Cleaning tack never tops the list of “fun things to do.” Most people just ride and then put away the saddle and bridle, thinking no more about it until the next ride. However, taking care of your leather equipment is important not only to make your tack last longer but also to keep you safe.
After each ride, it’s wise to do a quick wipe of your bridle, bit and girth/latigo. Make things easy on yourself by having a product that sprays on, like Leather New, or tack wipes. Keep a couple soft cloths handy—one for the bit, one for leather. A saddle stand and bridle hook make the job easier, as well.
If your tack has become covered with sweat or mud, use a damp cloth to wipe it. If residue is caked on, use a brush or something that doesn’t have a sharp edge, to scrap off the grime. After the grime is removed, use your leather cleaner.
Give your saddle a thorough cleaning before storing it for an extended period of time. Take your bridle apart completely. If you have a Western Saddle, remove the front and back cinch, latigos and stirrups. This will allow you to treat all of the leather, including the parts that tend to get worn, such as the fenders, especially the crook where the stirrup hangs. Get the leather cleaning product of your choice, and using a sheepskin fleece or soft cloth, use a circular motion to rub the cleaner in until the foam is gone. Let that dry then take another cloth and buff it. Be sure to clean the top and bottom of the leather, not just what you can see. Next use an oil or leather preserving product. If you have tooling in your saddle, use an air compressor to spray off the dust. You can vacuum the sheepskin using the upholstery tool on your shop vacuum. A toothbrush does a great job getting into crevices and tooling on a western saddle.
Clean your western cinch or English string girth using a horse shampoo and a bucket of warm water. Be sure to remove the heavy dirt first. Rinse well. Neoprene cinches/girths can be easily sponged off.
English bits, or anything that is stainless steel, can be cleaned in the dishwasher. A toothbrush can remove any remaining crud on the mouthpiece. If you have a silver bit, make sure the mouth piece is free of grass and saliva. If you want to bring back the luster in a silver bit, use a toothbrush and toothpaste or product such as silver polishing cloths or silver polish. (Don’t use silver polish on the mouthpiece.) All silver polishing should be done with a cotton cloth.
If you have rawhide reins or bosal, clean with a little water remove sweat and dirt. Let it dry, then use rawhide cream.
Tip: If you want to use your cleaning cloths more than once, take a zip lock bag and mark what’s in it. You don’t want to mix up your products, so it’s a good idea to label them.
Taking care of your tack is a good habit to create and the best practice when storing tack. Cleaning your bit is a habit your horse will appreciate as well! Remember cleaning tack is a sign of respect to the judge when competing and lets you and your horse have a well-polished appearance.