Alternative Materials

I’m most definitely not a vegan. I could live without meat, no problem, and don’t generally eat that much of it, but the dairy… it gives me life. There is no point in living if I can’t have queso. The SO kinda sorta pretends/tries to be vegan (he’s watched waaaaaaay too many netflix documentaries if you ask me), but he like eggs, so he’s not particularly successful. Mostly he’s vegetarian, although he will absolutely 100% finish whatever I don’t eat, even if it’s meat. Still though, sometimes he comes home from Whole Foods with some type of godawful vegan cheese hoping it will be the holy grail, which is always 100% insulting to me as a turophile. And our relationship almost didn’t survive the vegan bacon that was actually coconut flakes.

Image result for offended gif

But, if you want to be vegan, I fully support that. You do you, I do me. I totally understand the appeal of the lifestyle. I have a few friends that are vegan, and as long as you don’t preach to me about the evils of cheese, we’re totally good. I do wonder though… how do vegan equestrians go about finding equipment? There are a lot of animal-based products involved in riding, particularly leather and sheepskin/wool. For a long time your only real option was Wintec saddles, other plastic type materials for strapgoods, fake fleece, and rubber boots. Cringey.

Robert Dover released his Robert Squared line of “luxury” vegan bridles last year, although they were mega expensive at $500+. It was advertised to be eco-friendly as well as vegan, but there’s no mention of what material is actually used. The bridles no longer seem to be available on their website, and they appear to have switched to making vegan riding boots instead. Which, there are some really decent vegan riding boot options these days, with several brands now offering non-leather options, including Fabbri. What they’re actually made of seems to vary, but… definitely a hell of a lot better than those clunky old rubber nightmares or the really bad synthetics that would start to crack and peel after a few months.

It seems like more and more of the bigger brands are starting to respond to the demand from the vegan equestrian market as well, as more non-leather options become available. Just this week Devoucoux dropped news of a new vegan option for any of their existing saddle models, the GT Option, which is made of… cork?


I don’t think it’s what I would choose personally, I love my french leather, but I am admittedly super intrigued by this. I’ve not seen anything like it before. How does it wear? Do you have to do any special care for the cork? Does it “break in” the way leather does?

Ironically the handbag I wrote about last week, that I got from Outfoxed, also has cork accents. It looks identical (aside from color) to the material on the Devoucoux. This of course led me to grab and examine the cork on my bag more closely, trying to picture it on a saddle. I can actually kinda see it. It’s almost got the appearance and feel of grain leather, although is missing some of the natural tackiness of leather.

the cork on my bag, which is actually super pretty

I haven’t seen a price listed for the GT option yet, but from comments on social media it doesn’t sound like it will be significantly (if at all) cheaper. And while I don’t want one, my curiousity is hella piqued. A cork saddle is a new one for me. It’s not something I’ve ever seen before on a product like that, and I’m dying to know how it feels and holds up over time, particularly parts like billets. I fell down a major rabbit hole googling cork vs leather to learn more about it.

What do you think of the cork saddle? Are there any vegan equestrians out there that are using some of these leather alternative options?

36 thoughts on “Alternative Materials

  1. Interesting. I was discussing the use of leather with a friend of mine the other day. It’s wild that it’s 2020 and we are still using leather in our industry as much as we do. Hopefully brands develop some serious alternatives that perform as well, if not better than, leather.


    1. Yeah I agree I feel like our industry has been really slow to the game. The last year or so though I feel like we’re finally starting to see more and more GOOD options, not just shitty plastic crap. I’m very interested to see if it catches on more, and if it truly is a viable option that is as good as, or better than, leather.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. I have “pleather” gear here that’s 10+ years old and has endured all sorts of abuse – I actually have it because it can handle being wet and washed better than leather. The newer biothane bridles feel really nice in the hand, and my synthetic saddle has held up well to 100s of miles. What they haven’t yet managed to replicate is the smell, which I love…


        1. The thing is with affordability vs quality/longevity/sustainability, do we want products that don’t last, even if they are affordable? As someone who just bought an old used saddle (no idea the year, but an old model Ashland, not the newer models that they made before they closed — so a minimum of 20+ years old), I love that good quality (but not necessarily high end) leather saddles last. We can keep selling these saddles, even if they are out of style, to people in need of well balanced, well-made saddles in the mid-3-figure price ranges for years (or lesson programs will buy them). Until we can do that with alternative material saddles (yes, some of the wintecs also cycle around)… For this reason, I have vegan friends that are willing to buy old, used leather saddles because of the sustainable element. They certainly won’t be buying new leather saddles, but if they can find a used saddle that fits what they need? Sure. One that has good resale? Even better!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yeah I agree, which is why I’m really curious as to how cork holds up over time with that kind of regular abuse. If you’re only getting 5 years out of it then it’s a really tough sell to me. The wintecs do last a long time from what I’ve seen, but they’re definitely lacking in the looks/feel department and aren’t so eco-friendly. It will be interesting to see if/when anyone can make something that actually nails or surpasses all the perks of leather.


  2. I had a cork purse that I used for about a year. I definitely saw some wear on it within that year – small cracks, rubs, loss of dye. I would be very concerned about the durability of a saddle that I’d have to shell out many thousands of dollars for. A definite pass for me until it’s shown to be a solid, proven leather substitute.


  3. Wow I’ve never heard about Vegan saddles. I do wonder about how green they would be.

    If you have a leather saddle with wool flocking, then I assume it would pass the garden test (dig a hole in your garden bury the item for a couple of years and then see what is left.) and biodegrade. If you buy a vegan saddle with no leather and no wool, then would it be biodegradable? .Cork would be okay I suppose.

    Life used to be much less complicated!


  4. Hmmm…never thought of this as an issue but I can see how having so many animal based products could be a moral issue for some. The issue I have is like you already said…durability. Not every alternative solution is better for the environment. Maybe an animal didn’t have to die so you could ride your horse, but what are the byproducts of the harvesting, transportation and crafting of the alternative? If a leather saddle lasts 20 years and an alternative only 5 then you’d have to look at the overall environmental burden of making 4x as many products in the same span of time. Interesting though.

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  5. So many of the vegan alternatives are the opposite of eco-friendly or sustainable. Pleather, anyone? I love the idea of having an alternative to leather but I want to know more about the production process and the actual materials used.
    For bags and wallets I can see “leaf leather” or cork working but tack has to withstand a lot more abuse. Is it really better for the environment if you have to throw a saddle out every few years and buy a new one?


    1. Totally true regarding whether or not it’s really eco-friendly. Soy production has a lot of the same issues regarding environmental impact. And of course… palm oil. I guess for some people it might come down to the whole “don’t want to use animal-based products” vs the environmental impact aspect.


      1. I think this is a really exciting development and I am super interested in seeing one of these in person – I buy most of my leather goods second-hand due to ethical issues with leather. If this were to be as durable as leather, and still offer comfort/fit/quality/everything we’ve come to expect from a high-end leather saddle, I would be thrilled to have one.


  6. The brittle environment here in the Southwest actually makes grazing animals the best option for turning vegetation into something people can eat and use with the least damage to the ecosystem. I have been looking for leather goods made from sustainably managed ecologically tanned leather but have not found any one even taking about despite the increase in the grass-fed beef and free rang pork market. I also have to wonder if the jump in the number of horses with weird skin issues has to do with the increase in the weird materials used to make girths and boots.


    1. I’ve had the same though regarding the materials potentially causing issues. I’ve had such good experiences with natural materials like leather and sheeps wool, and not such great experiences with others. Also a lot of those plastics and synthetics are total nightmares for the environment (as are several things in the vegan food movement). There are a lot of different aspects to weigh!


  7. I don’t know if i would buy a vegan material saddle (aka cork) without a lot of testing as mentioned above. Like how long would it last? How much is it?

    One thing I do want is a pair of boots (extra) and would love to find a decent nonleather alternative for those (Not cause I am vegan I just hate leather boots sometimes) so feel free to send me options for me 🙂 Thanks HA (I dont want to spend a 1000 bucks on them though LOL)


    1. I kind of get the feeling from their replies to comments that it’s about the same price as leather. And I totally agree, I would NOT take the risk on that without seeing a saddle that’s already had 5-10 years of regular use and seeing how it holds up. I would love to at least see a test saddle that has had some use.

    2. Saxon makes a non-leather pair of boots that I actually rode in for a couple of years and liked. I mean they weren’t luxury, but I went in to a tack store ready to drop up to $500 on whatever fit me best, and they were what my feet liked. The only drawback was that they got hotter than leather out in the sun if you were standing still – like waiting your turn in a jump set.

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  8. I’m just not sure how I feel about a cork saddle — for all of the reasons mentioned above! I don’t have any issue with Wintec saddle or nylon bridles, etc. They’re not what I choose to buy, but I have definitely used them and they generally work great and seem to last when they are taken care of (which can also be said of leather).


  9. I had a client once who is in 3D printing. When researching a blog post for them, I stumbled across an article discussing a company experimenting with 3D printed leather. Basically, they take lab-grown protein chains that match that of cowhide and print them into a sheet. The sheet is essentially leather, just synthetically produced. It’s based on the technology used to create transplant organs.

    That, to me, is one of the most viable and sustainable technologies I’ve seen in regards to “vegan” leather. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any updates since.


  10. I feel like if you aren’t necessarily worried about “looks”, there are a few options out there. Synthetic options, biothane, rubber, etc. I mean, the rubber boots and biothane bridles can be a bit of an eye-sore, but it doesn’t take away from a person’s talent. Just look at Bobby; he competed in a Wintec for years, and did very well.


    1. Yeah, they can do the job, although they may not be the most comfortable and may or may not fit your horse. Depends on one’s needs I suppose! It’s cool to see more options for people that don’t want to use leather, and some that are perhaps more well made and higher end.


  11. HDR recently started up a vegan line of tack. Though I couldn’t find any information on how it differed from a Wintec. Made me think they were just using the vegan branding to look trendy. I don’t hate Wintec saddles, I used them for many years and really liked the way their seats were shaped. Fit me well. But you need to have a very particularly shaped horse, and I don’t have the right shaped one.

    I think the biggest hurdle for this market is longevity. You don’t seen many synthetic saddles from the 90s still in use. Most have worn out long ago. Meanwhile, while not in style, saddles from the 70s, 80s, and 90s are still being used and being passed around.


    1. I saw that and thought the same. It mostly just looked like synthetic saddles and they were capitalizing on the vegan marketing. Granted, not all synthetics are also vegan, depends on all the other materials used and how they’re processed.

      I saw that Premier Equine is coming out with their own line of synthetic saddles, too, including a cross country saddle.


  12. Been a vegetarian (lacto-ovo-pesco (if we must attach labels) and take away my cheese at your own risk) for almost forty years now, so this might sound weird coming from me, but I think we should utilize leather. The whole world is not going to become vegan or even vegetarian anytime soon or really ever. Humanely raise and harvest the meat and other animal products, but don’t waste the leather over a philosophical issue. Have always thought about Native Americans thanking the animals they hunted and honoring them by using every single part…


  13. One thing to consider is that leather production isn’t eco-friendly either. Like at all. I still use it and am not vegan, but I get nervous when conversations steer towards vegan alternatives being somehow less eco-friendly than leather, which just isn’t true unfortunately.

    I am a big fan of buying secondhand though!


  14. This is interesting! I don’t know if I could go for it without some serious testing and riding in one bc I’ve been so underwhelmed by all faux leather type products. But it’s interesting for these companies to try and give some alternatives for people who are bothered by using leather saddles.


  15. As a trail/endurance rider, biothane is the norm in my world. I love it: bright colours (you’d want to stab your eyes out at my set, ha), easy care/clean (dishwasher-safe!), and lasts forever (my friend has a couple of sets that are 20+ years old and still going strong!). And, with the newer “beta” biothane, if you get that in black especially or brown, you have to get pretty close up to even tell it’s not leather. Unfortunately, some disciplines (like many in Pony Club, and dressage) specify that some or all of the bridle has to be made of leather: Pony Club does it for the safety/breakaway aspect (I can totally see their point!) and dressage does it because, well, it’s dressage?

    For saddles, though…..I don’t know about cork. I own 4 saddles (we won’t talk about how many horses I own, but, hint, way less than 4…..). One is 20+ years old and an endurance saddle, and has minimal leather because it’s a minimal saddle, but it’s in great shape. My jump saddle is a 15+ year old County Eventer, again, in great shape. My dressage saddle is a used (not sure of age, but I’ve had it 2 years) Black Country that’s in such good shape very few people believe o bought it used! The only one I bought new is another endurance saddle, which has a leather seat. And leather-wrapped pommel and cantle. And that’s it. It’s also barely a saddle, but it doesn’t use a lot of questionably sustainable material, either!


  16. I think the trouble with synthetics is longevity. You can recondition hide, and get it to last a long while. But synthetics can’t really be rejuvenated like that. They generally dry out and crack in a shorter amount of time than leather. And if you’re replacing things regularly with man made materials, I feel like that’s just as bad for the environment. It’s such a tricky thing, saving all the animals, and also saving the planet. I don’t know that there’s a perfect balance.


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