How often have you heard someone say, “I paid good money for that saddle and bridle, and I want it to last.”?
People just expect leather to become resilient and withstand more abuse than our skin. But nothing can be further from the truth.
Leather is a product of nature, and its ability to withstand wear and tear depends on its quality and how it's cared for.
The more you use your saddle or bridle, the greater its chances of having cracks, tears, and worn spots. But more importantly, this isn't just an issue of longevity or exposure to different elements. Failure to properly care for your leather tack makes a huge difference. If you don't clean, condition, and protect your leather goods, they won't last as long as they could.
So let's make the most out of your leather tack by giving them the care they deserve. Here are a few do's and don'ts of leather care and maintenance.
What Elements Cause Damage to Your Leather?
- Water - Water can be damaging and beneficial to your tack at the same time. If there's too much water exposure, you can end up with mold and mildew growth. On the flip side, if there's not enough water exposure, then you'll see lots of cracking and peeling due to a lack of moisture in the air.
- Heat - Heat can damage your leather goods in two ways. First, it can cause the leather itself to dry out and crack. Second, it can cause metal hardware to tarnish. This is especially true if you're working with stainless steel or brass, which tend to tarnish more quickly than other metals.
- Sunlight - Sunlight contains harmful UV radiation that can penetrate through the surface of your leather. Over time, it can cause fading, discoloration, cracks, and visible damage.
- Dirt and Sweat - Horse riding is great fun, but it can also leave your leather tack covered in dirt and sweat, which can cause them to become brittle and crack over time.
- Other Chemicals - Chemicals such as bleach can cause permanent damage to your leather, especially if they come in direct contact with it for an extended period of time.
What if the Damage Has Been Done to Your Leather Tack?
Even if you do everything right and take great care of your tack, leather will wear out over time. And when it does, it's time to consider replacing or restoring it.
Now, what's the better option between the two? There are a few things to consider.
If you have leather tack that is showing signs of wear, it is best to have it restored rather than replaced. Leather is a natural material that can be repaired in many ways.
We follow Clyde's 4-Step Restoration Process, which is backed by years of trial and error, thousands of customer reviews, and tons of professional feedback. This process allows you to remove dirt and stains, restore your leather's original color and texture, and make it look new again.
But with restoration, there's no guarantee that your tack will look exactly like it did when it was new. So you may also consider getting some replacement parts. This is the right thing to do when your leather tack parts like stirrup leathers, bridle reins, girths and saddle pads are damaged beyond repair. It can get expensive, so choose your leather tack parts wisely and take care of them.
Depending on the condition of your tack and how much money you want to spend, there's a choice that will work for you!
Do's of Equestrian Leather Care
Spot any signs that your leather needs some cleaning. If the leather has stains, gets wet, and forms cracks around the edges, then it's time to take a closer look.
Wipe spills as soon as possible. Leather is a very durable material, and it can withstand many small accidents. But if you spill something on your tack, clean it off right away. The longer it sits on the leather, the harder it will be to get out. You can use a dry cloth or paper towel to soak up as much liquid as possible.
Water is not your tack's best friend. You should keep it from being exposed to water whenever possible. Water causes the pores in the leather to expand, which leads to cracking and discoloration. If you get caught in the rain, wipe down your leather tack and hang the other leather items to dry before they get damaged.
Buying quality tack matters, but it's not the only factor that will help it last long. You should get into the habit of cleaning and maintaining your tack with a leather cleaner. This comes with choosing the right products, whether they're leather conditioners, balms, or cleaners. It's the most important step in keeping your gear in top shape.
So how should you often clean your leather tack? The answer is simple: as often as necessary. It might depend on how often your ride, how often your horse sweats, and whether or not the tack is stored in a climate-controlled environment.
When it comes to cleaning, just use a soft brush, a soft cloth or a sponge. Stay away from anything abrasive. Apply a thin layer the leather cleaner to one section at a time and work up the foam to lift dirt out of your leather.
Are you planning to recolor your leather? You can use a recoloring balm and start your small DIY project. But what's more important, you should do a quick leather absorbency test to figure out if your leather can absorb the balm or not.
Conditioning your tack is just as important as cleaning it! You want just enough leather conditioner to make the leather feel supple and slightly oily, but not so much that it leaves marks or residue on your hands when you touch it. The goal here is to lubricate the fibers in the leather so they don't crack or split as easily.
After cleaning, recoloring, and conditioning your leather tack, keep it safe. Maintain its new, soft, and supple feel regularly. If you are using old or damaged tack, it might become a safety hazard. Old or damaged leather is not only more likely to break, but it can also be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus that can cause health problems for both horse and rider alike.
Leather tack should be stored in a cool, dry place like a designated tack room when not in use. It should also be hung up and not laid down flat to reduce creasing. If possible, keep it out of direct sunlight as UV rays can damage the leather over time.
Don'ts of Equestrian Leather Care
Don't use non-leather care products on your tack. These include harsh detergents, heavy oils, saddle soaps, other household items like bleach, vinegar, and even water. These products can destroy the leather and cause it to become dry, cracked, or brittle. Also, avoid using products that contain silicone or petroleum. These substances can cause tack to lose its natural oils and become stiffer over time.
Speaking of water, don't let your leather get wet. If you happen to get caught in the rain, dry it as quickly as possible and then apply a leather conditioner or oil to keep it supple. Or else, you'll end up with a stiff, waterlogged piece of leather that will crack and break over time.
You might've used a saddle soap before, but don't use it on your leather tack as much as possible. A saddle soap is strongly alkaline, with a pH of up to 9 or above. This pH level can cause gradual changes to your leather's appearance. It can possibly darken, harden and weaken your tack. Use a leather cleaner that's safe for your tack.
Don't use too much oil. Over-oiling can cause your leather to look darker and feel greasy. It can also leave stains on clothing and hands. For better results, you can use a leather conditioner instead of oil if you want to keep the leather supple but don't want an oily feel.
Don't leave your leather tack in direct sunlight for an extended period of time. The sun may cause damage to the finish or even dry out the leather itself if left outside for too long - even if you live in a relatively cool climate like Arizona.
Don't use heat to dry wet tack. This is a common mistake that many people make. The heat of your blow dryer or hair dryer will cause the leather to shrink and degrade faster than it would otherwise. Instead, you should let your tack air-dry naturally.
This might be a no-brainer, but washing leather is not the same as washing your clothes in the washing machine. The heat from the spin cycle will cause it to dry out, which makes it brittle and weakens the fibers. It also can cause dyes to run and fade.
Don't store your tack in a damp environment. This can cause mildew and mold to grow on the leather and weaken it over time. You should store your tack in a dry place that's out of direct sunlight.
Don't use your tack and ride when it's full of sweat and dirt. This will cause the leather to wear down faster, and you'll risk getting infections in your horses. Make sure to clean your tack regularly with a leather cleaner and store it in a dry place when you're not using it.
Don't just focus on the major areas and forget about the smaller ones. You should also check for signs of wear, cracks, and splits into stirrup leathers, reins, and other small parts of your tack. It's the same thing with tack cleaning. Clean under the buckles and along the edges where dirt tends to collect most often. If you don't get those areas clean enough, they'll start looking dingy even after washing again. This is how deep cleaning works.
Keep Your Tack Looking Good and New
Being able to maintain your leather tack is the mark of a true horse lover. All leather requires regular care, but you don't have to be intimidated by the process. Your tack (and horse) will thank you for it.
Start applying these do's and don'ts today for a longer-lasting, better-looking tack.
For best results, take a look at our best-selling leather cleaning and restoration products here. And if you have questions, feel free to contact us. We're more than happy to assist you.