A breast collar is designed to keep the saddle in place. It prevents the saddle from sliding too far back or from side to side. It should not be used to help with an ill-fitting saddle but should rather be used as more of an insurance policy in the event that the saddle shifts while riding.
A breast collar is the piece of equipment that attaches to the D rings in the front of the saddle, goes around the chest of the horse, and attaches to the front of the saddle on the other side. They also have another piece that is in the middle of the chest and goes between the horse’s legs, attaching to the cinch under the horse’s belly.
Who Needs a Breast Collar
A breast collar is not necessary every time you ride but there are certain situations where you may want to have one on your saddle. For example, it is a good idea to have a breast collar on your horse if you are roping or doing any sort of trail riding where you will be navigating steep terrain. Many barrel racers also use breast collars when making a run just in case something happens.
At a barrel racing show not that long ago, I was in the stands watching the girls run. One competitor was making her run when her saddle rolled to the right as she came around the third barrel. Her breast collar prevented the saddle from rolling completely under the horse’s belly. Unfortunately, the rider fell off halfway to the finish line. It is not an easy task to ride a galloping horse side-ways!
I always ride with a breast collar on my horse. It is not that I need it. I simply put it on because I like the way it looks. (And yes, that is okay.)
To be honest, a breast collar should be unnecessary for just about everyone. Assuming your saddle fits your horse correctly, there should be no danger of the saddle shifting from side to side or backwards. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of saddle fit. A proper fitting saddle will ensure that the saddle stays in place and that the horse is free to fully move with no discomfort or limitations.
How to Fit a Breast Collar
Your breast collar should not at all limit your horse’s movement. The horse should be able to fully extend itself with the breast collar in no way impairing movement. If the breast collar is too tight, it will be uncomfortable for the horse and will restrict their movement, therefore impairing their performance.
You also do not want the breast collar too loose. If the breast collar is too loose, it will not do its job properly. It could even become a hazard for your horse if things are dangling. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks and the Three Bears scenario: not too tight and not too loose.
The breast collar should fit slightly above the line of the shoulder. If it fits below this line, again, the horse will be restricted. The breast collar will likely rub on the horse’s shoulder, causing chafing. Attaching your breast collar to the D-rings on your saddle specifically made for the breast collar, rather than the cinch rings will help with getting the breast collar up and above that shoulder line.
If you are really having trouble getting your breast collar sitting up higher, you can get a breast collar wither strap. This is an additional piece of equipment that attaches to the breast collar on one side, goes over the horse’s neck, and then attaches to the breast collar on the other side.
There are also other breast collars that are specifically designed to go over the horse’s neck. This will automatically cause the breast collar to sit higher up on your horse.
Which Breast Collar to Use
There are tons of breast collars out there to choose from. They are all designed with different situations in mind. They obviously all do the same thing but there are differences that you should be aware of.
Steer Tripping Breast Collar
This type of breast collar is obviously meant for when you are roping cattle. It is very thick which means that the pressure generated by a saddle moving about when roping a steer will be spread out over a larger area of the horse’s chest and collar. A breast collar like this does not have a strap that goes between the horse’s legs.
Pulling Breast Collar
A pulling breast collar does not attach to the D-rings or cinch ring on your saddle. Rather, it attaches to the swells at the front of your saddle. This type of breast collar really makes sure that it is sitting up above the shoulder line as we discussed above.
Regular Breast Collar
The final type of breast collar would is just your regular breast collar that you see most people tacking their horse up with. These breast collars can come in a variety of widths. For most people, a one inch wide breast collar will do the trick. This type of breast collar is more popular and, therefore, you can get them in a wide variety of styles. I personally like a more modest style but you can get all sorts of colors, tooling and fringe.
Breast collars are typically made out of leather, but you can also purchase ones made out of nylon. Either type will work. It is more just a matter of personal preference just like the amount of tooling, colors, and other decoration you have on the breast collar.
Finish Line Thoughts
Unless you are doing some roping or extreme trail riding, a breast collar is not really necessary. That being said, I personally think they complete the look of a tacked up horse and so I always ride with one. Try one out for yourself. For many of us, it is just about incorporating our personal style into the look of our horses and there is nothing wrong with that.