The Care of Tack
Horse saddles, bridles, halters, and anything else used on and around horses is bound to get dirty. Cleaned and well kept tack will last for years and be in good working order when you need them the most. Here is a handy guide to the once a year “super clean”. I usually do this before going to a horse show or in the spring with the spring cleaning. Saddles and leather goods should be regularly cleaned through out the year.
Your saddle and bridle take a daily beating if you are riding regularly. It is essential to keep those items in top shape and condition. To clean the saddle, remove all the extra parts if possible, stirrups, irons, any kind of seat cover. Then use a good high quality saddle soap and follow the instructions on the package. Most have you dampen a cloth and apply the soap then wipe off. Make sure as you are cleaning the saddle to check the billets or latigo straps for any signs of wear or breakage. Also just giving your saddle a good once over to see that everything is in its place and functioning. For hard to reach areas to clean use a soft tooth brush and apply oil with a paint brush. Once the saddle has dried apply a high quality saddle oil to condition and protect the leather. (NOTE: light colored saddles can darken with cleaning and oiling) For the pre-show cleaning or the once a year, make sure to also clean the silver or other materials on your saddle to keep them looking like new as well. Keeping your saddle covered in between cleanings will help to protect your investment.
Cleaning the bridle is the same process. Disassemble the bridle and lay out all the pieces. Make sure you don’t forget the keepers when oiling. I usually take this time to clean the bit as well in some warm soapy water. Again don't for get any silver or stainless steel pieces.
Some horse items tend to get more dirty than others, girths, polo wraps, sport boots, breast collars. These items may need to be cleaned more than others to keep up with the dirt. Also the girth and some wraps if dirty can cause sores. For many wraps you can launder them at home in your wash. A good heavy lingerie bag is great to wash your horse items. Make sure you brush off any excess dirt so that all that is left is a stain on the item. For bigger items like Horse Blankets, try vacuuming them first or taking them to the car wash to be hosed off and brushed clean.
Special Care for Special Materials
Some materials are not leather and need special care. Patent leather is one. For Patent leathers use a soft wash cloth, first damp to take off any hair or sweat residue. Then using petroleum jelly buff the leather to a bright clean shine. For hard to reach areas use a q-tip. For hair on hide, use a stiff brush or stiff paint brush depending on the size and brush in the direction of the hair, use a pet friendly waterless shampoo on a q-tip for stains, just test an area first for color fastness. For silver use a silver polishing cloth, easier to control and more gentle than a harsh chemical cleaner. Take care to follow manufacturer instructions on all items, as they know best.
Now is a good time as well to clean out brushes or replace them. As we get closer to spring the shedding picks up and your brushes need to be in top shape . I use a small bucket and add warm water and dawn dish soap. Drop each brush in, for wood handled brushes I only leave them in for a second or two. Using a fingernail brush I clean the bristles in the direction they should lye. The rubber or plastic brushes get scrubbed and set out to dry, bristle brushes get wrapped in a rubber band to keep the bristles all facing the same directions and they are set out to dry as well.
Extra Care for Older Leather
Leather products dry out over time when not conditioned regularly. Everyone has found that item that has become hard and cracked, those items are on the verge of becoming unusable. With items like that care needs to be taken to make sure you are safe when riding and that nothing fails. A brittle or dry piece of leather has less strength than a properly conditioned piece of leather. To recondition an item requires a lot of oil, for small parts I soak them in oil in a sealed top baggie. This works for reins, bridle pieces and stirrup leathers. For larger items like saddles you need to hand apply the oil in layers until the leather softens. This can often be a very tedious process. Also make sure you check on repaired or reconditioned leather to ensure it is holding up to the daily wear and tear.
If your doing your home's spring cleaning, might as well tackle the stall and horses spring cleaning. Water buckets need to be washed, check to make sure the eye bolts are secure and replace if necessary. Remove extra staples or nails in the door and make sure none get left on the ground. Dust the cobwebs and corner.
With the bulk of the winter snow behind us and the promise of spring to come soon, the spring cleaning makes way for the busy summer months. By getting a head start in the cleaning you will have more time to enjoy those beautiful days to come.