Whether you just purchased a new saddle or bridle from Mary’s or you need to revitalize older tack that has seen better days, here are a few tips and techniques for proper maintenance and care of your leather tack. Regular inspection and cleaning ensures your horse tack and equipment will not accumulate dirt and grime that will weaken the leather and can compromise safety. It also keeps your leather goods looking good and lasting for years and years.
We always recommend that you follow the specific manufacturer’s guidelines for caring for your new tack. The harness leather used for western headstalls does not need the same care and ingredients as does the baby soft French calfskin on a Butet saddle. The leather’s needs can change depending on the tanning process and the finish used on the final product. Purchasing the manufacturer’s branded leather care products is recommended, as the care products are usually blended specifically for that brand’s leather needs. Keep in mind that some manufacturer’s warranties become void if you do not use the appropriate recommended products.
If you are unsure of the brand of tack or if you just want generalized care that will suit most brands, we recommend following these steps.
- Disassemble the bridle or take stirrup leathers off saddle.
- Using a dry rag or towel, gently wipe away any moisture or dust that may have accumulated on the surface and within crevices in the leather.
- Take a damp sponge and rub into a quality glycerin saddle soap, such as Fiebings Glycerin Soap or Stubben Glycerine Soap. Apply the soapy sponge to the leather and work up a light lather. Rinse well and wipe away excess.
- If you don’t like Glycerine soaps, as they do tend to leave a layer of glycerin on the surface of the leather, you can use a pH balanced cleaner, such as Lexol Leather Cleaner or Stubben Leather Soap.
- Apply a conditioner, such as Oakwood Leather Conditioner or Effax Leather Balsam, to the leather using a sponge or cloth.
- Assess if leather is dry and whether it needs to be oiled. Always oil sparingly and start with 1 light coat. Apply additional coats of oil only if needed; over-oiling can damage the stitching and cause your tack to fail or fall apart.
- If the leather needs oiling, place the tack outside in the sunlight for about 5-10 mins to help warm the leather and open the pores. This ensures even absorption of the oil.
- Use an oil purposed for leather use, such as Neatsfoot Oil or Hydrophane Leather Dressing, and apply using a small brush or soft cloth to the undersides of the leather. Do not apply to the finished side of the tack, as the finish will not allow proper absorption and the oil will just end up on you or your breeches the next time you ride. Do not apply too much oil to your saddle’s knee rolls, seat, or panels, as the oil can start to absorb into the padding materials under the leather.
- Tips: If you are oiling to darken tack, use Hydrophane Leather Darkening Oil. If you need to oil light tack and do not want any color change, use Lexol Neatsfoot Non-Darkening Formula.
Revitalizing Old/Neglected Tack:
- Use Leather Therapy Wash for moldy or neglected tack to clean away dirt build-up or mold and mildew.
- Use Leather Therapy Conditioner and Restorer to bring back the leather to a healthy stable state and to prevent mildew and mold growth.
- If you are storing the tack for a long period of time or want to “waterproof” your tack, apply a coat of Ko-Cho-Line Dressing.
Calfskin or Premium Leather:
Most manufacturers do not recommend cleaning calfskin tack very often. Only clean if needed, and use a calfskin specific cleaner such as, Beval Savon Akene Soap, or a cream based soap, such as Effax Leather Cream Soap. Use a high quality calfskin specific conditioner such as Beval Akene Conditioner or CWD Conditioner. Oil very sparingly!
- Remove bit and stirrup irons and allow to soak in a bucket of soapy water. (Dish soap is fine to use here – but not too much!)
- Scrub with a sponge or small stiff brush to remove any grime or build-up.
- Rinse with clean water and dry with a towel or rag.
- You can use a metal polish like Peek on your irons, but only use Herm Sprenger Diamond Bit Paste on your bits (it’s going in your horse’s mouth after all!)
- Keep some Horse Armour Bit Wipes in your tack trunk to quickly clean your bit after you ride. The wipes also leave a nice flavor that your horse will enjoy!
A few more tips:
- Don’t leave your saddle or tack out in the sun for long periods of time. Put it in the shade or put it away in the tack room or tack trunk.
- Don’t leave your saddle or tack out in the rain. A few rains drops won’t hurt if it starts sprinkling during your class at a show, but the less exposure to water, the better for your tack.
- Don’t ride in jeans in an English saddle. The seams of your jeans can cause excessive wear and tear on your saddle’s seat and the stitching.
- Don’t use household cleaners on your saddle. Most cleaners are not designed for leather and can do some damage.
- Don’t keep or lay the girth across the seat of your saddle. The dirt and sweat from the girth can cause the stitching at the seat to weaken or come apart.
- Keep a dust cover on your saddle when not in use.
Proper care and maintenance of leather is well worth your time and effort. You will prolong the life and safe use of your tack and it will look better and feel better, too.