Cleaning tack. It’s probably one of the first skills you learned as a rider or driver, and chances are, it’s as much a part of your regular routine as grooming, picking feet, and doing horse laundry (will there ever be an end to the horse laundry?).
Over time, we’ve all developed our own tack cleaning programs, and even shortcuts. But there’s nothing like a refresher course in proper technique from someone with experience—and when it comes to leather care experience, few companies can hold a candle to Freedman’s.
Since 1802, six generations of Freedman’s master craftsmen have been teaching their patrons how to better care for their saddles, bridles, and harness, as well as bags, belts, and leather goods. And now, they’re sharing their tricks of the trade with you.
1. Yes, you should regularly clean all parts of your saddle (not just the top).
Even if it’s not being seen by most people, it’s the underside of the saddle (the gullet, cantle, and flaps) that comes into the most direct contact with your potentially sweaty, dirty horse. It’s also the place most likely to suffer wear and tear down the road. For regular saddle cleaning, Freedman’s recommends creating a gentle lather using saddle soap (see below), lukewarm water (leather is skin, after all), and a tack sponge. Use the sponge in a circular motion across all surfaces of the saddle. Finish by wiping off any excess foam using a soft, clean cloth.
2. Use old school saddle soap—not generic leather cleaner—on your saddle.
Leather damage on your saddle is often a result of chemistry; an unbalanced pH level, to be exact. When regularly cleaned with the proper saddle soap (Freedman’s recommends Fiebing’s) the fatty acids in the soap combine with the salt contained in horse sweat to keep your saddle leather’s pH levels balanced properly.
3. When conditioning your saddle, your hands are your best tools.
Like Mom making meatballs, saddle maintenance is best done with a good quality saddle conditioner (Freedman’s prefers Oakwood) and your hands. First, apply conditioner using a tack sponge (make sure it’s not your regular cleaning sponge). Once the saddle is covered, use your hands to massage and work the conditioner into the leather across all surfaces of the saddle. Buff away any excess using a soft cloth.
4. View every tack cleaning session as an opportunity to conduct a safety check.
Tack cleaning naturally gets you up close and personal with parts of your saddle, bridle, and harness that you might not normally see. While you’re cleaning, take a moment to check for places where your leather might be weakening (think thinning billet straps, torn keepers, or fraying stirrup leathers). If your leather is starting to look like it could use some maintenance, the time to act is now.
5. Don’t stress about taking your bridle or harness apart for cleaning.
If you’re worried about forgetting how to properly re-adjust your headstall, you can tie a small piece of string or thread through the hole you want, jot down a quick note on a piece of paper, or simply snap a photo with your smartphone to help jog your memory when you’re ready to reassemble. And, if you’re worried about losing bridle parts during the cleaning process…
6. Get crafty! Build your own holding containers.
The bottom portion of a halved plastic water bottle is the perfect size to hold cheek pieces, keepers, rein stops, and other small bridle or harness pieces that are easily misplaced during the cleaning process. (Plus, free bonus points for recycling!)
7. Use metal polish to give buckles that extra sparkle.
Looking to set apart your new show bridle or harness? Use a small dollop of brass or other metal cleaner (Freedman’s suggests Peek) and work it into your tack buckles using the corner of a soft cloth. Be sure to select a non-toxic metal polish so you aren’t dyeing the surrounding leather, and allow the polish to sit for a few minutes before buffing it away.
8. Got mold? Double-check your cleaning products—and your tack room.
Make sure that your tack is always clean and dry before putting it away in a closed tack room or box. A leather cleaning product that contains a mold inhibitor (Oakwood or Leather Therapy Restorer & Conditioner are two) can also help to prevent the growth of mold and mildew between cleanings, especially in humid climates. Finally, it’s never a bad idea to store your saddle, harness, or bridle in a soft, breathable bag between uses.
9. The secret to making leather belts and purses look brand new? Buff ’em up!
To clean your vegetable-tanned or pebbled-grained belts and purses, you can follow the same cleaning protocol you’d use on other kinds of tack, allowing your bag or belt to dry before applying metal cleaner and leather conditioner. But if you really want your favorite pieces to sparkle, get a good soft cloth and prepare to add the magic ingredient: elbow grease. Creating a little friction in your rag while buffing can actually lend luster to your leather accessories, meaning they’ll look good as new for years to come!
Be Social! Connect with Freedman’s: