Cleaning your tack isn’t just about keeping up appearances. Properly maintained equipment is safer for both horse and rider. Regularly cleaned and conditioned leather stays strong longer, and while you’re scrubbing you may notice the early signs of potential tack failure. These include:
• Stretched holes. Elongated buckle holes are a sign of weakening leather. The stretching can progress to tearing, which means that a bit or stirrups may suddenly drop inches with no warning. Of course, leather can also fail entirely in stretched areas. Using a different hole---if doing so doesn’t adversely affect fit---works in a pinch, but the entire length of leather is suspect. Replace it as soon as you can.
• Loose hardware. Give all buckles, Chicago screws and hooks a solid wiggle as you clean. Any movement beyond the expected is cause for concern. Do not use tack with loose hardware; when it finally gives way, the results can be disastrous.
• Cracks in the leather. Old, dry leather will usually crack before tearing, so take any fissures in leather seriously. Pay particular attention to points where metal meets leather because these areas tend to be under more stress and aren’t always cleaned and conditioned thoroughly. Once leather has cracked, it needs to be replaced.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #448, January 2015.