October 05, 2022 15 min read
The better you take care of your tack, the better it will take care of you.
Horseback riding is an intense sport that can be very dangerous. It’s important to have reliable tack that will not break during a ride. Taking good care of your tack will reduce the chances of something breaking during a ride and causing an accident.
Learn everything you need to know about storage, cleaning and conditioning, and daily safety checks for your saddle, bridle, girth, and leg protection in this blog.
Before you start cleaning your bridle, make sure you have the following supplies:
Taking the bridle apart is the easy part. Putting it back together is what’s difficult! When you’re taking the bridle apart, try and remember which piece goes where. It’s helpful to have a properly put-together bridle on hand to use as a guide when you’re putting yours back together.
To take your bridle apart, start by removing the bit by undoing the buckles or snaps on the lower end of the cheek pieces and the reins. Then, undo the upper buckle on the cheekpieces and remove those, as well. The noseband should have only one buckle that needs to be released on the left side of the bridle.
Undo the throat latch if it’s not undone already and slide all the pieces apart. The noseband should slide out of the crown piece after the cheekpieces. Once the noseband and cheekpieces have been removed, slide the browband off the crownpiece, ensuring you slide it off the end without the buckle for the throat latch. Many browbands will not fit over this buckle and keeper.
Before you pull out your leather soap and sponge, start by cleaning your bit. Even if you dunk your horse’s bit in water after every time you ride, it can still become filled with gunk. Particularly if you have a horse or pony who likes to eat grass with the bit in, food and saliva can get stuck in the joints of the bit, both in the middle and at the edges.
The easiest way to deep clean your bit is to give it a good soak. Get a bucket that’s deep enough to fully submerge your bit. Fill it with very hot water, not boiling as it may melt the bucket or damage rubber mouth bits, but hot enough to help kill any germs or bacteria. Place the bit in the bucket right after you take it off your bridle. This way, it can soak the entire time you’re cleaning and should be pretty much ready to go once you’re done cleaning and conditioning the rest of your tack. Some bits that are exceptionally dirty may require a longer soak.
While daily spray-on bit washes will help, there’s nothing like a good soak in a bucket of clean hot water to really get all of the gunk out of your bit.
Use a different water bucket to wet your sponge while cleaning the rest of your tack– you do not want to get any soapy residue on your bit.
Cleaning and conditioning your bridle can take patience as there are a lot of little nooks and crannies for dirt to get into. Using a tack sponge can really help, as it’s small enough to get into these spaces, while durable enough to hold up to scrubbing and soft enough so as not to damage the leather.
Start by wetting your tack sponge with hot water, not so much that it’s dripping, but enough that it’s moist to the touch. Use a small amount of high-quality tack soap and start scrubbing both sides of the leather. The side that lays against your horse’s face is likely to be extra dirty.
After the bridle is clean, it’s time to condition. Don’t over-condition your bridle. Leather that has been conditioned too often or with too much product will feel sticky to the touch. It may even appear as though it has a white film over the leather. Apply a fine layer of conditioner instead of a thick one and only condition your leather tack once a month.
Scoop a small amount of leather balsam onto a soft cloth or a dry sponge. Apply one coat of conditioner and wait to see if your bridle soaks it all up. If it does, you can apply another coat. If there is any excess conditioner left after application, use a clean soft cloth to blot it away.
How do you store your bridle? Unfortunately, some equestrians throw their bridle into a tack trunk with their saddle, or leave it draped over a trunk in a dusty barn. Proper storage of your bridle will help the leather retain its suppleness and prevent cracking and drying. A bridle that is starting to crack or dry rot is no longer safe to ride in as it could break at any time.
The best place to store your bridle is on a bridle rack in a temperature-controlled tack room. Maintaining optimal humidity will prevent the leather from becoming moldy in the summer or from drying out in the winter. It’s also a good idea to keep your bridle in a covered bag to prevent dust build-up. Certain bags may also help to prevent rodents from having easy access to your leather tack.
The best hook for your bridle is a rounded piece of either wood, metal, or plastic. This type of hook will help to maintain the crown shape of the bridle and prevent it from becoming pointed. If you don’t have a rounded bridle rack, you can easily slide a small section of a rounded pool noodle over the hook to create the circular shape.
How often do you check your bridle for safety purposes? Before you ride, you should always review your bridle closely.
Look for signs that the leather is cracking or splitting. You may notice signs of additional wear underneath buckles or in high-mobility areas, such as where the reins attach to the bit. If you do notice signs of cracking or splitting, replace the bridle before riding in it.
While you inspect your bridle for poor leather condition, also take a moment to look for dirt build-up or any debris that could cause rubs on your horse’s face. Even the smallest bit of sand or mud can irritate your horse throughout the course of a ride.
Learn more about taking care of your bridle here.
Whether you spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on your saddle, you have to take excellent care of this crucial and expensive piece of equipment. The saddle performs essential functions, such as protecting your horse’s back and evenly distributing your weight to make the horse’s job easier. If you don’t take excellent care of your saddle, you’ll risk reducing its durability and shortening its longevity.
While it needs to be cleaned and conditioned regularly, you also don’t want to over-clean or over-condition your saddle. To keep dust from getting into the stitching or dirtying your leather, wipe down your saddle with a soft cloth or brush after every ride. However, clean it only once a week or as needed to avoid drying out the leather. Dry leather is more prone to cracking.
Using a saddle conditioner too often is also a concern. If you over condition your saddle, the fibers will weaken and stretch, causing your saddle to lose its elasticity. Keep in mind that some leathers don’t need to be conditioned at all. For example, the soft grippy leather of the Henri de Rivel Parisian Monoflap Dressage Saddle requires only minimal saddle conditioner.
Before you start, evaluate the condition of your saddle. Have you been riding through mud? If it requires a thorough deep clean, a saddle cleaner such as Effax is good to have on hand. But if it’s only dusty, a wipe down with a damp cloth will do.
After setting your saddle on a stand or rack, get your tack sponge just slightly damp. Too much water will ruin the leather, so use caution. For a truly dirty saddle, use a small amount of saddle soap and go over the leather in circles. We recommend using Effax Leather-Combi as it will remove stubborn and dried dirt such as perspiration and dust residues, without fogging the leather. After you’ve covered the entire saddle, rinse your sponge and go over it again with a small amount of clean water to remove any soapy residue. You should always test any soap on a small hidden area to check for discoloration before starting.
After using a saddle cleaner, go right for the saddle conditioner. It’s best to condition your saddle while it is still damp from cleaning. You don’t need much! Apply a light coat of saddle conditioner all over the leather of your horse saddle. If the saddle sucks it up and there is no excess on the leather, apply another thin coat. If there is still leftover saddle conditioner sitting on the saddle after a minute or two, wipe it off with a soft cloth and call it quits.
Whatever you do, don’t rinse it off with water or a damp sponge. Conditioner is made to soak into the leather and form a protective layer. Just like with your saddle cleaner, test out the saddle conditioner you’re using on a small hidden area to check for discoloration before covering the saddle.
Only use products that are made for saddle leather. Here’s what we recommend:
Shop our full collection of saddle cleaners and saddle conditionershere.
Proper storage is crucial if you want your saddle to last. Storing a saddle improperly puts additional strain on the tree and can shorten its lifespan. Always use a saddle rack to keep your saddle off the ground and in the right position. If you have to put it on the ground, lean English saddles up against the wall with the pommel on the ground and the cantle touching the wall. Western saddles do not need a wall to lean against as the horn can balance the saddle.
Be picky about the type of saddle rack you use as well. Metal racks with no padding will start to deform wool-flocked saddles over time. The best saddle rack is actually the simplest. A piece of wood that fits within the gullet of your saddle won’t deform the flocking and keeps your saddle off the ground.
Using a saddle cover is an easy way to keep dirt and dust off of your saddle. If you have barn cats or mice, you’ll appreciate not having to buff scratches out of your saddle seat. A saddle cover is typically made of fleece or other soft material. Other covers have a fleece lining with a nylon outer shell for added waterproofing. Check out a basic cover like this Henri De Rivel Jumping Saddle Cover or go for something a little flashier like the Tough-1 Nylon Saddle Cover in Prints for Western saddles.
Are your stirrup bars up or down? Is the tree of your saddle making any weird crackling or popping noises? Would you know if it was?
Understanding how to check your saddle for safety concerns and doing it regularly can mean the difference between a great ride and an absolute disaster.
There are two different schools of thought relating to the stirrup bars. If your stirrup bars are down, there is a small chance that the stirrup leather could slide off mid-ride. However, if you get into a riding accident and your foot gets stuck in the stirrup while the stirrup bars are up, you could be dragged by the horse as the leather will not slide off.
It’s a better idea to take the small chance that the leather could slide off the bar in the middle of your ride, then it is to take the chance you could be dragged by your horse. Make sure you leave your stirrup bars down after every time you take your leathers on and off.
It’s also a good idea to test the tree of your saddle on a regular basis, particularly if you have had a rotational fall, or your horse has rolled on your saddle. To test the tree of your saddle, take it off your horse and hold it so the pommel of the saddle is resting on your thigh and the cantle is pointing away from you. Put one hand in the middle of the seat and use the other hand to gently pull the cantle towards you. An intact tree will not bend. A broken tree will make a cracking noise and will give into pressure.
You should also check the billets of your saddle before every ride. There are two areas you should check carefully: the stitching where the billets connect into the saddle and the billets themselves. Many billets are two pieces of leather either glued or stitched together. If you notice the layers of your billets are coming apart, use a different billet until it is repaired and get it repaired as soon as possible. If you notice that the stitching where the billets attach into the saddle are coming apart, do not ride in the saddle until it is repaired.
Learn more about how to take care of your saddlehere.
Girths are almost an afterthought when it comes to your horse tack. Most equestrians will spend the most time and money on their bridle and saddle and save the girth for last. In reality, girths are an important piece of safety equipment that need to be taken care of just as well as your saddle and bridle.
When was the last time you cleaned your girth or cinch? This crucial piece of tack comes in many different materials, which all require different care.
Many english girths are made out of leather. Leather girths are subject to the same care requirements as your bridle or saddle. They must be kept well-conditioned so that the leather stays soft and doesn’t cause rubs. A good rule of thumb for leather girths is to clean it at the same time as you clean your bridle or saddle.
You can even use the same leather cleaner and conditioner that you would use for your bridle or saddle. Follow the same process, but be sure all products are well-absorbed before using your girth. A girth makes close contact with your horse in an area that’s known to be prone to irritation, as the skin of the underbelly is relatively thin. Use products that will not cause skin irritation for most horses, such as a high-quality glycerine soap and a conditioner that won’t leave behind a sticky residue.
Here’s what we recommend using on your leather girths:
If you have a synthetic girth, caring for it is especially easy. Synthetic girths can either be made of neoprene or other synthetic materials. Some are designed to look like leather, while others will have a cloth-like appearance. Even certain memory foam girths, like the Lettia Memory Foam Clik Dressage Girth, are machine washable.
For example, the Henri de Rivel EquiCool Fleece Girth can be thrown directly into the washing machine. To protect your machine from the stainless steel roller buckles, you can put a long tube sock over either end of the girth, or simply wash it with a large towel. Do not put it in the dryer, as this could shrink the elastic and warp the girth. Use only unscented, gentle laundry detergent to avoid irritating your horse’s skin and damaging the girth. Before washing, brush out the fleece underside with a stiff grooming brush to remove dirt, hay, and shavings.
Before cleaning and conditioning your girths, always read the manufacturer instructions to avoid damaging your tack.
When you’re done with your ride, do you throw your girth on top of your saddle and walk away? Some equestrians will put their sweaty girth directly on top of their saddle or even underneath the saddle cover, next to the saddle. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for mold growth. The saddle cover will darken and insulate the area, while a sweaty girth will add humidity, creating the perfect conditions for mold growth. Plus, saddles are typically much more expensive than girths. A sweaty girth will damage the saddle leather and cause issues with your tack.
Hanging your girth from a hook could cause one side to stretch out more than the other and shorten the lifespan of your tack. Folding a girth into a tack trunk can cause it to warp over time.
So, how are you supposed to store your girth?
Look for a saddle cover with girth slots, like the Lettia Saddle Cover with Girth Slots. This type of saddle cover prevents the girth from falling off the saddle, while the cover protects the saddle from any sweat or dirt from the girth. Plus, the round shape of the saddle will help your girth maintain its shape and prevent any stretching of the billets.
When was the last time you carefully looked at your girth's billets? Would you know if they had started to stretch or crack? A girth that breaks mid-ride will cause your saddle to slide and you to fall off. Even if you manage to stay on, the broken girth will dangle between your horse’s legs and potentially cause a disastrous accident. You should check your girth for any wear and tear before riding.
When you’re putting on the girth, take an extra second to check the billets and the entirety of the length of the girth. Look for signs that your billets are coming apart, such as torn stitching or splits in the leather. If you have a fleece girth, check the underside carefully. Debris such as hay, shavings, and sand can get stuck into the fleece and cause irritation during your ride.
If you make it a habit to check your girth carefully before every ride, you won’t have any nasty surprises while you’re on your horse.
Polo wraps are one of the most useful pieces of equipment an equestrian can have. They can support your horse’s tendons, while also protecting from bangs and rubs. But, they can also be a bit tricky to clean and store.
It’s important to clean your polo wraps on a regular basis. Dirty polo wraps can hold onto debris, like hay or shavings. These can be prickly and irritate your horse’s skin.
Cleaning your polo wraps is as easy as throwing them into the washing machine. But when you take them out, you may find that they’ve turned into a tangled knot. There are a few steps you can take to avoid wasting time detangling polo wraps.
First, make sure that the velcro is rolled back onto itself prior to washing. This will prevent the velcro from sticking to the fabric of the polo wraps. Next, you can wash each individual polo wrap in a mesh bag. These bags are typically designed for undergarments or socks, but work perfectly for polo wraps. Washing each wrap in its own bag prevents them from tangling within each other.
Once they’re washed, hang them to dry instead of putting them in the dryer. While some wraps can be thrown in the dryer, it depends on the fabric they’re made out of; some wraps may shrink.
The best storage for polo wraps will keep them clean and protected from debris or water. After every time you ride in polo wraps, take the time to roll them up before putting them away. Putting them away without rolling them up will cause them to tangle and could cause the velcro to get stuck to the polo fabric, possibly damaging the wraps.
Some equestrians will roll them by laying the wrap out over their horse’s back. This ensures that they won’t drag on the dirty aisle floor, plus the horse’s coat provides just enough friction for optimal tension. If your horse isn’t a fan of this method, you can always drape them over your saddle or let them rest on a clean aisle floor while you roll.
After they’re neatly rolled, polo wraps should be stored in a clean tack trunk or similar to protect them from dirt and pests.
Do you put boots on your horse before you ride? There are many different types of horse boots, from tendon boots to dressage boots to sports medicine boots. Taking good care of your boots increases their longevity and ensures they’ll protect your horse’s legs.
There are many different ways to clean your horse boots, depending on the material that they’re made out of. If your boots are made out of leather, you can follow a similar cleaning protocol to how you would clean your saddle or bridle.
Use a high-quality leather soap and a bucket of warm water. If they’re extremely muddy or dirty, use a horse brush to get the majority of the dirt off. Then, start with a damp tack sponge and a small amount of leather soap and go over the boots in a circular motion. While the boot is still damp, rinse your tack sponge and go over the boot again with the clean damp sponge. If your leather boots have a lambskin or synthetic fur lining, you can gently brush out any dirt or debris with a clean stiff brush.
To condition your horse boots, take a clean soft cloth, such as a microfiber towel, and scoop up a small amount of leather balsam or similar conditioner. Use a small circular motion to go over all the leather material of the boot. Apply thin layers of conditioner, instead of thick ones, in order to avoid oversaturating the leather.
If your horse boots are made from a synthetic material, how to clean them will depend on the manufacturer's instructions. Some boots are best washed by hand with the help of a hose and a good stiff brush. Other boots, like sports medicine boots, are recommended to be washed by hand with a hose with a pressure nozzle and a mild soap, like Woolite.
Never put your horse boots away wet or sweaty. This can cause mold to grow, which can damage the integrity of the boots. Instead, ensure all of your horse boots are clean and dry before storing them.
Keep them in a secure covered area, such as a tack trunk, to avoid getting them dirty or damaged. You can also keep them in wire racks along your tack room wall to keep them off the ground and save space in your tack trunk. If you have to bring your horse boots with you to a horse show or other off property event, try keeping them in a drawstring bag to keep them clean and protected on the road.
It can take a lot of time and effort to take excellent care of your tack, but if it helps keep you and your horse safe and comfortable– it’s worth it! Having the right products on hand can make your life a lot easier.
At Breeches.com, we have all the supplies you need to take care of your tack. From leather soap to saddle covers, you can conveniently shop all of our tack care supplies on Breeches.com.
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