Horseshoe Leather Products http://www.holsters.org/index.htm isn’t one of the best known holster makers, but that doesn’t really matter. What is important is that it is one of the best holster makers on the planet. Horseshoe holsters are of impeccable quality and superbly designed for the concealed carry of handguns. One of the keys to this high level of quality is that Horseshoe is a one man shop and each holster is handmade for each customer by Horseshoe’s owner, Andy Arratoonian. If he made it, it bears the distinctive Horseshoe symbol he hand stamps on every item.
The quality of Arratoonian’s work is so good that despite Horseshoe Leather being relatively unknown in the new age of plastic, he is back-ordered by almost a year at present. His customers tend to be very knowledgeable professionals who need high-quality, concealment holsters rather than dilettantes. His designs have been copied, but his quality is very, very hard to equal.
The strangest thing to me about Horseshoe Leather is its location– North Yorkshire in the hoplophobic United Kingdom. It is about halfway between London and Edinburg. One might not think that he would have many customers in his home country, but apparently there are quite a few British professionals who know a good thing when they use it. There is also a knowledgeable following around the world for Horseshoe Leather.
As a side note, if you want to know more about why hoplophobia has won out in the old country, take a look at Arratoonian’s excellent article on the handgun ban there. He makes it clear that what has struck there is a danger we must combat here.
One misconception I’ve often heard about his work is that he uses horsehide. In reality, he prefers prime English full-grain cowhide, which he feels allows him to make a better holster due to cowhide having superior rigidity. This translates to better weapon retention. Cowhide can also be finished better than horsehide in Arratoonian’s view, so it will have a finer appearance. He once offered holsters in American tanned horsehide, but I found none currently available on his website. He has an informative webpage http://www.holsters.org/which.htm on the subject of horsehide vs. cowhide, if you want to know more.
There are, in my view, two limitations of Horseshoe holsters. First, Arratoonian no longer makes them for revolvers. While my favorite handgun is the 1911, I am still fond of revolvers and have been in the market for a holster for one. The second problem affects me even more personally, since I am left handed; these days, he only makes a couple of models– his shoulder holster and his inside the waistband holster– for we persecuted few.
Some may also resent the fact that he does not work with Kydex, but I revel in high quality leather and could care less. I find leather more comfortable to wear and pleasing to the senses than Kydex. If it weren’t for what sweat does to fine leather, I doubt I would own any plastic holsters, despite the fact they can work well if the maker knows the business of design and construction.
One of my favorite holsters from Horseshoe is the Model 32 Max Protect. This is a pancake style that holds the pistol close to the body for concealment. Its most distinctive features are the two wings of leather that protect the top of the pistol. I usually carry a 1911 pattern handgun, and I like how the wings protect the ambidextrous safety I have on my weapon. Since the safety is on both sides of the gun, it is exposed to bumps that can knock it off in a normal holster. The Max Protect prevents that, which is something I appreciate. The wings also add to its comfort, as they prevent the sharp edges of the pistol from ever contacting my body. Further, they smooth the outline of the pistol, enhancing concealment.
One thing that puzzles me is that Arratoonian warns that this feature slows the draw, since there is extra leather around the pistol. I personally don’t find that to be the case, but it might be I’m not adept enough for it to make any difference.
I sometimes wish it carried the pistol slightly lower. On my body, it places the pistol’s center of gravity a little bit higher than I like, when I use it with a Commander– my primary carry pistol. That allows the pistol to lean out slightly from the torso, but it isn’t a major problem.
I’ve been trained that it is important to reholster without needing both hands or looking, which is why I fret over this issue. I have thought that a metal reinforcing band around the mouth would be nice. That would ensure the holster is always open to receive the pistol, but in truth I have had no issues with that when using a 1911 style pistol. Still, Arratoonian warns that the holster isn’t suitable for really wide pistols, like Glocks, for this reason.
The holster is superbly blocked to the pistol and is a thing of beauty and joy to hold in its saddle tan finish. Mine was made for an Officers ACP, and I have crassly stuffed my Commander into it, which sticks out just slightly, but it works well. The holster costs $120.
Arratoonian makes holsters that are quite popular with security and protection officers, and among those are his holsters that position the pistol on the back. The first is his SOB2, which sells for $110. He tells us that he designed it originally for gun shop owners in France (who knew there were such things!) but that it became popular with airport security officers, body guards, and others who needed a highly covert method of carry. The pistol is positioned at the middle of back, where there is an anatomic pocket into which the pistol nestles and where it essentially disappears. The pistol butt is positioned up and the holster offers a surprisingly smooth and fast draw stroke, though it does require a bit more flexibility than a conventional carry.
There are some drawbacks. When seated, it is uncomfortable and hard to access the pistol. Don’t bend at the waist to pick a dropped quarter up, as it will print out the back of your cover garment. Some worry that if you were to take a fall and land on it, it could cause spine damage.
The SBU2 holster is similar to the SOB2 in how it positions the pistol, but it runs the belt over the holster which enhances concealment by pulling it in tighter against the body. Personally, I like this version better, as the belt provides better support for a heavy service pistol, like the 1911. Again, all of the warnings for the SOB2 apply to the SBU2. These cost $110.
Truthfully, I haven’t used either holster very much since I often spend time sitting. They work well within the limits of the design.
I have also used the Horseshoe 62L holster inside the Waistband holster, though in a moment of bad judgment, I gave it to someone who I hope still cherishes it. This is an inside the waistband holster that is very reminiscent of the Summer Special, produced by Bruce Nelson and Milt Sparks in the United States. It is made with the rough side of the leather facing out, so that it grips against the body and clothing to hold everything in place. He will make it smooth side out, if you wish, but he points out the advantages of rough side out. The one advantage of smooth side out is that you can keep it waxed so it doesn’t absorb as much sweat.
I’m not sure who was the first to make interchangeable belt loops for this style holster, but I know Horseshoe had it in the mid-1980’s. As well as allowing you to modify the holster for different width belts, it allows you to adjust the rake to exactly the position you require for comfortable placement on your belt. You can make it a straight drop or adjust it for cross draw or FBI carry on the strong side behind the hip. It is truly versatile and ideal for experimenting. The loops have snaps so you can easily remove the holster as needed.
The 62L has a steel reinforced mouth, so you don’t have to worry about the holster collapsing and preventing you from putting the pistol away when you need to. You can also buy it with a protective tab that extends up between the pistol and the wearer’s body for comfort. I highly recommend this option.
Finally, there is a version that uses a metal clip rather than leather belt loops. As with the belt loops, the clips can be selected to fit 1¼- or 1½-inch belts. I have not tried this version of the holster, but I expect it is made to the same standards as the one with belt loops. I personally prefer belt loops as I find them easier to deal with than the clips.
Arratoonian recommends this holster and inside the waistband carry in general for single stack rather than double stack pistols. I don’t carry a double stack one and can’t address this point, but I do know people who carry them this way successfully. I presume the holster would work just fine for that purpose, if the owner is comfortable with a blocky pistol stuffed in their pants. You can get yours for $105.
The last Horseshoe item I have tried is the 68LS inside the waistband magazine pouch for a single magazine http://www.holsters.org/iwb-mags.htm. Like the 62 series holsters, it is made rough side out. The version I used does not have the protective tab that extends up and behind the magazine. I would recommend the 68L that does have it. You can get it with belt loops, with snaps, or a metal clip, as your tastes dictate. As with the holster, I prefer belt loops. These pouches run $40.
This style magazine pouch is also available for two magazines, though only with the belt loops and only for single stack magazines. They cost $70.
Horseshoe has several other style holsters and magazine pouches I have not had the chance to view or use. His outside the waist band magazine carriers http://www.holsters.org/single-stack.htm look lovely on his web page, and he gives you the option of forward, rear, or vertical rake. I have always used vertical rake carriers and wonder if the forward rake might work better for me. These go for between $55 and $75.
He has a horizontal carry shoulder holster that is equally lovely, though with my build the muzzle on a Commander or 1911 would probably print through the back of my cover garment. I should have worked out more. He gives you the option of magazine carriers or a second holster on the off side.
There are also belt slide and pancake-style holsters going for $85 and $100 respectively. Both are pretty similar to the Max Protect, just without the wings to protect the top of the pistol. Again, Arratoonian feels they aren’t for thick pistols. He offers a $110 variant– the Covert 22– with a metal reinforcement, for those who like wide body handguns.
His last holster is a wrap around with a metal reinforcement at the top called the Covert 28; it goes for $105.
Shipping cost to the U.S. is 10% of the purchase price for air mail.
I have a Horseshoe belt; sadly, he no longer makes them. He feels that there are a lot of good belts out there and his time is best devoted to holsters. I can’t argue with that, but I’m glad I’ve got mine.
Arratoonian offers some sage advice around his website, and it is well worth your time looking for it. I particularly liked this line: “Remember that clothing should be adapted to conform to the weapon you carry, not vice versa!” I might add that you need to consider the threat you might encounter and choose your weapon accordingly. I wish I could remember where I heard the comment that you will never want a smaller, lighter gun that shoots fewer, smaller bullets during a lethal encounter, but it is a good thought to keep in mind, too.
I wasn’t able to confirm it, but Arratoonian appears to be a musician as well as a holster master, playing Big Band music with the group Firefly http://www.fireflymusic.org/index.htm.
There is a degree of magic when you pick up something a master has made by hand just for you. Horseshoe holsters have that magic. Surprisingly, you can pay as much for a production holster. The only drawback of getting the master’s work is having to wait for it, but waiting does build character.
I’ll close with another line from Arratoonian: “Do not regret growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.” May all of us have that privilege.
I recently purchased an armor plate from AR500, a vendor in Phoenix, Arizona, and had a disappointing customer service experience. The armor itself is fine, but I wanted a left-handed plate. They cut their plates to allow more space for the butt of a long gun on the shooting shoulder, which is in my view a good thing. As one would expect, they mainly make right-handed ones, but they did say you could order it with a left-hand cut. I specified in the notes field of their online order form that I wanted a left-handed plate. I got a right-handed one.
When I contacted them, they were a bit slow to reply. After a series of exchanges, they finally told me that they would replace it, but I had to cover the shipping back to them and I had to provide photos of the box it came in and the plate before they would agree to discuss replacing the plate. They also required me to provide a copy of the invoice, which was easy enough to download from their website.
AR500 claimed I had not specified that I wanted a left-handed plate, but I distinctly remember doing so. I suspect that somehow the information got lost. I’m not concerned that I got sent the wrong product because mistakes happen; I was unhappy that I was the one who would have to cover shipping the heavy steel plate back and would then probably have to wait another couple of months to get what I originally wanted.
After pondering it a bit, I decided to just give in and keep the plate to use on the backside of my carrier and obtain another plate for the front. I already had a set of plates, but they lack the anti-fragmentation coating that one really should have on steel armor. At some point, I’ll order another plate for the front, but I will probably be checking out other vendors.
– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie