No matter the type of riding you do, a breast collar can be a staple piece of your equipment. This accessory attaches to both sides of your saddle skirt’s dee rings—either to the cinch dees or the smaller breast-collar dees—to keep your saddle from sliding backward and from side to side. In most cases, it also attaches to your front cinch between your horse’s front legs, for additional anti-slide support. Here you’ll learn how to choose, fit, and best care for your breast collar.
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Most often made from leather, breast collars also come in mohair, fleece, nylon, neoprene, and other synthetics. Though most materials provide similar function, selection relies heavily upon personal preference and appropriateness to your riding needs.
Leather is the most common material. Design and level of intricacy varies, with options available that could include tooling, rawhide or bead embellishments, and/or silver pieces. Price is largely determined by leather quality and detail.
Other materials, such as mohair, fleece, nylon, neoprene, or other synthetics, can be used instead of leather. Many of these options come at a lower price point, which make them perfect entry-level options. These alternatives are also great for leisure or trail riding, barrel racing, and roping.
To measure appropriate breast-collar size, saddle your horse. Then stretch a string, soft measuring tape, or existing breast collar across your horse’s chest, from front dee ring to front dee ring. This method determines your horse’s “dee-ring measurement.” Breast collars tend to come in just a few standard sizes. A 34-inch breast collar fits an average-built horse. A 36-inch piece is better suited for a heavily muscled, stock-type horse. A young, slight-chested, or petite-built horse (e.g., an Arabian) should try a 32-inch length. Tugs, which are the connectors that attach your breast collar to your dees, can be purchased in different lengths to achieve proper fit.
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For a correct fit, attach the tugs to the saddle’s front dees. Use a hole punch if necessary to add holes for a perfect fit. Adjust the breast collar evenly on both sides, with the juncture in the center of your horse’s chest. If it’s adjusted too low or too tightly, the piece will hamper movement and make your horse’s job more difficult. Connect the strap (if there is one) that runs between your horse’s legs, adjusting it to be a little loose but not so loose as to allow your cinch to slide back.
Your horse’s neck and shoulders are the first to sweat during a training session, which means runoff dirt, sweat, and hair oils will accumulate on and around your breast collar. Wipe off excess grime after each session before storage, and regularly apply saddle soap or liquid glycerine to leather to keep it soft and pliable.
Your riding activities determine the style that’ll best suit your needs.
Center-ring. This design, which is most popular, features three straps attached by a circular, D-shaped, or concho-covered ring in the center. Two thick straps act as the shoulder straps, while a thinner piece, called the cinch strap, runs between the horse’s front legs and attaches to your cinch’s front dee. Tugs attach to dee rings on either end of the shoulder straps and allow you to fasten the breast collar to your saddle.
This design is available with a variety of shoulder-strap widths that’ll provide various levels of security. A showpiece 1 to 2 inches wide is ideal for a class with little saddle jostling, such as horsemanship or Western riding, whereas a thicker shoulder strap (3 to 5 inches) is preferred for jolting, high-torque events that’ll require more support to keep the saddle in place.
Y-front. It appears to be one piece of leather, but this design consists of three pieces affixed at the juncture by a reinforced back. There’s no free movement, unlike with the center-ring style, an ideal feature for classes where you’d like to minimize movement to portray smoothness (think Western pleasure). This type also can be used for leisure rides and other Western classes, so long as you don’t need to use extra training equipment. (A Y-front has no dee-ring attachment points to affix a martingale, tie-down, or other tool.)
Solid-front. This style usually lacks a cinch strap, but does include a front dee ring for a training tool or tie-down. This solid piece can be wider, 3 inches or more, and may include an extra tug on either side that attaches to the saddle for more security. This style is most often used in steer roping or on the ranch, where your horse will brace hard against a breast collar to pull and handle extra torque.
Typically, the tugs and cinch strap that runs between your horse’s legs are the first to go, but are easily replaced. Regularly check your equipment for hardware damage or cracking.
Al Dunning, Scottsdale, Arizona, has produced world champion horses and riders in multiple disciplines. He’s been a professional trainer for more than 40 years, and his expertise has led him to produce books, DVDs, and his own online mentoring program, Team AD International (teamadinternational.com).