Image via iStock.com/castenoid
By Cheryl Lock
As many equestrians already know, keeping horse tack in top shape is an essential part of horseback riding. Taking good care of bridles, saddles, girths and other pieces of equipment by keeping them clean and conditioned will keep them in working order for as long as possible.
Stephenie Hoke, DVM, MF, of Dark Horse Veterinary Service, explains, “I think different disciplines and different practices are all different from the next in terms of cleaning needs … I’ve seen dressage riders clean their tack inch by inch every single time it was used.” But she’s also seen those who use a saddle “eight to 12 hours a day and won’t do hardly anything to it, but they’re made of a different grade and different materials.”
In general, Dr. Hoke believes that a lot of people aren’t familiar with the basics of how to clean a saddle or how to take care of horse tack.
The Worst Offenders for Horse Tack Wear and Tear
Dust and UV light are the number one offenders, says Dr. Hoke, and over-oiling can potentially rot the stitching. That’s why it’s important to keep things covered. “If they accumulate dust, don’t just throw more conditioner on it; clean it first,” she says.
One other common factor that many people don’t consider when it comes to horse tack care is the impact of climate— humidity levels in particular. “People don’t understand in general that you have to clean leather periodically, but that how often also depends on your environment,” she says. “Humid places need a different type of help because of fungus and leather rot, so it’s important to check your environment and learn about the specific type of care your products need accordingly.”
Start Clean, and Keep It Up
Good initial care can make a difference, too. “Tacks made of decent leather should last a lifetime,” says Dr. Hoke. “I hired someone to condition my saddle right off the bat when I first bought it, and I still have it.”
Saddles also need re-flocking and refitting every so often, says Dr. Hoke, which is a deeper level of care than just cleaning and conditioning.
Outside of initial care, the upkeep is just as important. “Maintaining your horse tack, such as your bridle, saddle, stirrup leathers, reins and your bit, properly can help your tack last longer, meaning you won’t need to be replacing those items if you take care of them from the start and continue to do so consistently,” says Hayley Holzhacker, owner of Hayley’s Horsekeeping Tack Cleaning Company in Morristown, New Jersey. “All leather, when not taken care of properly, can crack, break and be an overall safety hazard for all involved.”
How to Clean Horse Tack
Holzhacker offers these suggestions to help keep your own tack in tip-top shape:
1. Don’t Overlook the Hard-to-Reach Spots
Holzhacker suggests using a cotton swab for cleaning hard-to-reach places. “For example, dirt collects on a saddle nameplate, interior metal d-rings, as well as the bridle where the keepers can collect dirt, dust, and remain there without even noticing,” she says. “I often use a cotton swab for those hard-to-reach places. I also use a toothbrush and a tack-cleaning sponge to get into those grimy, dirt-collecting places like your stirrup leather bar, which can get gross quickly if not cleaned often.”
2. Clean, Condition, Repeat
Holzhacker also recommends that riders clean, condition and oil their tacks after every ride. “I suggest after every ride, wiping it off using water and Fiebing’s liquid glycerine saddle soap for horses,” she says. Farnam leather new horse polishing soap is also a good option if you’re looking for an easy-polish option that softens and renews leather as well as leaves a long-lasting shine.
Leather should remain feeling soft and supple, especially since the wear and tear can be an important element for comfort and safety when riding, jumping and competing. “I wipe off my saddle after every ride, and depending on how much time I have, I will use glycerine soap,” says Holzhacker. “Then I always condition a week or so before a major show, lesson or clinic.”
In the winter, when Holzhacker isn’t riding as often, she says she normally cleans and conditions her tack once or twice a month to help maintain its supple feel. “Bickmore bick 4-leather conditioner is an awesome product, and a little goes a long way in conditioning your leather goods,” she says.
3. Avoid Common Mistakes
Holzhacker says she often sees problems when people don’t clean their tack often enough or they miss the important or key spots. It is also important to use a proper tack-cleaning sponge, like the Decker Manufacturing Company round tack horse sponge, but make sure to not use too much water. “A little water on a tack-cleaning sponge can go a long way with your glycerin saddle soap,” she says.
4. Be Proactive
Remembering to clean your horse tack regularly with the proper horse supplies is important, but there are also some systems you can put in place to help prevent damage to your products in the first place. Items like Fiebing’s saddle soap paste for horses also help clean and polish leather goods while lubricating fibers to help prevent brittleness.
Whichever products you decide to use, it’s important to remember to clean your horse tack as often as possible to maintain its supple feel and optimal use. “I believe that it is extremely important to maintain a significant level of cleanliness in all aspects of overall horse care,” says Holzhacker.
“No matter the price tag of your saddle, bridle or bit, it is important to always take excellent care of your gear, because you and your horse will be grateful to have your horse’s gear clean, nicely conditioned and ready to ride.”