If you’re in the northern climates, chances are you’ll be riding less in the winter than other seasons, making it a good time to clean and examine your tack. Leather is meant to be flexible so it can withstand a lot of fluctuation in temperature. To keep leather supple and in good working condition, it needs to be regularly cleaned and oiled. Remove dust, mud and horse hair with a glycerin based cleaning product of your choice. After cleaning, lightly oil the saddle. One good product is Bee Natural, which is great oil that soaks in but won’t attract dust. If you live in a warmer, wet climate using a product to prevent mold and mildew, such as Rudy’s is a wise idea.
Once you’ve finished cleaning and oiling your saddle, keep it on a saddle stand. Don’t hang it, lay it on the floor, or place it on its fork as this will make the fenders and jockeys curl up. Keep it dust free with a clean blanket, sheet, or saddle cover. Saddle covers are made for both English and Western saddles and some are waterproof for additional protection.
Bridles and reins will need a little more care to keep them protected over the cold season. Hang your bridle so the crown piece is on a round hook to keep its shape. If you have any rawhide, such as bosals or quirts, use rawhide cream and then store in a plastic bin. Hang romal reins so they won’t be bowed when you use them again in the summer.
If you do ride during the colder winter months, don’t forget that saddle pads require a little extra care too. Western saddle pads generally don’t dry quickly in cold weather so it’s ideal to have at least two you can rotate allowing one to dry while the other is in use. English riders have an easier time keeping their pads clean and dry as they can be laundered.
While you are cleaning and storing your tack for the cold months take a moment and check that your tack is safe and in good shape. Look for excessive wear, especially on fenders and latigos or, if you’re an English rider, stirrup leathers and billet straps. If anything is cracked when you bend or flex it, replace it rather than have it completely dry out and break at a critical moment.
Ensure the bolt that goes through the stirrup isn’t worn. If stirrup leathers are pulling through the holes of a Blevins buckle, they need to be replaced. Check all buckles on the bridles to confirm they’re not cracked or the leather isn’t wearing under the buckles, and how they fasten to the bridle isn’t too worn. Also, make sure Chicago screws aren’t coming unscrewed.
Now is a good time to send your saddle out or do your own repairs. Don’t wait until spring when you’re ready to ride only to find your saddle isn’t in good shape.
Extreme cold and heat are hard on leather, so keep your tack room moderately heated. Unfortunately, a warm tack room may attract mice, so take steps to thwart these destructive rodents. (Here, kitty, kitty!). As mentioned earlier, using plastic bins to store horse hair mecates and rawhide gear is a good idea. Finally, be sure tack isn’t in a window where there is light. Direct light will fade and dry out your leather.