I’ve recently started going through some of my old stuff and I found some tack that desperately needed some loving, so here we are!
Before I get to the process itself, let me tell you a little bit about this tack I speak of. I am planning on selling a 17” wide tree English saddle, but it needed some serious work. It has been unused in two separate tack rooms (no temperature control) for a few years, and in my garage for another year at least. It was covered in dirt, hair, and a very sticky mystery substance. The stirrup leathers were in an equally rough state, as well as the irons and buckles. Yesterday I decided to clean the bad boy up, and I’ll tell you how I did it:
1. Get what you need. A bucket of water, saddle soap, sponges, rags, leather conditioner, oil (if that’s something you need to do), a saddle stand or something else to put your saddle on, and somewhere to sit. I also like to use very soft bristled tooth brushes to get into all the nooks and crannies.
2. Take a damp rag and start wiping the dirt off. The water will not hurt your leather unless it’s soaked for a while. Make sure you get as much of the dirt off as possible in this step.
3. Saddle soap time! This is my favorite part; it’s so satisfying. Take a damp sponge and get some saddle soap on there, then work it into the leather. I like to go in little circles to really get a lather going. After completing one section of the saddle, take a damp rag and buff off the excess soap. Saddle soap is a great way to restore the natural oils in your leather.
4. I recommend using a leather conditioner, especially for leathers that are older, dryer, and in need of some therapy. Conditioner will help keep your leather soft and supple. I prefer to use a more cream-based conditioner as opposed to a spray-on because the conditioner will run, which makes clean-up more difficult. Again, I go through each piece of the tack individually, making sure to condition each part of the leather.
5. Let it dry! It's important not to use your tack too soon after a deep cleaning because it is more likely that dirt and sweat will enter the pores of the leather.
When it comes to cleaning tack, of course we know that it is not all leather. Most pieces of tack also have metal. I like to use silver polish for any silver fittings on my saddle, but you should never use polish like that on the bit. The bit is generally just cleaned with water; I like to take a soft toothbrush to it sometimes to make sure I get everything off. There are flavored bit wipes out there that are safe for horses, but don't expect these to completely refurbish your bit. The best way to keep a bit in top shape is to wipe it down every time after you use it.
Ideally, riders should clean their tack after every ride. The fastest way to accomplish this is to get leather wipes and quickly wipe down your tack as soon as you untack your horse. Realistically, this is not at the top of the priority list when we are done riding. At the very least, when used regularly, tack should be cleaned and conditioned about once a month.