Leather cleaning is a very important part of tack maintenance. Inspection of all tack should be done on a regular basis to check for anything that might need to be repaired or cleaned. Leather needs to be kept in the right condition, and requires a few extra things be done to it to keep it in excellent, workable condition.
The first step in leather care is making sure that you buy quality leather. As with most things, you can always find a price range that covers the cheapest to the most expensive. However, unlike most products, if you purchase poor quality leather, it is more likely to become brittle and break long before you have a chance to wear it out. Poor quality leather products can also put your horse at risk due to equipment failure. When purchasing leather items, good quality products will be solid, but flexible, with no cracking when you bend it. It is also important to be aware of the many stitching and hardware options when buying leather tack.
Leather gets dirty just like everything else we use around horses. Dirt, sweat, and hair can get on the leather and cause problems. The leather should be cleaned after every use if possible. Try to use a product which is pH balanced, which will clean the leather without leaving the residue that most saddle soaps create. Put the cleaner on a damp towel or sponge, create a lather and clean the entire piece of tack (this may require disassembling or use of brushes to get to the hard to reach spots). Rinse off any remaining lather, making sure to remove it from the holes that are punched into the tack.
If you do not want to use a commercial cleaner, another option is to use one part ammonia to seven parts water. Place the tack in a lighted area to help kill the mold. Make sure to oil the tack afterward because mold has a severe drying affect on the tack. To prevent mold from occurring try to keep an even temperature in your tack room, around 68 degrees is best. Make sure you clean your tack frequently and use the correct type of cleaner.
The next step is conditioning your leather. Even if you clean your tack every day, it will start to get brittle and unconditioned. If the leather is starting to feel dry it is telling you it needs oil. Conditioning your tack every day is not necessary. Depending on how often you ride, what type of leather your tack is, and what your weather conditions are will help determine how frequently you will need to condition your tack. If possible, try to use leather conditioners that do not contain petroleum, as this could cause damage. Some conditioners can darken leather, so check a small hidden area, or a sample piece before you apply it all over your tack, especially if you are concerned about appearance or use the gear for shows and competitions. Make sure to read the directions on each conditioner bottle, as they are not the same.
BENEFITS OF CLEANING YOUR TACK REGULARLY:
- Clean tack saves money. Buying good quality leather can be expensive, so it makes sense to take care of it as well as you can. The cost for a cleaner and a conditioner is a lot less than having to replace a saddle or a bridle.
- Safety. Spending an extra $100 on a new bridle because you didn’t take care of your last one and it snapped when you took it off the shelf can be annoying. But even more important is considering the possibilities of your bridle breaking when you are in the middle of the cross country course, or your saddle being too stiff causing your horse pain and you ending up on the ground when he refuses to wear it. A little bit of work now is far more valuable then paying hospital bills for yourself or having to pay huge vet bills for your injured horse. Make it a habit to clean and check your tack regularly; you will be much safer in the long run.
- Extends the life of the tack and makes it look great! Just a few extra minutes here and there checking on, cleaning, and conditioning your tack will not only make your tack look better, but it will also extend the time period that you are able to use it. Once you find tack that fits you and your horse, it is a lot of work to re-place it and find things that work again. People that see a horse with dirty tack will automatically draw conclusions about the owner. If you are running a barn, or at a show trying to impress people, dirty tack is not a good way to show off your horsemanship skills.