Care of tack and other equipment is an essential part of good stable management. Riding with worn or broken tack is dangerous, and ill-fitting horse clothing can result in sores and injuries. The best approach is to examine all tack before and after each ride. If you notice that stitching is coming loose or that buckles are no longer closing securely, take the item to a saddler and have it repaired before the problem gets any worse. Not only will you save money (extensive repairs get expensive), you’ll reduce the chances of having the piece break while you are riding. You can prolong the shine on bits by rinsing and drying them with a soft cloth after every ride.
For proper maintenance of horse tack, you’ll need the following items:
1) A sponge and utility bucket
2) Saddle soap or other leather-cleaning agent
3) Leather oil and a small paintbrush
4) Mild dishwashing liquid
5) A small, stiff brush to remove sweat and hair
6) Two clean terry cloth rags (old washcloths are ideal)
Start by disassembling your tack. Remove the pad, stirrup leathers, irons, and girth from the saddle. Disassemble the bridle: headstall, reins, and bit. Remove the spurs from your boots.
Pour warm water into your bucket and add a capful of mild dishwashing liquid. Allow the bit, irons, and spurs to soak a moment, then rub with a clean terry cloth rag. Rinse thoroughly, especially the bit, and, with your second rag, dry immediately. If you wish, you may apply metal polish to your spurs and irons, but if you buy stainless steel, it shines with just a good rubbing. Never put metal polish on the mouthpiece of your bit. Your horse can pick up chemicals from the polish. When you have finished, lay these items aside.
Next, use the small brush to remove any hair, sweat, or grit from the leather, paying careful attention to the underside of the girth. If you use a breastplate or martingale, it should be brushed and cleaned as well.
Empty your bucket and put in a small amount of fresh water. You won’t need much, as your objective is only to dampen and rinse your sponge. Wipe the leather with a damp (not soggy) sponge. For general cleaning, apply saddle soap (or a good leather cleaner) to your sponge and wipe again. Don’t let the leather get too wet—what you need here is elbow grease, not water. Rub thoroughly and leave all leather pieces in a clean, sheltered place to dry. Do not put your tack out in the sun or next to a heater— the leather will crack. To reduce drying time and protect the leather, wring your sponge well and avoid letting the leather get too wet. When you have finished, let your tack dry for a few hours, overnight if possible. Finally rub gently with a dry cloth and reassemble.
Make sure all buckles are fastened securely and that the bit is not put on the headstall backward (it’s easy to do). Before you ride, check that the bit hangs evenly in the horse’s mouth and that your irons hang evenly on your saddle. Readjust cheekpieces and stirrup leathers, if necessary.
Two or three times a year, apply a good leather oil. Use the stiff brush to remove dirt and hair, then wipe all leather parts with a damp sponge. Warm the oil in a double boiler, then brush it on with the paintbrush. Rub it in with your fingers. Let dry at least overnight; two nights are better. Wipe again with a lightly damp sponge, then apply saddle soap as above. Polish with a dry cloth and reassemble.
Blankets, sheets, coolers, saddle pads, and bandages need to be kept clean and free from rips. Wash horse doming regularly in a mild laundry detergent, and make sure all items are thoroughly dry before storing. Unlike leather, cotton items love the sun and can be safely laid out for airing and drying. Keep all items in good repair.
Tack and horse clothing should be stored in a clean, dry environment with good ventilation. Do not expose tack to excessive heat or moisture, and wash all horse clothing items before packing them away in a trunk or tack box. If you take good care of your equipment, it will serve you well for many, many years.