Whether you love it or hate it, cleaning your horse’s tack is a necessity. Cleaning tack regularly not only improves the appearance and condition but increases the longevity and helps to monitor for cracks and splits within the leather for safety. Your tack is an expensive piece of equipment to buy so why not invest some time in caring for it.
We’ve pulled together 15 top tips to make the chore a little easier.
1. Ensure the space is clear
Tack can sometimes be covered in mud and dirt and you can make a bit of a mess when cleaning it. A tack room if there is enough room is usually the best place but any space that is clear and can be cleaned easily afterwards is suitable.
2. Correct equipment setup
Access to a tack cleaning hook and saddle stand/rack is ideal. It gives you the chance to use both hands for cleaning instead of struggling to hold the bridle or saddle and you can move around the tack with ease.
3. Use warm water
Warm water helps to loosen the dirt easily and increases the effectiveness of the cleaning products, so access to a kettle or hot water tap is needed. Use a bucket or washing up bowl for your water (sometimes it’s handy to have a couple of buckets so you can soak a bit or stirrup treads in clean water while your cleaning other items).
4. Have more sponges than you need
It’s always handy to have more sponges than you need, it saves having to stop mid clean if you run out of clean/usable sponges. A sponge for the really dirty work of removing the dirt, a sponge for cleaning the bit (a washing up sponge works well), one for saddle soap and another sponge for leather balm.
5. Ensure you have the correct cleaning products
A good saddle soap and leather balsam is needed when cleaning tack to ensure that all of the dirt, sweat and grease has been removed and the leather is treated to restore or preserve its appearance and stay supple and smooth. A good pure Neatsfoot oil rehydrates brittle leather without rotting the stitching.
6. Remove excess dirt and mud
Mud can often be quite stubborn to remove and you have to be careful not to damage the leather in your attempt to scrape the mud away. A toothbrush can be quite handy for getting in those hard-to-reach areas and reduce the amount of time spent scrubbing the dirt away with a sponge. Toothpicks are useful for removing mud and dirt from the holes in bridles and stirrup leathers.
7. Dry your leather correctly
Wetting the leather too much when cleaning can cause the leather to stretch and metal fittings and rivets to rust. Using a damp not soaking wet sponge is always better and ensure the tack is completely dry (use a clean towel to pat away any moisture) before moving on to the next stage. Never put your tack over a direct heat source to dry as this will cause the leather to crack and dry out.
8. Cleaning the leather with Saddle Soap
Dampen a small clean sponge and apply the saddle soap sparingly to the leather, making sure to rinse and wring out the sponge regularly to remove any left-over dirt that the soap is lifting from the leather. A good glycerine saddle soap will seal the pores in the leather and protect and add shine. Ensure all soap residue is removed from the leather when finished.
9. Conditioning the leather
Leather conditioner/balsam can be used on new/fine leather to soften or to help condition dry or cracked leather. It’s better to apply a small amount of conditioner and allow it to soak into the leather before applying another layer if needed. Too much conditioner can make the leather sticky or slippery and may stain breeches or jodhpurs if a saddle is over conditioned. Allow the leather time to rest when you have finished conditioning to absorb the products before putting away.
10. Synthetic tack cleaning
The cleaning process for synthetic tack is about removing the dirt and cleaning with a tack cleaner that is suitable for synthetic leather. Once cleaned, allow to dry and buff with a light clean cloth.
11. Cleaning your girth
Our horse’s girth is often the piece of tack that comes into the most contact with dirt and grease so much like our bridles and saddles, girths need to be cleaned and cared for too.
Leather girths can be cleaned in the same way as leather saddles and bridles. A soft brush is a good way of removing any loose hair and grease. Warm water, saddle soap and plenty of elbow grease will ensure your girth is as good as new.
Synthetic girths can be cleaned with synthetic saddle soaps or warm water and a small amount of washing-up liquid.
12. Olive oil
Olive oil is a natural way to oil squeaky joints on metal hardware. Just add a small amount and let the drop of oil run into the joint by moving it back and forth. Be sure to wipe away any excess.
13. Ensure you know how to reconstruct your tack
A quick clean a couple of times a week is easy to do but when you opt for a full “strip down” you need to ensure that you can remember how to put your tack back together. Jot down what hole each piece was on and what order the bridle/saddle came apart before removing so you don’t have the hassle of trying to figure it all out after cleaning. Don’t do a full “strip down” the day before a competition just in case.
14. Saddle Pads, Horse Boots and Numnahs
Saddle pads and numnahs are easier to clean and can be put in the washing machine. Always brush away excess dust and hair from the saddle pad or numnah before cleaning to avoid clogging the washing machine. Similarly certain horse boots can also be placed in the washing machine if advised by the brand. Always follow washing instructions on the product label. Leather horse boots can be cleaned in the same way to your tack.
15. Don’t forget your boots
If you’re taking the time to clean your tack, then why not clean your leather riding boots too. Good care of your riding boots is essential to keep them in top condition. Never leave your boots muddy and always clean them with shoe polish and leather cream for nourishment. Avoid using saddle soap on leather boots as it is too greasy for calfskin leather.