Sharp as a Tack

Regular cleaning keeps leather safe and durable.

As the weather turns cooler, now's the perfect time to clean your tack for winter storage.

After months of summer riding, your tack has accumulated layers of grimy dirt from your horse's sweat. And, unfortunately, you can't just throw it in the washing machine.

It's recommended that all tack that comes into direct contact with your horse - fenders on a western saddle, headstalls and breast collars, for example - be wiped off with a clean, wet sponge or rag after each ride. If sweat is allowed to dry on the leather, the tack becomes stiff and brittle over time. The germy environment is also conducive to mold spores.

A more thorough cleaning is called for to keep your tack clean and supple.

AQHA Corporate Partner Tex Tan offers these guidelines for cleaning your tack:

    1. Dust off the tack article and wash it thoroughly with saddle soap, using a soft brush. Allow the article to dry at room temperature, never in the sun or under intense heat, which could cause the leather to dry out and crack.
    1. Use a soft cloth to condition the leather with neatsfoot oil. Don't saturate the leather. Coat the article evenly. For saddles, pay special attention to the undersides of latigos, tie straps, flank cinches and stirrup leathers. Allow the oil to seep into the pores of the leather for 30 minutes. Tack in dry climates needs to be oiled more frequently.
    1. Seal in the conditioning effects of the oil by applying another coat of saddle soap. Allow it to dry for two hours, then buff with a soft, dry cloth.
    1. Cleaning day is also a good time to inspect your tack for loose screws, raveled stitching or cracked or worn straps.

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Eww, Mildew!

Ever grab for a trusty but seldom-used bridle, only to find that it's covered with a smelly gray powder?

That's mildew, and it's a common problem for horse owners in humid climates.

Here's how to prevent mildew on your tack:

    • Keep your tack clean. Sweaty buildup is an ideal breeding ground for mold spores.
    • Control the humidity level in your tack room or tack box. Consider running a dehumidifier or leaving a lightbulb burning to warm the air ever so slightly. A bag of desiccant crystals (available at crafts supply stores) can absorb enough moisture to prevent mildew in a tack box.
    • Get rid of mildew by washing affected items with a 1:1 solution of rubbing alcohol and water and allowing them to dry. If the mildew comes back, use a germicidal or fungicidal soap (available at nurseries) to clean the items.

Follow clinician Curt Pate at AQHA Regional Experience clinics around the country, where he demonstrates his low-stress approach to horse training. Order your copy of the "Cross Country with Curt Pate" DVD today. AQHA members get a special discount!