Breast collars keep the saddle in place, which is critical in steep terrain, where even the best-fitting saddle is likely to slide backward. They also help keep a saddle in place when a horse bolts or spins, causing the saddle to shift. However, while most riders agree on the purpose of a breast collar, they won’t agree on the best style or materials.
Our endurance riders rejected leather and nylon products and those not in the classic Y shape, with the breast collar anchored at the girth and the shoulder straps following the shoulders to the saddle.
It’s easy to understand why: Over long distances, the Y design is most comfortable for the horse. Plus, collars that go straight across the horse’s chest aren’t as reliable at securing saddles across hilly terrain as the Y designs. As for material, synthetics are lighter, cooler and less likely to chafe.
Our Western trail riders didn’t care about the breast collar’s material as much as the style. They wanted performance and a Western look. English riders had conventional style sensibilities, with most preferring traditional leather tack.
Endurance riders want tack that adjusts easily and goes on and off the horse quickly. All the endurance breast collars we tried adjusted in five or six places. Endurance riders also use synthetic tack almost exclusively, which is stronger than leather and easy to wipe clean.
Properly made, with any holes or cut edges sealed, the products don’t absorb water, so they stay light even when the horse gets sweaty. In addition, many distance riders like to use brightly colored tack, which synthetic materials usually offer.
Zilco uses its own patented synthetic material. Zilco describes the material as “a combination of elastomeric polymers with a pretreated internal web.” We found the material is softer and more pliable than original BioThane and reminded us of the newer Beta BioThane.
Hardware type is controversial. Many synthetic tack makers usually use brass hardware instead of stainless steel. The rationale is that synthetics are stronger than leather, and since brass is weaker than stainless steel, the brass fittings should break in an emergency.
Sportack uses brass hardware for that reason, plus steel is “very expensive.” If a customer desires the white-metal look, Sportack will use chrome-plated brass.
Zilco, on the other hand, can be fit with either metal, although brass is standard, and stainless steel may cost $5 or $10 more. Good-quality brass fittings perform as well as stainless steel, said John Baker, of Zilco’s North American distributor, Advanced Equine Products, although he prefers stainless steel.
Baker says the statement that synthetic tack won’t break is a myth. “Anything that is stitched or has holes in it will rip, strip, bust, give, etc. under certain loads,” said Baker, adding that they see enough products returned for repair to prove it.
One drawback of the synthetics seems to be the risk of chemical reactions causing discoloration or even delaminating of the material. Avoid letting the tack come in contact with petroleum-based products. If this occurs, wash the tack thoroughly with water and a mild soap, allowing the tack to dry out of sunlight.
Zilco’s Eurotech Breast Collar was comfortable. It has a padded waffle material, which allows air to circulate under the tack, instead of trapping heat and moisture. At the end of a ride, if the sweat on the horse’s shoulders has dried, the area under the Eurotech breast collar was also dry.
Zilco’s Ztech Breast Collar was the lightest-weight product in our trial, and we were skeptical it would hold up with use. But it stayed as good as new, and the molded foam permitted air to circulate under the collar.
Zilco uses spring snaps to clip the saddle straps onto the saddle’s D-rings. Two of the three collars had the snaps positioned facing downward, in a way that caused them to dig into the saddle underneath the D-ring.
We prefer the snaps positioned facing up, which is slightly more difficult to snap on the saddle, but stops saddle marking. Zilco said the position is up to the rider, as some people like facing the snap downward so it won’t catch brush.
Sportack’s breast collars follow the classic Y design and adjust in six places. The company also does custom sizes. The Endurance Breast Collar is a lightweight breast collar that securely held our saddles in place on the steepest, longest hills, and caused no chafing or discomfort. We had to repostion the spring snaps used to clip the breast collar onto the saddle’s D-rings.
The Western products could learn a thing or two from the endurance designs, including using snaps and adding more adjustment points for a better fit. Because we’re talking trail riding here, we’d invest in some spring snaps and put them on the saddle straps rather than buckle the straps every time.
Tory Leather Co.’s English Bridle Leather Contour Tapered Comfort Breast Strap (#517) is a top Western pick. A spot of fleece padding behind the center ring on the horse’s chest is one of the thoughtful gestures made toward the horse’s comfort, as is the curving shape of the shoulder straps. It’s a beautifully made product.
Professional’s Choice has helped many Western riders appreciate the advantages to synthetic tack, especially with the Professional’s Choice SMx Neoprene Breast Collar. The neoprene pieces detach for easy washing and provide superior cushioning for the horse’s shoulders.
Flint Saddlery’s Western Breast Collar with detachable Original Hospital felt pads has thick, padded shoulders. Three-inch wide, thick nylon web is backed with a two-inch wide swath of hook-and-loop closure, which anchors the detachable four-inch-wide felt pads. Our horses seemed comfortable with the breast collar, and the product did not chafe their coats.
“Innovative” seems to be Fabri-Tech’s watchword. Its Fib-R-Ite Double Wide Breast Strap utilizes a cotton fabric, braided and sewn with nylon. It’s attractive, and we were intrigued to learn that Fabri-Tech makes matching headstalls and reins. But it’s not just pretty. Its Y-shaped design on the chest eliminates the need for a chest ring and helps keeps the load distributed evenly.
The breast collar from Tucker Saddlery could easily be in our Western category. Tucker Saddlery specializes in serious trail riding equipment for all riders, but we put its breast strap in the English category because it looks English to us. It’s a beautifully made, strong product with a classic design that easily can go cross discipline, from English to Western.
Tory Leather Co.’s English Bridle Leather Breast Plate (#561) looks a lot like the Tucker’s breast collar. However, the Tory Leather product has the edge due to some thoughtful details, such as a spring snap on the horse’s near shoulder that facilitates easy application and girth lo op.
The Nunn Finer Hunting Breastplate with Elastic has a traditional design, with the girth passing through a loop at the end of the chest strap. Its two layers of half-inch-wide German elastic inserts are comfortable for the horse, freeing his shoulders. And the elastic didn’t compromise the product’s ability to hold the saddle in place, even on steep hills.
It’s a tough call, but we’d reach first for the Zilco Ztech breast collar. Its light weight is a big benefit, plus it’s durable and comfortable. For a Best Buy, it’s tough to beat Sportack’s Endurance Breast Collar, especially with the custom sizing option.
If you want a Western look, Flint Saddlery’s breast collar brings you the traditional design you desire with the comfort your horse needs. Professional’s Choice SMx collar easily earns Best Buy and is our top choice for Western riders wanting to go synthetic.
English riders will find it tough to beat Nunn Finer’s Hunting Breastplate. It held our saddles securely, easily earning its “hunting” name. It’s pricey, though, so Tory Leather handily earns Best Buy.