When was the last time you checked yours?

Without you even being aware of it, your leathers can become uneven.  Your body can become uneven as a result.  Continuing the chain of dominoes, your horse, feeling your lack of balance, may stop going so well for you.

It’s like that old nursery rhyme:  For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.

It’s always surprising to see how many people ride with uneven leathers.  That goes for beginners on schoolies, and those schooling I-1.  I have to confess, it’s caught me up, too, on more than one occasion — especially when riding one of my client’s horses, who had a brand-new saddle with brand-new leathers.  I’d wonder why I felt a little skewed in the saddle and work on making my seatbones even…until I remembered to check the length of my stirrups and realized my seat was not the problem.

The leather used in our tack has deteriorated in quality over the years (we grow cattle fast now, and that makes the skin stretchy).  This isn’t a problem if you have nylon-reinforced stirrup leathers, but if you don’t, those leathers may go on stretching for months.

Here are some things I’ve learned that you may find helpful:

It’s a good idea to switch your leathers (especially new ones) periodically.  What’s periodically?  Keep checking and see.  Check more often if they’re new, or you know you put more weight in one stirrup than another.

If you’re riding with leathers that are uneven because your legs are uneven, don’t.  My legs are uneven, but when I started riding with leathers exactly the same length, my riding improved.  Was it because I focused more on the evenness of my seatbones than my weight in the stirrup?  Maybe.  But it worked.  My friend Mike Pilato, a certified athletic trainer and equestrian medical researcher, agrees and recommends you remove your leathers and measure them with a tape to make sure (I look forward to featuring Mike’s work in a future post).

If you have standard leathers, go ahead and use a hole punch and put in the holes you need to ride evenly.  As long as they’re half-an-inch to three-quarters-of-an-inch apart, you and they should be fine.  Forget matching the numbers on your left leather and right leather.  The numbers don’t matter and they won’t tell you if your stirrups are the same length.

Check your leathers (and all your tack) periodically, to make sure they’re safe.  If you see hairline cracking or worse, it’s time for new leathers.

If you’re short, as I am, buy children’s leathers.  The holes will already be in a better place, and there will be less excess leather flapping around.  As one might expect, this really bugs George Morris, who suggests you trim the end of your leathers.  Any good tack shop or leatherworker should be able to do this for you.

If you’re tall, you can get extra long leathers, so you have enough length to tuck the ends neatly into your keepers.

Lots of leathers are offered in different lengths, so you can find a good length for yourself “off the rack” or go custom for a fraction of the cost of some of the “big name” manufacturers.

Custom detail on Gary Mundy leather; photo used with permission from Gary

As in all tack, I personally prefer smaller — narrower reins, less stuffing, less bulk under my leg.  If you can find stirrups with a narrower width, made of a supple, thinner leather, it will improve the contact of your leg, simply because there will be less interference.

I’m still using my old children’s leathers and they’re holding up great.  I love them so much that I switch them from saddle to saddle.  They just don’t make things the way they used to, but I know my old leathers will go one day and then I’ll have to pick from among these:

The EAS nylon-core calfskin leathers with half-holes and curved Sprenger buckles, which come in four different lengths.

The Bates Webbers, which have lots of fans.  I’ve tried traditional dressage leathers in the past and didn’t care for the feel around my ankles, but I’d give these a try when the time comes.

The Prestige leathers (I have a pair in brown that I got on sale years ago, a little thicker than the ones I use now, but beautiful, supple and strong).  Or the Passier leathers.  Both boast curved buckles that lie flat under your leg.

Gary Mundy’s leathers are all custom, beautifully made and affordable.

And Courbette’s microfiber leathers look intriguing…

Of course, I still have my hunt bridle from before the millenium, so it may be awhile.