We’ve all been told tack must be cleaned thoroughly after every ride, without fail. How’s that working out? The reality is there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to clean your tack that often. And, honestly, it’s probably not necessary. Of course, you can’t completely skip tack cleaning either. Dirty leather breaks down more quickly and can lead to catastrophic failures mid-ride.
To strike the right balance between not cleaning enough and cleaning all the time, here’s a practical guide to the care leather needs when.
After each ride: Wipe strap goods and your saddle down with a damp sponge or cloth, removing dust and hair---no need to unbuckle and disassemble the bridle. If particular items have gotten wet with sweat, such as the underside of the girth or a breast plate, add a touch of saddle soap to the sponge or rag as you work; leaving salt on the leather will break it down over time. To finish, rinse the bit off by dunking it in a bucket.
Once a month (or twice if you ride every day): Take your tack apart to clean and condition it. Given that you don’t do this task very often, resolve to do it thoroughly, removing all dirt from the underside of straps and reaching into the corners of the saddle that no one is ever going to see. Scrub the bit well, working at stubborn gunk with a stiff toothbrush. When everything is clean, condition the leather and reassemble your tack, inspecting it for signs of wear and weakness as you do.
On an as-needed basis: If your tack gets muddy, wet or develops mold, you won’t be able to put off cleaning. Any of these issues will cause leather to break down quickly, and they need to be addressed right away. When the leather is back in shape, you can resume your real-world tack-care schedule.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #457, October 2015.