Regular cleaning is an important part of caring for your tack because it will prevent sweat and dirt from building up and causing cracks in the leather. Here, we’ve included our general guidelines for cleaning tack. Keep in mind that many tack manufacturers have specific cleaning instructions for their tack and recommend certain cleaners and conditioners, so be sure to check in with the manufacturer of your own tack before you get started.
The first step in the cleaning process is to unfasten any buckles and remove any fittings from your tack. Then, use a towel moistened with water to wipe any dust, dirt, mud, hair, or other debris from the leather.
After your tack has been wiped down, take a damp sponge and add a small amount of leather cleaner to it. Apply it to your leather tack in small circular motions, covering the entire leather area while avoiding any suede or rough-out areas. In this step, the leather cleaner will remove any dirt and grime that the towel didn’t wipe off. Rub the cleaner into the leather until there’s no residue left over from it. Don’t forget to clean the parts of your tack that are under pressure during use or where sweat and saliva may collect, including around the buckles, where the cheekpieces attach to the bit, billet straps, and your stirrup leathers.
Western saddles with tooling will take some extra care because the nooks and crannies of the tooling tend to capture all kinds of dust and dirt. When cleaning the tooling of your saddle, use a gentle tool such as a soft toothbrush. Apply a small amount of leather cleaner to the bristles, and work the cleaner into each and every crevice with the toothbrush. Adding a touch of water at the beginning of the process will help loosen up the dirt, and it’s also helpful to wipe often with a soft rag to remove the dirt you’ve loosened.
If you have a suede seat, knee pads, or roughout areas, you can use a soft bristle brush to brush up the nap. Keep in mind that you’ll want to do this sparingly, because it can cause bare spots or holes if done too frequently.\
While you’re cleaning, be sure to perform a safety check of your tack at the same time. It’s important to check that all stitching is tight and intact, and that the leather isn’t cracked, ripping, or showing excess wear.
Once your tack has been cleaned, a conditioner can be used to restore the moisture removed by the cleaning process and help ensure the leather stays soft and supple. How frequently you condition your tack will depend on how often you ride, the conditions in which you ride, and the climate and weather in your particular area. Some tack manufacturers may have specific guidelines for how frequently their tack should be conditioned, so be sure to check in with them if you’re unsure of how often you should condition your tack.
To condition, take one of your tack sponges and apply a small amount of leather conditioner to it. Using that sponge, apply a thin coat of conditioner to all of the leather parts of your tack. Rub the conditioner into the leather and into all of the nooks and crannies in your tack. If the conditioner disappears immediately, add another thin coat and work it into the leather. If the conditioner hasn’t been absorbed within a couple of minutes, wipe off the excess conditioner with a towel and don’t apply any more. Applying too much leather conditioner can lead to the conditioner penetrating through to your saddle’s padding or tree, which could cause damage over time.
If you’re planning on both cleaning and conditioning your saddle but are short on time, consider using a combo product that includes both a cleaner and a conditioner. You can tell if a product is a combo product by checking out the product description and seeing if it’s described as serving as both a cleaner and a conditioner.
Your final step should be oiling, which should be done sparingly and if needed. Just like with cleaning and conditioning, some tack manufacturers have their own recommendations for how often to oil your tack, so look for any instructions specific to your tack on the manufacturer’s website. Other times that you may oil your tack are when it’s brand new or if it’s older and the leather has dried out. Like with leather cleaner and conditioner, it’s a good idea to apply the oil first to a sponge to help prevent over-oiling. Use the sponge to apply the oil to your tack and rub it in. Afterwards, use a towel or clean, damp sponge to wipe off any excess oil, because excess oil may attract dust and dirt.
How to Care for Moldy Leather Tack
Reviving moldy leather tack requires patience, time, and a lot of elbow grease! If you’re tackling moldy leather, it’s a good idea to clean it outside or in a well-ventilated area so that you can avoid inhaling mold spores.
First, use a damp rag to start wiping away any surface mold. (We recommend having a supply of old rags on hand, because you’ll likely want to toss them once you’ve used them!) Wipe away and capture as much of the mold as you can. Use a toothbrush to get into any nooks or crannies. Once you’ve wiped the mold off your tack, it’s time to clean it. Add your favorite leather cleaner to a tack sponge, and use that to thoroughly clean the leather.
Once you’ve removed all traces of mold, cleaned the leather, and allowed it to dry, condition the leather using the process outlined above. Make sure your tack is completely dry before you put it away, and consider using the storage methods outlined below to help keep your tack clean and protected in the future.
How to Store Your Leather Tack
All leather tack should be stored clean, dry, and under cover, away from the weather and dust. In a perfect world, tack should be stored in an area that’s kept at a slightly cool but consistent temperature. Leather tack should also be stored away from direct heat sources, such as a furnace duct or heater, as excess heat will dry out the leather. For extra protection, considering storing your saddle with a saddle cover or in a saddle tote.
While cleaning and conditioning your tack may seem like a chore, think of it as an investment in your tack’s future. By properly caring for your saddle, bridle, and any other leather goods, you’re helping ensure that you can use them safely for years to come!
Courtesy of SmartPak