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How to Clean and Store Saddlery and Equipment
Storing And Maintenance
It's important to keep horse equipment in the correct conditions. The atmosphere in which saddlery and equipment is kept is critical because damp conditions will turn leather moldy and conditions that are too hot and dry will make it hard and crack. A dry, warm atmosphere is ideal. Poor cleaning and maintenance can ruin leatherwork in no time. All saddlery and equipment should be inspected before it is stored and any repairs carried out first.
Horse rugs and other clothing should be stored away in rug trunks with several moth balls included. From time to time take rugs outdoors to air out, given a good shake and checked for damage from moths or rodents. Buckles on rugs should be smeared with Vaseline to protect against tarnishing during storage. All equipment not in use should be undone and taken apart as buckles will stiffen and become difficult to use. Leatherwork needs a thorough cleaning and oiling before being put away.
Saddles should have the stirrup bars greased and a saddle cover or piece of material placed on them to protect against dust and damage. Don't store saddles on top of each other or on an iron saddle rack as this can easily damage the lining and spread the tree.
Bridles should be completely dismantled and either hung in the tack room or wrapped in brown paper and laid flat in a trunk. If the buckles are left done up they will tarnish and become stiff. The leather underneath them will harden and rot from the buckle. Ideally the buckles should be undone and the strap slipped through the keeper.
With proper care leather can last a lifetime and the initial cost of buying quality products will be rewarded with years of good service. A knowledge of saddlery is an essential part of good stable management because the days where one groom was responsible for the tack alone are long gone.
The day-to-day cleaning and maintenance of saddlery and equipment will ensure good service and reliability. All tack should be washed daily in warm rather than hot water, using a cloth or sponge, and then soaped with a proprietary saddle soap. The metal, i.e. the bits and stirrups, should be wiped with a soft cloth and/or polished with a metal polish. Leather must not be soaped without first being washed or the grease will only compound and form 'jockeys', i.e. small lumps of grease. It these have been allowed to accumulate they can be removed by rubbing with a ball of horse-hair.
Badly cleaned leather will eventually harden and be very difficult to get back into good order. Wet leather must be dried gradually and not by direct heat or it will harden and crack. When it is very wet it may need oiling once or twice, then it can be left to dry naturally before being saddle-soaped. Girths and saddle linings will need special attention as grease will build up and cause saddle and girth sores if they are not cleaned properly. Webbing girths need to be dried thoroughly before being brushed with a stiff brush to remove mud, sweat and grease.
Boot polish should not be used on most saddlery but can make a leather roller look very smart. Glycerine saddle soap is excellent for show tack as it does not darken the leather. Too much saddle soap on the top of saddles is unnecessary and will make the rider's breeches dirty. Linen or serge linings on saddles can be brushed with a stiff brush to remove hairs and sweat once they are dry. If they are very dirty they can be washed with warm water and allowed to dry in the open air if possible, but not against direct heat. Whitening is sometimes applied to the outer edge of linen-lined saddles for showing, which looks smart. Suede or reverse-hide leather saddles need only to be sponged and brushed when dry.
New tack may need darkening and this can be achieved by alternating saddle soap and oil. The quickest and most effective way is to warm a little oil and brush it on before ever applying saddle soap. This will make it soak in much more easily. Take care not to overheat the oil. Buckles may need a spot of oil from time to time to keep them supple. Stirrup rubbers should be taken out of the stirrup to be washed otherwise they will tarnish the stirrup.
Always use a leather punch for making new holes; anything else will cause the leather to tear.
Saddlery that has been allowed to get very dirty will be easier to clean if a handful of soda crystals is diluted in warm water. Whenever there is a contagious infection in the yard all equipment used by the infected horse should be isolated, sterilized in warm soda water and dried thoroughly before it is ever used on other horses again after the infection is cured. Anything which has been in contact with an infected horse and is difficult to clean thoroughly should be discarded to prevent further infections.
Tack cleaning and maintenance is such an important job that it should not be hurried or skipped.