Investing in high-quality leather tack can be a substantial financial commitment, but with proper care, it can last for many years, and a well-maintained saddle can even endure a lifetime of use.
The most prevalent error individuals make regarding leather tack is neglecting to clean and condition it. Given the considerable investment saddles entail today, it might be puzzling to witness tack brought in for repair that hasn’t been cleaned in a significant amount of time, if ever.
Another misstep is choosing cost-effective tack to save money upfront. Often, these items are crafted from lower-quality imported leather. Nickel-plated hardware will degrade and rust, especially in humid areas. You want to buy tack with stainless steel or solid brass hardware.
How Often Should You Clean Tack?
Ideally, leather tack should be cleaned after every use. Establishing a post-ride cleaning routine is simple and ensures that your tack remains both aesthetically pleasing and durable.
This routine is particularly crucial when your horse’s sweat comes into contact with the saddle, which is typical with English saddles.
While saddle soap once only came in bar or paste form, contemporary options include quality glycerin saddle soap in liquid and foam formulations. These modern products simplify the cleaning process and don’t accumulate in crevices as paste soap can.
Today’s leather cleaning products also require minimal water use. Generally, a damp sponge, not overly wet, is all that’s needed for rinsing. Always adhere to the label instructions for the specific leather cleaning product you employ.
Tack Cleaning Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do remove dust and dirt before cleaning.
- Do use products designed explicitly for cleaning leather tack.
- Do use minimal water.
- Don’t use baby wipes.
- Don’t use products containing alcohol, turpentine, or mineral spirits.
- Don’t apply cooking oils like olive or corn oil, as they can attract roaches and rodents.
- Don’t leave saddles in direct sunlight after cleaning.
Best Cleaning Practices: After each ride, use glycerin saddle soap, in your preferred form, and a clean sponge or washcloth to wipe down your saddle and bridle.
Periodically, undertake a more comprehensive cleaning, which involves disassembling and cleaning all parts of your saddle and bridle. The frequency of this deeper cleaning depends on your riding frequency and the tack’s exposure to dirt and dust.
Before cleaning, utilize a shop vacuum or a cold setting hair dryer to remove dust and dirt from the saddle, paying close attention to crevices. Avoid dampening suede areas or using saddle soap or oil on them. Use a suede-specific cleaner if necessary. If suede becomes smooth over time, a suede brush can restore the nap.
Dealing with Mold and Mildew: If you notice a powdery greenish-white coating on your leather tack, it’s mold and/or mildew, likely caused by high humidity. Do not ignore this issue, as it can lead to permanent damage to the leather.
To remedy mold and mildew, use glycerin-based saddle soap to thoroughly clean the saddle, gently scrubbing as needed. This task is best performed outdoors to avoid inhaling mold spores. After cleaning, allow the saddle to dry in a place out of direct sunlight. Once dry, apply leather conditioner as directed on the product label. To prevent the recurrence of mold and mildew, store the saddle in a climate-controlled environment.
Conditioning: In addition to regular cleaning, leather tack requires periodic conditioning. The frequency of this process is not set in stone and depends on various factors.
New Western show saddles often come with a protective lacquer finish that helps maintain their condition and color. With such coating, the saddle may not require oiling or conditioning for several months, provided it is cleaned with quality glycerin saddle soap. When you do condition your tack, it’s essential to use leather conditioner explicitly designed for tack. If you aim to maintain the light color of leather, select a cleaner and conditioner that explicitly states it won’t alter the leather’s color or darken it.
Western tack is often made with lighter leather, and people don’t want it to darken. When opting for oil, neatsfoot oil is typically recommended for leather tack, and it’s crucial to avoid using food oils. If leather exhibits cracks when bent, no amount of oil or conditioner can restore it, indicating that the leather must be replaced for safety reasons.
Caught in the Rain?
Exposure to rain during a ride can be unavoidable, but it’s essential to promptly address the situation concerning your tack.
After untacking, thoroughly wipe down the saddle with a dry towel to remove excess moisture. Next, employ leather cleaner to eliminate any dirt, mud, or stains. Place the saddle on a stand in a well-ventilated area to air dry. While it may be tempting to use a heat lamp or other heat source to expedite the drying process it is advises against it, stating that using heat can harm the leather. Instead, consider using a fan to facilitate drying, ensuring that it is not placed too close to the tack.
Once the saddle is nearly dry, apply a light coat of leather conditioner to maintain flexibility. After the saddle has completely dried, you can thoroughly condition it.
Safety Considerations: Maintaining leather tack isn’t solely about preserving appearances; it’s also a matter of safety. Worn or damaged leather can break under pressure, posing risks to both horse and rider.
It is advisable to inspect your tack’s condition every time you ride and to be meticulous during safety checks while cleaning. This practice will help you identify items in need of repair before they become hazardous or necessitate replacement.
Pay close attention to areas subject to regular friction when assessing the condition of your saddle and bridle. Some areas exhibit more wear and tear than others, and you should closely examine the following components:
- Billets (English saddle)
- Flaps (English saddle)
- Rigging (Western saddle)
- Fenders (Western saddle)
- Stirrup leathers (English and Western saddles)
- Latigo tie straps (Western saddle)
- Points where reins attach to
- Points where cheek pieces attach (bridle)
- Stitching (on any leather tack)
Identifying broken stitching or cracks in the leather serves as a red flag. For safety’s sake, do not continue to use equipment with such issues. Instead, promptly take it in for repair or replacement. When leather becomes brittle or dry-rotted, it has reached a state beyond repair and can only be replaced.
If leather cracks upon bending, no amount of oil or conditioner can restore it. For safety considerations, the affected piece of leather must be replaced. In some instances, opting for a new piece of tack may prove to be only slightly costlier than attempting to repair the old one.
Buying Online: While it is common to purchase tack online, some saddles sold online may have a broken tree, which can harm your horse’s back. Replacing a tree is a costly endeavor, and this risk is inherent when purchasing online without guarantees.
If you have doubts about a saddle’s condition, it’s advisable to consult a reputable tack shop in your area. Many of these businesses offer services for assessing tack to ensure its safety and reliability.
Proper Storage: How you store your leather tack will significantly impact its condition and longevity. Ideally, store it in a temperature-controlled environment, away from direct sunlight. Cover saddles with a breathable material, such as a natural fiber saddle bag. Leather requires the ability to breathe, so avoid covering it with plastic or storing it in an airtight plastic container.
Maintaining leather tack is a combination of consistent cleaning and occasional conditioning. Neglecting these steps not only impacts the aesthetics but also the safety and durability of your gear. The effort you invest in preserving your tack will be rewarded with tack that looks good and remains reliable for years to come. By following these best practices and you can ensure your investment in quality leather tack stands the test of time.
By Staff writer