Care of leather tack

Good leather tack is expensive so it makes sense to look after it - do so and it will last for years!

Tack should be kept soft and supple so your horse is comfortable, both horse and rider are safe and for appearance's sake. Your tack should be rubbed over after each use and stripped and thoroughly cleaned at least once a fortnight. You should also oil your tack as and when required.

A bucket of warm (not hot) water
A bucket of hot water to soak the bit and irons in
Two sponges, one for taking off the grease and mud, the other for applying saddle soap
Saddle soap
Brasso and dusters to apply and remove the brasso
Leather oil/dressing

To give your tack a thorough clean
1. Take the bridle completely apart, placing the bit in a bucket of warm soapy water to soak. Remember to take note of which holes are being used on a new bridle.
2. Remove the girth, leathers, irons and numnah from the saddle. If the irons or treads are muddy put them to soak in a separate bucket from the bit. Numnahs can usually be washed in the washing machine - and they usually require more frequent washing as they soon become sweaty and stained.
3. With a damp (not wet) sponge remove all of the mud and grease from the saddle and bridle, remembering to frequently rinse the sponge. Any small greasy areas, known as jockeys, can be removed with an old toothbrush which can also be used to clean around billets and buckles.
4. If you make your tack too wet it will cause the saddle soap to foam and your tack will dry hard. Leave the tack until barely damp and then apply your saddle soap.
5. Make sure you clean out any holes and around the billets and buckles. Particular attention should be given to the interleaving parts, folds and bends on the saddle and bridle. Girth guards should be removed so that the girth straps, which are vital to your safety, can be cleaned and checked thoroughly.
6. While cleaning your tack you should make a habit of checking all stitching, paying particular attention to those parts you rely on for safety. These include stirrup leathers, girth straps, girth and reins. If any of these should break you, your horse and any third party's safety may be compromised.
7. Don't forget to check the underneath of the saddle which should be smooth, with no lumps in the stuffing or uneven wear. This is because you want to prevent any soreness or unnecessary pressure on your horse's back.
8. Any brass work can be cleaned with brasso and polished giving a 'finished' appearance to your tack.
9. Thoroughly clean, rinse, dry and polish the bit and irons before replacing. If you are short of time at the very least you should clean the bit under the tap to remove all debris.
10. Nickel irons require polishing daily if they are to look bright.

Caught in a downpour!
If your tack gets absolutely soaked, allow it to dry naturally. Do not stand it in front of a radiator to dry quickly as it will shrivel and crack. Once ready, thoroughly rub in the saddle soap. This may be one occasion when you may wish to oil your tack (but not the top of the saddle including the saddle flaps).
Don't forget to rinse the sponges you have used and squeeze out excess water so they are ready for use next time.

Top tips
1. Avoid over-oiling your tack as the oil may eventually rot the stitching and the leather becomes too soft and a little soggy. DO NOT oil the top of the saddle or flaps. The oil will not be absorbed and will come off onto your jodhpurs when you next ride - not usually a good look!
2. If your leather tack has gone mouldy, rub over with white wine vinegar before cleaning.
3. Take a dry soft cloth and buff the seat and flaps of the saddle which will give it a polish and avoid any residue product ending up on your clothing.
4. Putting your bit and irons in the dishwasher will bring them up sparkling.
5. Read the instructions of how to apply saddle soap - as some products only require small amounts for a big effect.
6. Leather products come in glycerine blocks, creams or sprays - you just need to find one that suits you and your tack.
7. You can now buy spray cleaners which are quick and easy to use in removing grease.
8. A saddle horse and bridle hook make cleaning tack easier and saves time.
9. Bits on some show bridles are sewn in. Do not put the bit and leather into water as it will eventually rot the stitching. Clean with a damp cloth, use the saddle soap as normal but place a leather dressing inside the fold to help preserve the leather.