Taking care of horse riding equipment isn’t fun, but ignoring this task can result in the early and costly replacement of items, not to mention riding accidents. Regular tack care and inspections are as important as frequent cleaning.
Tack Care: Checking Your Tack
The tree is the frame upon which the whole saddle is built and is crucial to your horse’s comfort. Follow the easy steps in Testing Your Saddle Tree to see if yours is broken or twisted. A line of wrinkles across the seat of the saddle also indicates a broken tree. If you suspect anything is wrong, don’t use it on your horse until a reputable saddle fitter has checked it.
Check that the flocking (filling in your saddle’s underside) has not become hard or uneven. Have your saddler check this every six to twelve months.
These are the leather straps to which the girth is attached. Examine them for cracking or tearing, and loose or worn stitching where they attach to the saddle. Billets last much longer if your girth has buckles with rollers, which don’t ‘bite’ into the leather.
This vital piece of equipment needs frequent checking for leather cracks, rusting buckles and deterioration in the stitching and elastic.
Inspect your stirrup leathers for wear and tear. Switch the left and right leathers at regular intervals: the left leather gets stretched over time from the rider putting extra weight on it when mounting. Examine the stitching for any broken or deteriorating threads.
Check for cracking leather and weakening stitches and ensure the buckles are not rusted through. Monitor your bit for rough edges or twisting of the metal, indicating the need to buy a new one.
Other leather equipment such as martingales, breastplates, or cruppers also need frequent inspection.
After Every Ride
Removing sweat from your saddle and bridle after every use will protect the leather from its two big enemies, damp and dust. Wipe saliva off the bridle, and if you wash the bit be sure to dry the surrounding leather.
On Dedicated Cleaning Day
Schedule a time to thoroughly clean your tack when you can perform the job properly.
Step One: Dismantle
Take your bridle completely apart. Detach your stirrup leathers from the saddle and take off the irons.
Step Two: Clean
Use a soft cloth to remove all dirt. Dampen a small tack sponge (which you can find in tack stores) and rub a quality saddle soap such as Effax or Passier Saddle Soap into the leather, including those hard-to-reach places. Liquid saddle soaps such as Effax Mildew-Free or Leather New are easier to use, but more expensive.
Step Three: Condition
Apply a conditioner after cleaning to soften your leather and lengthen its useful life. Passier Leder Balsam is an excellent chemical free leather conditioner. For those with less time, Leather CPR and SmartWorks Cleather Cleaner and Conditioner are great products for both cleaning and conditioning.
Step Four: Restore
For tack in poor condition, Hydrophane Leather Dressing softens and reconditions leather, as well as waterproofing. It is highly recommended by saddlers as a reviver of old leather. Horse equipment is not cheap, and regular cleaning will extend its life. But it’s also important to check if repairs or replacements are necessary before the tack becomes uncomfortable for the horse and/or dangerous for the rider.