It’s something we all know we should do, but procrastinate terribly over. How many times have you postponed cleaning your bridle, saddle or leatherwork for fear of starting an all-day journey to banish dirt and dried-on sweat scum?
Cleaning your tack not only improves appearances, it’s also critical for safety of both you and your horses, so why does it get relegated to the chores list and how can you make the process less onerous (maybe even enjoyable?!).
Here’s our top-five tips for keeping your cleaning regime simple and quick, so you can spend more time in the saddle:
1. Wipe down with a damp cloth after every use
Sounds simple enough and you’ll find this rule in any leather care article you’d choose to open. A quick wipe over with a damp cloth removes dirt and sweat from your equipment before it has a chance to settle in and cause deterioration. *The trick is to do it every time you ride* Don’t leave it till you get home from the barn: it won’t happen. Make sure you do the quick wipe over straight away, before the saddle cover goes on, whilst your waiting for him to finish his feed (it’s a great way to get some chill time with him after a ride).
In dry climates like Aus, I find swapping the water for some effax leather combi (solvent based cleaner) once a week does wonders to keep leather spruce – more on cleaners and conditioners below…
2. Use a proper leather cleaner, and clean often
Most people use glycerine saddle soap as their staple cleaner, taking great delight in working up a good soapy lather to apply to leather. Whilst it’s true, the lather is what helps to lift dirt out, glycerine’s not the best choice for a soap. The glycerine leaves a film on your leather, stopping other products (and water) penetrating into the leather fibres. Whilst this may be advantageous in some situations, as soon as it gets wet, that film starts to get tacky, holding dust and dirt – causing the black gunky build up on tack. With ongoing applications, you can end up working the dirt further into your tack, rather than removing it! Glycerine’s best left for application if you’re storing leather for a long time, or better yet, excluded completely from your cleaning regime.
And we won’t insult your intelligence by delving far into the detail of why a 2-in-1 product is generally a bad idea: cleaners strip grease out, conditioners put grease in. ’nuff said.
So what constitutes a proper cleaner? We’d recommend a product that dissolves dirt and grime without harming the leather (solvents do the trick nicely). Effax leder combi is particularly effective and won’t leave a greasy residue on your equipment. As mentioned above, you can use it once a week or so to replace wiping over with a damp cloth and really, that’s about all you need on a regular basis. Supplement with a conditioner *very* infrequently…
3. Complement your frequent cleaning with infrequent moisturising
Here once again, most people get it wrong, oiling their tack to add moisture and doing it frequently with the goal of obtaining ‘butter soft’ leather. First, oiling doesn’t add moisture, oiling creates a moisture barrier. Secondly, ‘butter soft’ does not necessarily equal safe, ‘butter soft’ equals leather which has been weakened to the point of failure by separation of the leather fibres.
What are we trying to achieve with moisturising? Soft, supple, strong leather that’s no longer vulnerable to cracking. It’s like your own skin: moisturise when you feel it’s drying out, not as a preventative or you end up with a greasy mess and everything feeling weighed down and gluggy. Moisturisers for leather will help to replace some of the oils lost through activities with regular use, but shouldn’t be used to ‘soften’ the leather through excessive, repeated applications. What you’re trying to avoid is working so much oil and emollients into your leather that those particles start to force apart the leather fibres, giving a ‘soft’ feel which is not moisturised, supple leather fibres, but rather fibres stretched out of shape and ‘soft’ due to a weakening of the leather structure.
Moisturising once every 6 months should be plenty – once a quarter at most – with regular cleaning to maintain pliable, supple equipment.
4. Use a proper moisturiser
What you’re generally after is a moisturiser made up of emollients – to help draw moisture into the leather, rather than seal it out.
The word emollient is associated with words like ‘soothing’ ‘softening’ and ‘relaxing – especially in relation to skin. Think of soothing your leather when it’s getting a little tired and dried out: nowhere are the words ‘drowning’ or ‘drenching’ mentioned, so keep a leash on it.
I’ve found particular favour with the Effax range generally and here leather moisturisers are no exception: their ‘leder balsam’ provides a mix of beeswax and oils with some water solubility: i.e. they’ll help to transport water into the leather rather than providing a complete seal. (And bonus: Effax also does products for your handbags, leather lounge suite and vehicles)
Less is more with these products: a little, worked well into clean leather (take your time) will yield best results. But remember, you should only need to do this once or twice a year, so enjoy it!
5. Invest in a bag or cover
If you’re serious about keeping your leather in tip-top condition, invest in a bag or cover for all your leatherwork – saddles, bridles, halters – as a cheap and portable way to keep the dust off and the sunlight out: minimising deterioration between uses. Use your commonsense, don’t bag it if it’s wet and make sure it’s aired regularly.
So, in summary:
1. Wipe down with a damp cloth at the barn, after every use – it takes 5 minutes so don’t promise yourself you’ll do it at home
2. Use a proper cleaner, ditch the saddle soap
3. Moisturise once every 6 months (making the hardship of tack-spas a thing of the past)
4. Use a proper moisturiser
5. Bag it between uses
Send an email to Danelle Jones, the author of this post, at firstname.lastname@example.org
NB: We don’t stock Effax leather products in our online shop at time of writing, however we do intend to. As with all products we do stock, they’re chosen after purchasing retail and testing ourselves: no free samples from suppliers or wholesalers, just our favourite picks from around the world.