As all equestrians know, horseback riding can be dirty fun. The dust and sweat kicked up by a horse during grooming, tacking, and riding can permeate your clothes and your hair, and can cover your saddle and bridle with a thin film of grime and horsehair. By keeping your leather equipment clean and supple, you can preserve it for years to come and save the expense of replacing dried-out, worn tack.
To thoroughly clean your bridle, you will need to take the entire thing apart, piece by piece, and set it out on a clean towel in an approximation of how it needs to be put back together.
Unlatch the reins from the bit and set the reins on either side of the towel. If you are using English buckled reins, undo the buckle and separate the two pieces. Remove the bit from the cheekpieces and place it in between the two reins. Unbuckle the two cheekpieces and lay them above the bit. Remove the browband from the headstall and position those two pieces at the top of your towel.
Dip a small, clean sponge in clear water and wring it out until it is just barely damp. Rub the sponge into your saddle soap or pour a drop of saddle-cleaning solution on the sponge, then squeeze the sponge until you see a soapy foam.
Take your foamy sponge and begin rubbing it all over the different pieces of leather that comprise your bridle. Make sure to get into all the stitching and clean both the front and back of each piece. You may want to use an old toothbrush to thoroughly clean the stitching if your bridle is particularly dirty.
Once the bridle parts are systematically cleaned, go back with a clean, damp sponge and meticulously remove any foam on the leather. Make sure you remove all traces of soap because the bee’s wax in the saddle soap can cause your bridle to feel sticky and gummy if it is allowed to dry into the leather. Once your bridle is completely rinsed, allow it to air dry.
To oil the leather and keep it smooth and supple, rub a bit of leather oil onto a clean rag or dry sponge and then massage it into all of the bridle pieces. Let the oil soak into the leather so that it no longer appears shiny. Once you put the bridle back together, you’re ready for your next ride.
To clean your saddle, use exactly the same technique described to clean your bridle.
Take all the pieces of your saddle apart. If you’re riding English, remove the stirrup leathers from the stirrup bars, unbuckle them, and take off the irons. You will also need to unlatch the girth and set it aside. For Western riders, unbuckle the stirrups from the fenders, loosen any riggings from the “D” rings, and remove any billets and cinches wherever possible.
Use a damp, clean sponge and saddle soap to remove any grime from all areas of your saddle, leathers, girth and riggings. To get down deep into etched leather, try an old, soft toothbrush to loosen dirt. Remove all traces of soap with another clean, damp sponge and allow the saddle and riggings to completely dry. Rub in saddle oil to keep your leather pliable, put your saddle back together, and you’re set for the next day’s trail ride.
Looking Over Your Tack
For your own safety, check over your tack when cleaning it. Look for any leather tears or loose stitching and get repairs made before you ride again. A broken stirrup leather or cinch can mean the difference between a good ride and a disastrous one.