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How to Maintain Leather Tack and Make Sure It Lasts
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How to Maintain Leather Tack and Make Sure It Lasts

Leather is something that's always been used in equestrianism. While today’s trend is towards synthetic materials, leather is still widely used in tack. It's relatively light, flexible, yet strong, allowing it to take the strain of riding.

Chances are, if you’re a horse owner, you have at least one saddle, halters, girths, and other various items that are made out of leather. Depending on the type of leather you own, these could last you for years. But how do you take care of your leather tack? Here are some tips on leather care, tack care, specifically tack cleaning, so that it will last as long as possible.

The Highs and Lows of an Equestrian

leather tack

Being a horse person comes with a lot of highs and lows. The freedom you experience when riding across open fields... The excitement of seeing your horse grow and mature into a strong animal... The pride you feel when they learn a new skill or win a competition...

You can't find these anywhere else.

However, there are times when things don't go as planned, and this is where the lows come in. Things like injuries, poor performance, and damaged horse tack can be frustrating.

More importantly, tack is expensive. It can take years to save up for that perfect saddle, bridle, or pair of boots. That's why it's important to know how to properly care for your leather tack so that it will last as long as possible.

How Often Should You Clean Leather Tack?

If you're wondering how often to clean horse tack, the answer is: as often as you use it.

If you’re riding every day, then you should clean your tack once a week. If it’s only used for show or dressage competitions, then cleaning once or twice per month is sufficient. It depends on how dirty your tack gets, how often you ride, and how much use it gets.

Leather needs to breathe so that it can dry out and keep its shape.

Regular cleaning helps keep your leather tack in good condition. The more often you clean your tack, the longer it will last.

How Should You Clean Your Tack?

  • Disassemble your horse tack. Before you start cleaning, make sure that all of your horse’s tack is disassembled, off the horse and on a table or other flat surface. Remove:

    • buckles and straps from your leather tack

    • stirrups and the cinch from the saddle

    • any reins from their keepers

    • other accessories from your tack such as pads, breastplates and girths

This makes it easier to clean and allows you to inspect the condition of each piece before cleaning.

  • Clean the leather with a dedicated leather cleaner. You need a soap with foamy properties that will allow you to work it into the leather. This allows you to clean out dirt and debris without needing too much elbow grease.

  • Wipe the cleaner off. Using a clean, soft towel, wipe off any excess cleaning foam from the leather. This will help remove any remaining soap or cleaner residue from the surface of your tack.

  • Allow your tack to dry before putting it away. Let it dry for a few hours before storing or using it again. This will allow the leather to fully absorb any remaining moisture and prevent mold or mildew from forming on the surface.

You can also do these extra steps whenever you need to deep clean your tack.

  • Do you notice a lot of accumulated dust and dirt on your horse tack? If yes, you can remove them using a clean brush or sponge. This will make the process easier, instead of wiping it off right away with a cleaning solution.

  • Toothpicks and Q-Tips are great tools for cleaning beneath the stitching of your saddle, as well as hard-to-reach areas. Check metal buckles and other places where the leather is bent repeatedly, as these areas are most likely to develop creases.

How About Oiling and Conditioning Your Leather Tack?

The short answer is, yes, you should.

The longer answer is that you should be using oil and conditioner on your tack. But the question remains: Which one?

Both oiling and conditioning have the same benefits. They:

  • Help prevent cracking, fading, and creasing

  • Keep it flexible, supple and soft

  • Waterproof the surface

  • Make it more durable and long-lasting

  • Helps restore worn-out tack

The thing is, you might want to look at each of their drawbacks. Oil can make your leather slippery, especially if you've put too much. Also, it's more likely to darken the color of your tack.

This makes a conditioner the better choice. But some brands offer them at a higher price. A small tub might not be enough to cover the whole tack, especially if you have a larger horse.

How Should You Condition Your Tack?

Simply massage the conditioner into the leather using circular motions. The remoisturizing cream doesn’t need to dry, but it may take a couple of hours to absorb fully. 

After 5-6 hours of conditioner curation, you are ready to use your new leather!

How Often Should You Oil or Condition Your Leather Tack?

Leather is a natural material, so it will tend to dry out with time.

But in terms of how often you should condition your leather, there is no set rule. It depends on the type of leather you have, how much use it gets, and what kind of environment it is in.

If you're riding every day, then every week is a good time frame to apply the conditioner. If you are using it less than once per week, then a monthly application is enough.

It's just important to always inspect your horse tack after each use and look for signs of wear. If your tack is starting to show some wear or tear, then it's time to apply some leather conditioner again.

What Products Work Best for Cleaning and Maintaining Leather Tack?

Clyde's Leather Cleaning Foam

Clyde's Leather Cleaning Foam for leather tack is a highly effective, fast-acting cleaner that can be used on tack, saddles, and other leather goods. This product removes dirt, grime, oils, and wax build-up without leaving behind any residue, leaving your tack looking shiny and new without affecting its natural oils.

Clyde's Leather Conditioning Cream

Clyde's Leather Conditioning Cream is a mild, non-greasy leather conditioner that conditions, soften, and protects new or well-cared-for leather. This also protects your leather from the harsh effects of sun and salt water, as well as UV damage.

How and Where to Store Your Leather Tack Properly?

Female rancher with her saddle in the tack room

Maintaining tack isn't enough if you can't store it properly. Tack needs to be protected from the elements, animals, and insects. It also needs to be stored in a place where the temperature doesn't fluctuate too much. Here are some tips on how to store your tack:

  • Store your leather tack in a cool, dry place. Ideally, you should be keeping your leather tack in a tack room. Tack rooms are where you store your saddles, bridles, and other riding equipment. You may have a large tack room or a small one, depending on the size of your barn, but the purpose is always the same: to keep your tack clean, dry and organized.

    Some tack rooms have space for saddles and bridles, while others include storage for blankets and pads. If you're just starting out with horses, it's best to start with a small tack room so that you don't have too much clutter. As your equine collection grows, so should your tack room. If that is not possible, you can use your garage or shed. Just make sure that your storage area has plenty of room for air circulation; this allows your leather to move around a bit and helps prevent molding or mildew from forming.

  • Don't store it in direct sunlight. This can cause damage to the leather and stitching. Stay away from other heat sources like fireplaces or heating vents.

  • Store it away from pets and children, who could get hurt by sharp edges or hard objects in your tack box.

  • Keep it away from any chemicals that might be used for cleaning or polishing (even saddle soap), as these can also cause damage to your leather goods over time.

  • Keep leather items away from moisture or humidity, including water vapor from the air. Leather absorbs moisture readily and dries slowly, so it's important to keep it away from water sources such as wet soil, rain, and snow or damp areas like barns or stables where animals live.

  • Keep your tack clean and dry between uses. Or else dust and dirt will accumulate over time and make it harder to clean and maintain.

Key Takeaway

A little bit of leather care really goes a long way in ensuring your tack will last for as long as it can. And if you're looking for one more reason to show why you should maintain that tack, here it is: repairing damaged gear is expensive. By keeping your investment in nice shape, you won't have to break the bank when you need repairs or replacement items.

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