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A Guide to Matching Brown Leathers
All leather will darken eventually, including even the lightest tack. Several factors influence how rapidly and how deep the color eventually becomes:

  • Frequency of cleaning and conditioning. The more often you condition your tack, the faster it darkens.
  • Type of conditioner used-oil or lederbalsam. Oil tends to darken most leathers, especially the softer leathers, faster than a lederbalsam.
  • Type of leather, whether very soft and porous or tougher and thicker. Soft leather absorbs oil more readily than thick leather.
  • Age of tack and exposure to the sunlight, the atmosphere and the elements, such as rain. Environmental conditions cause leather to darken.
  • Frequency of use and exposure to horse sweat. As tack is used, a patina develops and the leather color depends.

Depending on the type and finish of the leather involved, you can usually influence the way your leather colors deepen with oiling if you want to create a closer color match between pieces of tack. Bear this in mind when you are matching a new saddle to new fittings and a bridle versus matching a used saddle to new fittings and a bridle.

Alternatively, if you do not want your tack too darken much, use only saddle soap to keep it clean and use a light, single coat of Lexol Leather Conditioner when necessary. A light coat will be sufficient to preserve the leather without darkening the color much.

Color Comparison Examples
We've photographed some of Dover Saddlery's best-selling bridle, girth and stirrups leathers to show how they appear just out of the manufacturer's packaging and how they appear after they've been cleaned once and oiled multiple times with pure Neatsfoot oil.

Compare how the different leathers respond to cleaning and oiling. Some leathers, such as the very soft covered stirrup leathers, darken more rapidly than others with the same amount of conditioning. Other leathers barely change hue at all. You can use this knowledge when you begin to coordinate your pieces of brown leather tack.

Example 1: Circuit Grand Prix Bridle in Oakbark (browband photographed)
Notice how the very soft and flexible bridle leather absorbs the oil and darkens dramatically. The very faint layer of wax from the manufacturing process in places on the new browband will disappear with the first cleaning.


Example 2: HDR Pro Pre-Stretched Stirrup Leather in Hazelnut
The tough leather of these durable stirrup leathers has changed color only slightly with five treatments of oil.


Example 3: Marcel Toulouse Lined Leathers in Cognac
The ultra soft calfskin leather absorbs the oil readily; notice the dramatic difference in color tone. Such a dramatic change should be taken into account when coordinating such a soft type of stirrup leather with a saddle.


Example 4: Stubben Pre-Stretched Leathers in Havana
With the long-wearing Stubben Pre-stretched Leathers, hardly any change of color occurred in the leather with conditioning. In fact, distinguishing between the new stirrup leather and the conditioned stirrup leather is difficult.


Example 5: Circuit Overlay Girth in Oakbark
Here you can see that the soft leather of the padded side of the girth has darkened substantially, while the slightly heavier hide on the outside of the girth has barely changed color. You can see a very faint layer of wax on the new girth which would be removed with the first cleaning.


For more assistance or to request a catalog, call 1-800-989-1500 to speak with a Dover Saddlery product advisor, or stop by any of our retail stores. Visit DoverSaddlery.com for a complete store listing and the full product offering.

Related Topics:
Tack and Leather Care
Basic Overview of Leather Grains and Qualities
Caring for Genuine Fleece
Tack Inspections