the special edition prints and the long sleeve will run about $60.00. Then again, if you get your Dover sale catalog or keep an eye on the clearance section of the website you can pick them up for much less. 

Next week I'll be reviewing the Sticky Seat Eventer Tights. Until then, happy riding!