There are three basic products that help to maintain leather tack in good order. These are saddle soap, cream conditioner and oil.
I recommend Oakwood products because every saddler and leather worker I’ve asked, say they are the best. I’ve also used them personally and am very happy with the results.
The following leather care instructions are by Rick Allen – the Mobile Saddler
Regular Maintenance for Leather
The three main enemies of leather are Water, Heat and Neglect.
Water, particularly if it is hot, melts and removes natural fats and waxes. Whilst heat dries it out. Neglect will cause a deterioration of leather and stitching which can lead to breakage under strain and a constant risk to the safety of the rider.
There is no set time period for cleaning a saddle, bridle or any other leather tack. It is simply a matter of learning to recognise the visual signs when treatment is needed by the feel of the leather, the conditions under which it has been used and how often.
There are, however, a number of do’s and don’ts that must be understood if leather tack is to be maintained in a sound and safe condition. These are:
• Avoid excessive oiling, particularly saddles. Too frequent oiling opens up the pores in the leather to the extent that the leather becomes dull, lifeless and unattractive in appearance. Over oiling girth points can cause serious stretching, weakness and breakage. An over oiled saddle may become uncomfortable because of stretching and excess oil will spoil the rider’s clothes.
• Never use mineral oils on leather.
• When a saddle or other leather tack has been cleaned, never force dry it in front of the radiator or another heat source. Force drying will make the leather fibres hard and brittle. Restoration to its original condition is almost impossible.
• Do not leave it out in the sun for prolonged periods.
• Regularly check all saddle stitching particularly where girth straps are attached to the saddle, buckles, point pockets and any other stitching that holds the saddle together. Examine the stirrup bars for movement caused by stretching.
• Never oil chrome leather girth points and avoid excessive oiling of vegetable tanned leather.
Other Saddlery & Tack
All other tack should be cleaned thoroughly with saddle soap first.
Bridles: As discussed earlier, take them apart and either cream the grain, oil the flesh or use wax on both instead.
Reins: Lightly oil flesh side, and cream or wax the grain. Be aware they may become slippery when wet. Cotton or rubber gripped reins may be washed.
Surcingles: Cream the grain side, oil the flesh or use wax on both instead.
Girths (Leather): Cream or wax. Don’t oil them as they may stretch.
Girths (Synthetic): Wash by hand or place in a tied pillowcase in the washing machine. Be sure to lightly oil the buckles after they have dried.
Halters/Nosebands: Use cream and oil. Be aware of chrome padding on nosebands – use cream or wax only on chrome leather.
Stirrup leathers: Cream or wax. Oil may cause stretching (I usually only oil when new or really stiff).
Breastplates,/Martingales: Cream or wax; oil if really stiff. Be aware of padding, which is usually chrome – don’t oil!
Leather Saddlebags: Cream or wax only.
Saddlecloths: Wash by hand, lay on a flat surface, scrub using mild detergent, hose off and hang over a rail to dry. Do not put in the washing machine or tumble dryer, as this will disturb the stuffing and may cause it to bunch.
Rope Halters and Lead Ropes: These can be placed inside a pillowcase and put in the washing machine. Be sure to lightly oil the fittings after they have dried.
If you’d like to learn more about caring for tack and saddlery, Rick has a book on Saddlery Care & Maintenance you can download for under $9.