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Horse Tack Tip: 5 Leather Care Mistakes You’re Probably Making

horse tack leather care
Written by Andrea Parker

Hey, Back On The Floor, Dirt!

You know that saddle sitting in your barn that’s worth thousands of dollars. You are protecting that investment with your tip top leather care routine, right? You wipe it down after each ride. You store it carefully. You soap it up to get rid of all that dirt and grim before you condition it after each ride.

What if those things you are doing that you think are good for your saddle are actually, inadvertently, causing harm to your saddle?

In today’s post I’m talking about five of the big mistakes you are possibly making when it comes to caring for your leather.

Contrary to popular belief, water is not doing your leather any favours

Water on your saddle

Many people will tell you that you should wipe your saddle down with a damp cloth after each ride. Their rationale? It will remove sweat which can damage the leather as well as preventing the build up of dust, dirt and grime.

The reality is that, in many cases, water is doing your saddle more harm than good. Teal Shoop, the CEO of Sterling Essentials, says:

“Although water is Mother Nature’s cleaning agent, it is a well established fact (though often ignored) that water and leather do not play nicely together. Even though water can help wipe away surface dirt, with a neutral pH it does not help restore the natural pH of leather or help neutralise any residues with a harmful pH that might be on the leather (like sweat (acidic) or horsey slobber/saliva (alkaline)).

Additionally, water does little to combat one of our top foes—mould/mildew in tack.

Using water to clean tack doesn’t augment the health of the leather beyond the benefit of a light cleaning, and the damage can outweigh the good. Also, since water is so easy and convenient to use, I see it 9 times out of 10 overused and abused in leather care—bridles getting soaked while soaking a bit in a bucket, cleaning with soggy sponges, cleaning with saddle soap (horrible!) and then washing the soap off (or not washing the soap off which is even worse). I could go on. LOL!

As a result, if water is introduced into tack care, it should be purposeful, highly controlled, and used to create significantly greater benefits for the health of the leather than it can do alone (i.e. as part of a leather care product and system).

Sterling Essentials leather cleaner is a great alternative to water. You can use it everyday, it’s quick and simple, and best of all, does not need to be ‘washed off’ after application. Read my review of the Sterling Essentials leather cleaner and conditioner here.

“Using water to clean tack doesn’t augment the health of the leather beyond the benefit of a light cleaning, and the damage can outweigh the good.” Teal Shoop, CEO, STERLING ESSENTIALS

A word on saddle soap

Much like water glycerin is not your saddle’s friend. Glycerin is a key component of most saddle soaps. Rather than cleaning your saddle, it often blocks the pores and attracts the very same things that you are trying to keep away from your saddlery, dirt and dust.

That with foamy lather that is indicative of glycerin might actually push the very dirt and grime that you are trying to remove back into the pores of your saddle. Additionally, the glycerin in saddle soaps will add water to your leather creating the perfect environment for mold to grow in.

What’s more, if left on your saddle, it can actually do a lot of damage.

Ditch the sponge

Sponges are a popular leather cleaning tool. It makes sense since they do such a great job of cleaning your dishes right? WRONG! Unless you are regularly switching out your dirty sponge for a clean one, there is a good chance you are just moving dirt around the saddle.

A better alternative is either a soft rag or a microfibre cloth, rotating to a new clean part of the cloth each time you move onto a new section of leather. It’s also a good idea to work from the cleanest to the dirtiest part of your tack – for instance on your saddle start with the seat and work down, finishing with the underside of your saddle.

Conditioning after every ride

There is a seemingly well established myth about leather care that you need to clean and condition your saddle after every ride. But this can actually be too much and can lead to damaging the leather.

When it comes to how much to use, start with a little and build up as needed. The amount your leather needs is dependent on a variety of factors such as the weather and previous conditioning. For instance, if your saddle is a bit neglected, like mine was a couple of years ago, then it will need more to restore the correct moisture balance. Or if you live in a drier part of the world.

To determine the amount you need, Teal recommends starting with the smallest amount you can pick up on a sponge. When applying it to your tack, if it fully absorbs within 2-3 minutes then you have the right amount. If it is absorbed within one minute, you probably need to add another coat. If there is residue on your saddle after five minutes, then you’ve used a little too much. Too much? Simply wipe the excess off with a soft cloth.

Careful where you throw that girth

As a rider one of my pet peeves is seeing girths threaded up through the stirrup iron. I have always conscientiously unbuckled my girth, on both sides and stored it laying over the top of my saddle.

While I know that having sweat left on leather isn’t good, I hadn’t connected the dots. Because what is your girth if not one of the sweatiest pieces of tack!? Talking to my saddler a few weekends ago, they pointed out that some of the damage on the seat of my saddle could well be due to this habit of leaving my girth over the saddle, providing the perfect opportunity for that sweat to transfer into the seat.

I now leave my girth out on an airing rack along with saddle pads and boots.

That’s a wrap

So those are five things to avoid when looking after your leather goods! A huge thank you to Teal, from Sterling Essentials, for her help in putting this article together.

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About the author


Andrea Parker

Andrea is an Adult Amateur dressage rider who competes at medium level on her 13-year-old mare Mon Ami. Andrea shares her journey through the equestrian world on her blog The Sand Arena Ballerina and is working on an equestrian podcast called Equestrian Pulse.