Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Edgewood Reins, CWD Stirrup Leathers and Fun with Darkening Oil

I like my tack dark.  Dark, dark, dark like "oh wow, is your black horse even wearing tack?" dark.  That being said, somehow I prefer the "dark" of well oiled, worn and loved brown tack, to the dark of true black-black dressage tack.

Lucky for me the hunter ring doesn't even know black tack exists, so I get to spend my time attempting to darken, wear, and love my brown tack to a rich, dark patina.

If I had the patience of, well... anything with patience, this process would happen naturally over time and I would trust the lady at the tack store when she swears all her Edgewood tack has turned "basically black," but I don't.

Aside from not totally believing her, Prair would look like a monster in the bright orange-red of new Edgewood tack (even with oiling) and well - we just can't have that.

Can we picture this on the Prair? (blegh)

One might ask why I even bought Edgewood tack in the first place and that is a totally legit question.

Yes, the leather is deliciously soft and strong.

Yes, it has a great reputation.

But, yes - It's hideously expensive and not what I had in mind when I was simply trying to get my old Aramas reins repaired (dammit).

So the two things that nearly kept me from ever even leaving the store with the Edgewood reins?

1) price.

2) that horrid, horrid color that I knew would be hell to match to my bridle.

Of course, we know my history with staying within budgets (budg-wha?), so issue #1 was quickly ignored, and the lady at the counter was so adamant that the reins would darken I finally capitulated and pulled out the visa.

She dipped the reins once for me, handed me a gooey, oily mess and we were on our way....

After the first coat of oil settled, I pulled out my trusty Hydrophane, a ziplock bag and got ready for some transformation.  I wish I could time travel back 20 years and tell my diligent, Pony Club self to just stuff my tack in a ziplock, pour in some darkening oil and check it in the morning.

When I think about the amount of time I spend trying to rub oil in with a rag.... anyway...

I've repeated this process twice now.  Once initially when I got the reins (winter 2013) and once more this past week.  It's so simple - and so flipping easy I love it.

Unbuckle reins, shove in gallon sized ziplock (a fancy ziplock... you don't want spills and leaks..) drizzle maybe a 1/3cup Hydrophane in the bag.  Close and shake to coat the inside of the bag evenly, then leave the mess someplace where a kid/cat/husband won't accidentally eat/puncture/destroy the little package.

12 hours later the ziplock bag will be mysteriously dry inside, and your reins will look less orange and freakish.

I tend to wipe off any excess oil, apply a thin layer of normal conditioner (the Hydrophane can be a tad drying..) and call it good.

This is what my reins look like now:
mucho better
definitely no red

The CWD leathers also started out as a redish-tan that offends my sensibilities a bit.  They aren't nearly as bright at new Edgewood leather, but still, the tone of them can be difficult to tame if the rest of your getup is darker.  My massive tack cleaning tub was lacking Hydrophane when my first CWD saddle came in last year and I foolishly thought I could get decent results with plain Neatsfoot Oil and some serious commitment.
new leathers, not as orange.. but hardly dark.
I did okay, but the red tinge never really ever left, and not wanting to over oil them - I stopped my efforts.

Old Leathers with traditional oil, conditioning and a year of use:

(Picture totally missing because I cannot remember to take one when I'm at the barn to save my LIFE)

When the new saddle arrived, it came with another set of leathers, and since I had a full supply of Hydrophane Darkening Oil, I figured I'd cut right to the chase and start there.

So, into the ziplock they went.  I left them overnight and wow. Biggest. Difference. Ever.  What shocks me about the ziplock bag method is how evenly the absorption always is.  No splotches, no lighter spots, just dark ass leather across the board.

I squeed a bit, then set the new leathers aside to keep as "new" for when I'm back in the tack.

New Leathers after one overnight ziplock bag treatment:
Truer tone, but no detail..

This photo looks lighter than they are..
To be clear, I don't think Hydrophane is *good* for your leather.  It's definitely got some sort of petroleum compound in it that aids in the darkening and helps soften fibers.  I'm not sure what would happen to leather that was regularly treated with it, but I don't want to run that experiment.  It can also cause the dye in your leather to bleed into fancy stitching.  If you're obsessed with keeping your stitching white.. proceed with caution.

I will say I've never had any adverse affects of using Hydrophane initially to get new tack dark and appropriately broken in.

In this instance both the Edgewood reins, and the CWD leathers started as high quality, relatively soft leather.  The Edgewood reins have broken in faster and more wonderfully than any reins I've ever owned.  They are supple, floppy and have that heavy weight of really delicious leather.  The CWD leathers are calfskin wrapped nylon, so even before I touched them they were already soft and supple.

Both pieces won't require a ton of regular conditioning to maintain, and frankly, probably won't need any oil/conditioner for at least a few months.  If I were applying the hydrophane to a cheaper/stiffer leather, I'd probably still stop after 2-3 coats (max) and switch to one of my other go-to conditioners to finish the break in process.

All in all, I think Darkening Oil is a good tool and way more efficient than suffering through a million applications of neatsfoot oil.  Just be sure you test an area first to see how your leather will take it and proceed with some caution if you aren't going for the same dark-as-night result as I am.


  1. If only the people at Ziploc would set up a booth at shows and clinics, they don't even know that us horsey people would give them a TON of business! Haha :)

    1. seriously! For grain baggies... tack cleaning... organizing first aid kits... a sizable chunk of my salary goes straight to ziplock....

  2. Replies
    1. It's such a good trick. SO good. So easy....

  3. It looks so much darker now! Wow!

  4. Interesting... My leathers darkened a ton just with conditioner but they are atill pretty red. Edgewood tack is my favorite. It truly does darken awesome (as you discovered) and most of mine has lasted incredibly well. I've even sold a bridle after years - were talking 7-8 maybe for pretty good money. Its not for everyone but it's some of my favorite.

    Will have to get my hands on hydrophane...

  5. Ohhhh def have to try this!! Thanks :)

  6. I love the red-ish color to the tack, not orange though, but I also own a red head... Maybe that is why you like your tack almost black... Funny we like to match our horses!

    1. The CWD "red" doesn't bug me in general... it just looked crappy on Prair. And in fact I tend to like their "lighter" color options on most horses.

      I would probably not be as obsessive about obliterating it if my horse were chestnut or even bay... but I am very sensitive/OCD about how tack looks *on* the horse... :)

    2. Totally understand what you are saying! Orange on black would be like halloween!!!! LOL

  7. I want to try this but FIRST I need to get some Edgewood reins. Thanks for providing the excuse :)

  8. Wow what a difference!!! I don't like brown tack (I like typical dressage black), so I don't like that my main bridle is brown, but it was given to me for free so I never complained. Now that I've seen this I really want to darken it!! Can you do a whole bridle? Do all of the metal pieces have to be taken off? How much would it take for a whole bridle? Also where do you buy yours? It seems like a very small bottle for the price. Yikes! I might have to try it though. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. You can definitely do a whole bridle. buckles don't need to come off but I think undoing everything so you have separate pieces is best for even absorption. When I did my CWD bridle, I put all the pieces in a gallon sack (minus the reins.. I did those separate) and probably poured 1/2 cup of oil in. It really doesn't take much. I don't think the price is really all that high, I've never run out of Hydrophane... I just lose it and then buy another container 10 years later... lol

    2. Thanks for the information! I'll probably have to try it. :D I guess the price seemed high because the bottle seems so small. It looks like there is barely a cup in there, but I didn't look at the actual size so I could have just gotten the wrong impression if you've never run out lol!

  9. I love my hydrophane. Like you, I'm a dark dark tack person - esp on a black horse. My ADT bridle went so dark in just a hop-in-hop-out bath of Hydro, that I was afraid it went too dark and people might think I used a dressage bridle o0. You'd like it haha. I darken all my things but do try to to buy dark to begin with. I can't do edgewood reins though as the lacing is too narrow and 'cut' into my hands.

    1. I definitely try to buy dark to begin with too. And I think it's gotten easier to find really nice, rich chocolate brown, but sometimes... that red sneaks in and i just can't help myself and I try to squash it with oil :)

  10. This is an impressive transformation. I like dark tack too. Even my western saddle is black. There's just nothing classier than dark tack and not all horses can pull off the light tack.


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