My friends tack always looks much cleaner than mine, is there a ‘best process’ I should go through when cleaning my saddle and bridle?
The Society of Master Saddlers answers.
As we all know, investing in good quality tack is likely to be one of the most expensive and important purchases you make for you and your horse. Once you have the right saddle, bridle and other tack accessories it is then over to you to ensure they remain in good condition and last for years.
Your saddle and bridle should be checked each time you tack up and a more in depth look taken when cleaning. In general leather should be supple and free from cracks. If allowed to dry out, leather becomes brittle and weak, making it prone to splitting. Pay particular attention to straps which are subjected to a lot of stress e.g. girth straps and stirrup leathers. Make sure stitching is secure, metalwork e.g. buckles are not damaged and that holes have not become enlarged. If the tack is in poor condition it can injure you and your horse or cause a serious accident.
Checks to tack should be thorough; this will involve turning your saddle upside down to check underneath it and lifting up all flaps. To check a bridle properly it will need to be taken apart as buckles often hide cracks in the leather.
Steps to maintain leather must be taken to ensure it stays supple and safe. Ideally tack should be cleaned every time it has been used, but this is not always possible. At the very least bits should be washed in clean water and dried with a clean cloth after they have been used. Also if tack gets wet and muddy it should not be left or it is likely to become brittle or may stretch. Remove mud and dirt with a warm damp cloth and allow it to dry at room temperature, and then apply a leather conditioner.
It is advisable therefore to thoroughly clean your saddle and bridle at least once a week. The aim of thorough cleaning is to remove all dirt and grease and then to feed and condition the leather. There are numerous products available on the market for conditioning leather. Always read manufacturer’s instructions carefully to make sure the product is suitable for your particular type of leather. Whether you use a sponge, brush or cloth to clean and apply product make sure it is not too abrasive so that the leather isn’t scratched.
To clean metalwork you can use a metal polish, this will leave buckles and stirrups etc looking brighter and clean. Never use polishes on bits though as they may be harmful to your horse. Even if you think you have washed a polish off it is likely a residue is left behind which you cannot see.
Your horse changes shape regularly. The frequency of these changes will relate to his age, training, management and so on. Try to develop an eye to recognise these changes. Viewed on a daily basis, the changes may seem inconsequential but over a period of just a week or so they can be surprisingly substantial. Have your saddle checked regularly and always use a Qualified Saddle Fitter.
If a saddle is good quality and well cared for it should last for years, and if it still fits your horse there is no need to replace it. You might like to replace certain parts though such as the girth straps and stirrup leathers. Stitching may also need re-doing on certain parts of your saddle or bridle after a few years.
To find your local saddler, who can carry out any necessary repairs or your local Qualified Saddle Fitter visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk or contact The Society of Master Saddlers on 01449 711642.