Leather Care to Make Tack Last

Leather Care to Make Tack Last

Follow these leather care tips and your tack could last a lifetime.

clean western leather saddle

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Today’s horse owners often have significant investments in tack and equipment. A quality, well-made saddle should last far longer than the horse you’re riding. With proper tack care, it can easily last your lifetime.

For practical leather cleaning advice, we turned to the experts at Circle Y Saddles Inc. in Yoakum, Texas, a company that has been handcrafting saddles since 1960.

Prepping Tack for Cleaning

  • Clean as needed. The occasional rider may not need to oil tack for six months. If you are riding in variable weather like a dry climate or high humidity, oil it more frequently.
  • Remove excess dust and dirt. Use a shop vacuum, air compressor, or even a hair dryer with a cold air setting to remove excess dirt from crevices and hard-to-reach areas. 
  • Gather the proper cleaning supplies. Leather is a natural material with pores that needs to breathe. Caustic household chemicals, preparations that contain alcohol, turpentine, mineral spirits or even baby wipes are damaging choices. Stick to products specifically meant for cleaning leather tack

Deep Cleaning Tack

  • Use a glycerin-based saddle soap to remove to remove mud, grime, mold and mildew. Paste-based soaps tend to settle into the crevices. Follow instructions on the saddle cleaning product
  • Let it air-dry after it’s been thoroughly wiped off. Do not set tacout in the sun or use artificial heat, as this process will backfire and cause leather to become brittle and lose its strength.
  • Apply a light coat of neatsfoot oil, which is popular for keeping leather pliable. Use caution with light-colored tack, as neatsfoot oil tends to darken leather.
  • Finish with a good leather conditioner when the neatsfoot oil application has dried.

Proper Storage

  • Store in a climate-controlled area, or if that’s not available, choose a cool, dry location away from heat and sunlight. 
  • Never place leather tack in a plastic bag or airtight plastic trunk, as this keeps the leather from breathing. If you need to store your saddle for an extended length of time, make sure to thoroughly clean, oil and condition it first.
  • Cover the saddle with a breathable material like a natural fiber saddlebag.
  • Beware of mold and mildew and take immediate action if it develops. Follow the deep cleaning instructions above. You’ll be stirring up mold spores when cleaning, so do so outdoors or in a well-ventilated environment. For extra precaution, wear a disposable paper mask over your mouth and nose.

Tack Tips to Keep In Mind

  • Water is not leather’s friend, so even when cleaning tack, your sponge should just be damp, never sopping wet. Always follow label directions on the saddle-cleaning product you’re using, as some require no rubbing – just spraying and wiping with a clean cloth.
  • Do not continue to use “burned” leather that has been set in the sun to dry, as heat applied to wet leather causes it to become weak and brittle. 
  • Avoid unfit preparations like mink or animal fat oils, waxes, silicone, solvents, greases, vegetable and olive oils.
  • Pay mind to unexpectedly wet tack. Be it a deeper-than-expected creek crossing or a rainstorm, let the saddle air-dry naturally in an area with good ventilation. When nearly dry, apply a little leather conditioner to help restore flexibility, but don’t go overboard. Condition thoroughly when completely dry.
  • Check your tack before every ride to make sure all leather is soft, supple and strong. Don’t underestimate the danger of dry, cracked or weak leather.