Now I love me some Dover Saddlery. I still eagerly await their catalog in the mailbox, as I have over 15 years with my horsey friends in elementary school, and have loved watching this company grow and modernize (the updated website looks amazing!). Any equestrian in the US probably recognizes their trademark green color on all their marketing and various products, one of which is the subject of this post.
When I needed to buy a surcingle for my up-and-coming prodigy (well, we’re working on it) Huayra, I hopped over to my Dover store here in Austin and saw a few options. There weren’t a whole lot of surcingle choices at the time and I wanted one that looked nice, didn’t cost an arm and leg, and most importantly, do it’s job well. A full leather surcingle would have been my first choice (there weren’t any), and naturally being very impatient, I bought Dover’s brand labeled training surcingle, which famously comes in their Dover Green and dark brown leather for $69.95+tax.
I’m still waiting for my horse to grow into it and mature a little more before using it seriously, but in the mean time I popped it on her to see how it looks while oohing and awing about how fast they grow up. It looks nice, but in my opinion it would look nicer and coordinate better with my all-black color theme if the green parts were…black. So I headed to my local HEB and grabbed a bottle of Rit Dye in black for a few bucks and had a go at it.
Warning: You may want to wear gloves or you might end up like me, dying you hand when you go to remove the stopper at the bottom of the sink. You can also improvise with a plastic grocery bag over your hand in a pinch. Also, dust off and try to get the dry girth as clean as possible (or new) for best results. Also, I really caution anyone not to let the water you use on the surcingle be too hot or boiling! It might cause cracking or weirdness in the leather.
There are multiple ways to dye cotton/fabric, like in the washing machine or on the stovetop in a boiling pot. I didn’t want to go for either of these and risk hardening or hurting the leather. So I filled my stainless steel kitchen sink with a gallon and a half of the hottest water from that faucet, poured in about a quarter of dye, and popped the girth section in for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, and let it soak.
Upon pulling it from the sink, it looks awesome! I rinsed the girth in cold water and set it off the side before putting in the top part of the surcingle, wiping the leather off with a towel to get off extra dye residue. I emptied out about half the now cooled-off water and refilled it with more warm water and dye. Be careful not to overfill your sink! The surcingle takes up a bit of room and the dye can be hard to get off non-stainless items.
The top part is slightly more challenging. It top ‘pommel’ of the surcingle is stuffed somewhat to make it fit better on the horse and be more comfortable. (I’m sure they would tell you submerging this in water is probably not the best for it, but it’s holding up well). This top part also has a lot of air in it, causing the top to want to float. In response, I grabbed the biggest stainless bowl I had and put it on top and filled it a little to try and push it down more, and ended up putting in a handy pestle and mortar to really make it sink. It still floats a little, but I am flipped it halfway through for 100% coverage and it looks great.
After rinsing it, I thought it would be best to refill the sink with clean water and soaked it again and it removed a good amount of excess dye. Like the top, make sure to wipe the leather off with a towel. Pulling it out, it’s a bit heavy with water and will need a bit of time to dry, so don’t do this a day before needing the surcingle. Maybe two.
Some after photos:
The only part of the leather that looks a little weird is one side where the leather patch attaches the billets to the surcingle. It is hardly noticeable though and it doesn’t bother me. Overall the leather held up fantastically, and still looks like new (maybe a little darker? Still brown though) except for that one section. The cotton sections are a very dark matte black and looks amazing.
To clean the residue off the sink, I used a magic eraser (melamine foam) and it looks good as new.
This makes me wonder whether one could carefully bleach the green parts and then dye it a bunch of cool colors to match your other tack? If anyone gets to try before I do, I would love to hear how it goes!
Editors note: For the best and darkest results, use the entire bottle of dye, stir very frequently, and leave the surcingle submerged for 45 minutes or more.