How to Properly Care for Leather Horse Tack

How to Properly Care for Leather Horse Tack

by Ross Stockdale
how to properly care for leather horse tack

How to Properly Care for Leather Horse Tack

Hardly anything is better than spending a productive day at the barn training and bonding with your horse — except the therapeutic shower once you get home, cleaning off any sweat and dirt collected during the day.

Your leather horse tack appreciates a good cleaning, too. It's a durable material, which is why most horse tack is leather, but it's susceptible to water, sweat and dust, similar to our skin.

Leather tack is an investment. In this post, we'll guide you through how to care for your leather tack so you can Love the Ride safely, and for a long time.

Why Is It Essential to Care for Your Leather Horse Tack?

Neglecting to take care of your leather horse tack can be dangerous. Leather needs healthy levels of natural oils to stay durable, but long-term water and sweat exposure strip those healthy oils and leave your gear brittle and dry.

If your leather tack gets too brittle, it can crack or tear at the seams — possibly at the worst moments. The last thing you want during your ride is to feel your girth snap off, leaving you in the careless hands of fate.

Plus, uncleaned tack absorbs salty sweat from hard-worked rides over time, which can attract rodents and other hungry creatures looking for a tasty meal. Luckily, you can prevent these mishaps by thoroughly cleaning, oiling and storing your leather horse tack.

How Often Should You Clean Your Horse Tack?

Ideally, you should clean your leather horse tack after every ride. You don't have to break out the cleaner and conditioner every time, but at least take a dry rag and wipe off any accumulated moisture or dirt. 

Perform a deep cleaning about once a week, or whenever you see your tack needs it. If you have saddles that stay in the tack room for long periods, you'll want to deep-clean them as necessary to keep them healthy for the next time you use or sell them.

How to Clean Your Leather Horse Tack

To deep-clean your leather horse tack, you'll need:

  • A bucket of warm water.
  • A sponge or an old cloth.
  • An extra old cloth.
  • Leather cleaner.
  • A towel for drying.
  • Leather conditioner.
  • Optional — a soft brush for stubborn grime.

Most tack companies make specialty cleaning and conditioning products suited to their gear. Do some research and see which leather cleaner works best for your saddle, girth, bridle and boots.

Before cleaning, you should:

  1. Prepare your saddle, girth, bridle and boots by setting up a functional work area.
  2. Take your sponge or old cloth and dip it into the bucket of warm water.
  3. Wring out the sponge or old cloth, making sure it isn't soaking wet, but has enough water to clean off the fine particles from your tack.
  4. Apply a conservative amount of leather cleaner to your sponge or old cloth.

Take your time when cleaning each piece of tack. As you clean, give special attention to areas where sweat and saliva gather, like on the seat of your saddle, the girth, your stirrups and stirrup leathers, your bit, around the bit and under the noseband.

How to Clean a Dirty Saddle

When cleaning a dirty saddle, you should:

  1. Rub your sponge or old cloth along the saddle, getting the small cracks and crevices where sweat, moisture and dirt tend to build up. 
  2. Lift the flaps and clean the underside and girth straps. 
  3. Take this time to check the stitching along the top seam of your girth strap.
  4. Flip your saddle over.
  5. Clean and check the paneling and tree, making sure it's smooth and stiff, and that there are no deformities that may cause discomfort to your horse.

After you finish cleaning, take your leather conditioner and apply a fine, even layer across the leather. Try to avoid over-applying, or you can drown the leather. 

When your saddle is clean and conditioned, apply your saddle cover and store it safely in your tack room for protection against mildew and rodents.

How to Clean Dirty Stirrups

When cleaning dirty stirrups, you should:

  1. Remove stirrups and stirrup leathers from your saddle.
  2. Separate the metal stirrups and stirrup leathers.
  3. Soak your metal stirrups in the warm water bucket, letting the particles and grime loosen.
  4. Take your sponge or old cloth and clean the stirrup leathers.
  5. Revisit your metal stirrups and scrub using an extra old towel, or with the optional soft brush if needed.
  6. Completely dry your stirrups and stirrup leathers.

Stirrup leathers tend to get stiff and dry relatively quickly, so make sure you apply a therapeutic layer of leather conditioner after you finish cleaning and drying them. Once finished, you can put your stirrups and stirrup leathers back together and replace them on your saddle.

How to Clean a Dirty Leather Girth

Girths tend to get dirty, especially during adventurous rides. Luckily, cleaning a dirty leather girth is reasonably straightforward. Clean and condition the leather as you did the saddle and stirrups, using the extra cloth to clean the metal buckles.

As you're cleaning, check the buckles' stitching to make sure they won't break off the next time you're riding.

How to Clean a Dirty Bridle

When cleaning a dirty bridle, you should:

  1. Hang your bridle on a bridle rack for easier cleaning.
  2. Dismantle your bridle. If you're cleaning a used bridle, you may notice the buckles are stiff. By taking apart your bridle, you have easier access to clean and condition these damage-prone areas.
  3. Take your sponge and cloth and clean each leather piece of your bridle.
  4. Check stitching integrity as you clean.
  5. Clean your bit. It's ideal to do this after every use, but take this time for a more meticulous clean.

Once you finish cleaning, apply a thin layer of leather conditioner and put your bridle back together.

How Often Should You Oil Your Horse Tack?

Avoid confusing cleaning your tack with oiling it. Cleaning and conditioning your horse tack should be a routine occurrence, but you should only oil your leather around two to three times a year. You can also apply a light coat if your horse tack gets exposed to sweat, water or rain.

Some types of leather don't need oiling at all, so check with your tack brand beforehand.

Applying infrequent, light coats of oil acts as a replenishing layer of natural oils, keeping your tack supple and protected from rain exposure. Avoid over-oiling your tack, as it can cause the leather to stretch, losing its shape and integrity.

How to Oil Your Leather Horse Tack

To oil your leather horse tack, all you'll need is:

  1. Leather-appropriate oil, which you can find online or at tack stores.
  2. A sponge or old rag.
  3. An extra, dry rag.

Lightly saturate your sponge or old rag with the leather oil, then apply a thin layer after cleaning your leather horse tack. Avoid oiling your saddle's flocking and any rough, flaky leather. Afterward, gently wipe off any excess oil using the extra, dry rag.

How to Clean Your Leather Boots

Riding boots can be expensive, so it's crucial you know how to care for your leather boots to make the most of your investment. 

Clean your leather boots as needed, depending on usage. Some equestrians clean their boots every few days, and others every few weeks. Clean and condition your leather boots as you would your horse tack, using a small soft-bristled brush to get any stubborn spots. Finish cleaning your leather boots by delicately drying them using a dry cloth. 

You may consider adding an optional protective layer of waterproofing conditionerWhen you're not using your boots, consider inserting boot shapers to keep their shape and protect the leather from creasing and damaging.

Let Us Help You Keep Your Leather Horse Tack Protected!

Our passionate equestrians at Horse Tack Co. will help you find the right tools and products to protect your leather horse tack and keep you safe. Visit our website and browse our leather cleaners, conditioners and tack room racks for the best leather tack care. Or, visit our New Holland, Penn., location in person — we'd love to see you!

If you have any questions, contact us online or give us a call at 866-624-8225.


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