For most riders, their tack represents their most expensive investment, after their horse!
But a surprising number of people neglect to take proper care of their leatherwork. That can mean a shorter lifespan for your tack, and could also be dangerous for you and your horse if the stitching becomes worn and damaged.
So, what’s the best way to take care of your tack?
A well-cared-for saddle can give you loyal, problem-free service for up to 50 years, so making an effort to look after it properly is well worth it.
In this article, we’ll explain how to take care of your tack, saving you money and keeping you and your horse safe.
Why is soap your saddle’s worst enemy?
The key to keeping leather items in excellent condition is hydration.
Animal hide is just like your skin. That means it’s made up of around 70 percent water.
When the leather is tanned, the process reduces the moisture content to roughly 25 percent. According to saddlery specialists, the worst enemies of high-quality leather are soap, sweat, and oil. Why?
Well, soap is acidic, burning the leather from the inside out. By all means, use saddle soap and a small amount of water to clean away dirt and sweat, but don’t leave the soap to soak into the leather.
According to co-founder and MD of Albion Saddlemakers, Sherry Belton, sweat is also highly damaging to leatherwork.
Sweat gets into every crevice of your bridle and saddle, where it eats away at the stitching, causing it to rot and ultimately to fail. Sweat dries out the leather, eventually triggering cracking and making the leather brittle.
So, should you oil your tack regularly? No, you shouldn’t!
Modern tanning processes have done away with the need to apply oil to new leather to make it supple. A very light application of a specialist leather dressing product is all you need to do on occasions when your tack gets wet.
You should be wary too of over-oiling parts of the tack that are inclined to stretch such as stirrup leathers, reins, etc.
Oil affects the effectiveness of the glue used in the saddle-making process, so be careful when oiling knee rolls in case the foam padding insert separates from the leather, which may also become wrinkled.
How to clean your tack correctly
- Start by using a sponge dampened in clean, warm water to wipe away any sweat and muck from the leather. Do this as soon as you remove the tack from your horse so that the sweat doesn’t get a chance to dry out and become ingrained in the stitching.
- Next, use a fresh sponge to apply a small amount of glycerin soap, paying attention to seams, stitching, and creases in the leather.
- Now, use a damp cloth to wipe over the tack to remove the soap residue.
- When you’re cleaning buckles, make sure you wipe off any metal polish that gets onto the leather.
- When you’ve finished, place a cover over your saddle to prevent the moisture from evaporating and drying out the leather.
That should be your daily tack cleaning routine!
Twice a month, condition the leather with a light application of a good quality leather balsam.
Monthly, you should take apart bridles and apply a small amount of leather dressing. Allow the bridles to sit for a day to allow the dressing to soak right in.
On occasions when your tack has been soaked during a rainy ride, you should wipe everything over with a damp cloth to remove sweat. Then, apply a light application of leather dressing and leather balsam to restore the moisture to the leather and keep it supple
Do you need to clean a brand new saddle?
Often, new saddles and bridles come with a white bloom present, usually underneath the saddle flaps, on the girth straps, and the underside of the bridle. In the saddlery trade, this bloom is called “talc.”
The white bloom is not caused by mold as some people mistakenly assume, but is a normal consequence of the tanning process.
Actually, if you don’t see talc on your new tack, you should be concerned that the tanning process has not been carried out properly, and the new leather could be of poor quality.
When raw cowhide is tanned to make leather, the process dries it out. So, to restore the moisture in the material and render the leather pliable and workable, it’s “curried,” using a blend of tallows and cod-liver oil.
The currying mixture leaves a clear residue on top of the leather, which gradually turns white as it dries, creating talc.
All you need to do to remove the talc is rub over your tack lightly with a clean, dry cloth.
What about girths, saddle cloths, and bits?
There’s no point having a sparkling clean saddle and bridle if your girth, saddle cloth, and bit are all filthy! Not only does that look unprofessional, but uncared for accessories could harm your horse.
If you use a leather girth, wipe the sweat and muck off it after each use. Then wipe the girth over with a damp sponge and a light dressing of saddle soap. Use a clean cloth to remove any soapy residue, and then finish off by applying some leather balsam.
Fabric girths can generally be washed in your washing machine, but always place them inside an old pillowcase to prevent the buckles from damaging the machine’s drum.
Always check the stitching and areas where the buckles attach to the girth each time you tack-up.
Saddle cloths should also be machine washed after each use, especially if your horse sweats up. Accumulations of dried sweat and grease on saddle cloths and girths can rub your horse’s skin, potentially resulting in sores.
Every time you ride, wash your horse’s bit! It only takes a few minutes to rinse it under a tap. So many people don’t bother to do this, but can you imagine how unpleasant it must be for a horse to have a bit that’s caked in dried saliva and bits of hay put in his mouth every time he’s ridden?!
Also, when you wash the bit, take a moment to check that the joints are not rough, loose, or sharp, which sometimes happens with old bits. Remember, loose, wobbly bit joints can pinch the corners of the horse’s mouth or cause ulcers on his tongue and the roof of his mouth. If a bit is damaged, throw it out and buy a new one!
Checking and repairing your tack
No matter how well you care for your tack, it will become worn over time. That’s why you should check your saddle and bridle twice-monthly for signs of wear and tear.
Look carefully at all the stitching on your tack, especially in areas such as where the buckle attaches to your stirrup leathers and where the bit is fixed to the cheek pieces of the bridle. Also, check all the billets on the bridle to ensure that the leather around them has not stretched or become worn.
Make sure that you have any damaged tack repaired as soon as you discover a problem.
It’s not just about looking smart, continuing to ride with damaged tack could mean that you are putting your life on the line. People are injured or even killed every year when stirrup leathers break or reins snap.
It’s a good idea to have your saddle checked over annually by a qualified saddler, especially if the saddle is old or secondhand. Problems such as a twisted or broken tree, faulty rivets, or lumpy flocking can go undetected, potentially causing injury to your horse.
Also, if your horse falls and rolls on his saddle, you must have it checked before you use it again.
Your tack is a major investment. It’s also the one thing that’s keeping you and your horse safely together.
You should give your tack a basic clean as described above every time you use it and a more thorough going-over twice a month. During these bi-monthly cleaning sessions, be sure to check all the stitching, billets, and points where your stirrups, girth, and bit attach. Have your saddle checked annually, and always after a fall, by an experienced saddler.
Do you have any super-tips for cleaning and maintaining your tack? If so, we’d love to hear them! Share with us in the comments box below.
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