How to Maintain and Clean Horse Tack
Tack refers to any equipment used on the horse, including the saddle, girth, bridle, and miscellaneous equipment such as martingales, side reins, etc.
Tack can be extremely expensive. Whether your saddle and bridle are made of leather or synthetic materials, regular cleaning, storage, and repair will:
- prolong the longevity of your tack,
- keep the horse more comfortable,
- and prevent dangerous accidents from broken equipment.
Clean & Condition
Tack must be cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up of sweat and dirt, which can cause the horse discomfort and sores.
Each day, after riding:
- rinse or wipe off the bit with clean water (would you want a dirty bit in your mouth?)
- wipe a damp cloth over all of your tack, especially areas like the girth where the leather touches the horse's skin.
Leather Cleaning Kit
Every week or so, perform a full cleaning of all tack. For synthetic materials, wash the surface with warm water and a mild soap if desired. Leather is more high maintenance, and requires the following materials to keep the leather supple and strong:
- a few sponges or rags,
- warm water,
- leather cleaner,
- leather conditioner,
- and leather protector.
Leather requires maintenance even when it isn't used. Although your equipment won't become dirty, you'll need to care for the leather every few months so that it won't become moldy or dry out and become stiff.
Cleaning leather tack:
I always set up in the living room, where it is warm and I can watch the television as I work. Place the saddle on a saddle rack or saw horse (never place your saddle flat on the ground because it can damage the tree). Take everything apart, stirrup leathers, bridles, etc. This may be annoying, but it is the only way to clean all parts of the leather. Plus, it is a good way to be very familiar with all parts of your tack.
The bit and stirrup irons can be placed in warm water to soak. If your are preparing for a show, you can use metal polish on the stirrup irons and any buckles, but don't ever use metal polish on the bit. If you want to get the bit extra clean, use a toothbrush and toothpaste. Your horse will appreciate it!
Rub a damp cloth or sponge in circles all over the surface of the leather. Try to remove any visible hair, sweat, or dirt. Never soak the leather, because the evaporation of water leads to dry, cracked leather.
Use a leather cleaner to remove any remaining dirt. The sponge or cloth should be slightly damp, but never wet enough to cause the soap to lather. The cleaner should not be left on the leather, so wipe away the soap with a clean, damp cloth or sponge.
Condition the leather, if needed. Over conditioning can damage the leather and degrade stitching, but some conditioning is necessary to replace the natural fat and oils the leather loses over time. If you live in a dry climate or if your tack is very old, you will have to condition more often.
To condition your tack, paint the conditioner onto the unfinished side of the leather, and gently bend the leather and rub the oil in with your fingers to help the leather soak up the oil. Wipe off any excess oil.
Protect the leather by applying a glycerine soap. Take a damp cloth or sponge and rub it along the glycerine bar. There should not be enough water in the sponge to make any lather. Apply the glycerine in small circles to the surface of the leather. This will seal the pores of the leather, and helps to prevent dirt from gathering in the texture of the leather.
Keep your tack in a safe, dry place, and never next to heater where it can dry out and crack. Hang halters and bridles on the wall, and keep saddles on a saddle rack. If a saddle rack is not immediately available, never set your saddle flat on the ground. To protect the tree, always tip the saddle along the front of the legs straps. Always flip the saddle pad over and place it on top of the saddle to dry.
A saddle cover will keep hay, dust, and moisture away from your saddle.
Never use a nail to hang your bridle-- the rounded shape of the bridle rack will keep your bridle up and out of the way and keep a dent from forming on the crown of the bridle.
Safety Check & Repairs
Use your tack cleaning routine to check the safety of the tack. Notice if there are any:
- particularly worn areas that may potentially break
Wearing usually occurs at points of contact with metal, such as billet straps (where the buckle of the girth connects with the saddle), reins, and cheek straps.
- cracks in the leather
Leather should be supple. Do not use any tack that has cracks or dry rot, because it has a high risk of breaking.
- loose stitching that may come undone
The stitching holds important parts of the tack together, so don't ignore loose or missing stitching.
Send your tack in for repairs or buy replacement parts. Repairs will prolong the lifespan of your equipment.
To learn more about everything to do with horses, or to find a club near you, check out the USPC website.