Caring for your tack is a duty you cannot escape. Cleaning and conditioning your equipment is just as important as any other duty related to horses. Because horses like to roll in the dirt, and as they sweat, the salt from their bodies and dirt are going to be absorbed by the leather. Neglecting leather will eventually cause it to rot and break. When cared for properly, leather equipment can last for years and years, especially if it is of high quality. The sight of a well groomed horse wearing impeccably clean tack is a beautiful thing to behold. But there is a price to pay. Not only is leather equipment expensive, the products necessary to keep your leather in top condition can also add onto the cost.
Even though there are other alternatives to leather, in my opinion, they cannot compare. Just walking into the barn and smelling the leather takes me back to that familiar comfort zone. First, if you are going to use leather halters on your horses, you may want to invest in triple stitch leather halters. They hold up much longer, usually are heavier in weight and look very attractive and classy on your horse’s head. Try to avoid too thin or light weighted halters and ones that are adjustable on the under side down by the chin. Other horses may start to pull on these adjustable straps, breaking them and making the halter very tight around the horse’s face. If this were to occur and you do not notice it, it could stop your horse from eating or drinking. The price of leather equipment usually will tell the tale. If it is inexpensive, you will get what you pay for and it will probably not last very long. Be prepared to spend more money compared to nylon products. Keep in mind that this is an investment, taking care of it will give you many long years of service. When picking out a bridle, and it is a personal preference, it seems that the lighter colored or natural colored bridles are the best. These are usually void of dyes that can either come off onto your horse’s face or onto your hands as you hold the reigns. The leather should not be too shiny, feel good and be very supple in your hands. Pick up several bridles and feel their weight in your hands and see how soft they feel. If you hold enough of them, then you will have something to compare to and you can decide and go with your instincts. Remember, this is a piece of equipment that with the right care, is going to be with you and your horse for a long time. There is another reason that you want to keep your leather equipment well conditioned, and that is, you do not want to be riding your horse and have a reign break or the bridle fall off of your horse’s head. Things such as this are more likely to happen when your horse decides to be playful or if he or she is having a bad day and starts misbehaving. If this happens and a reign breaks you will lose control of your horse.
Your biggest leather investment will be your saddle and prices can go through the roof. My suggestion is to consider the cost to the actual amount of time you will be spending in a particular saddle. It does not make much sense to spend thousands of dollars on a saddle that is hardly going to be used. Make sure that you have a proper fit of saddle to horse and rider to saddle. English saddles are much easier to break in. You may even consider a saddle that is used that has been well oiled and was taken care of. This way you do not have to take the time to break in a new saddle. Even leather saddles of high quality will need time to form to your body and be more comfortable. The more expensive the saddle is, the more soft and supple the leather will be because of the type of hide used and the curing process used. If you are spending many thousands of dollars on a saddle, you may want to check with the manufacturer for their recommendations on the leather conditioning product that they prefer in order to get the longest life expectancy from the leather.
If you are going to clean your tack, you will need a bucket of water and a small tack sponge. You will first need to squeeze as much water as possible out of the sponge. Hang your bridle on a tack hook hanging from the ceiling in the barn. Using your barely damp sponge, stroke the leather while pulling down away from the hook. The idea is to take off as much dirt and sweat from the leather without putting too much water into the leather. As you know, leather will absorb whatever you put on it. A small amount of water for cleaning is ok, too much is not good. Allow the leather time to dry, and use a leather conditioner of your choice. I always liked a glycerine bar. It conditions the leather very lightly but you will have to use some elbow grease as you will need to rub it into the leather. Do the same with your halters but be careful with the piece that goes over the crown of the horse which is behind the ears. Some horses are sensitive to certain products and may start loosing their hair behind their ears. There is a barage of leather conditioning products on the market. If you have a new Western saddle, you may want to use a conditioning oil to start as these saddles have a tendency to be stiff before they are broken in. There is nothing wrong with using several different conditioning products as they all have something different to bring to the table. Look for products that leave your leather looking clean not sticky or gummy. Whether it be American, English, or German leathers just to mention a few, all have very good leather products to offer, being smart in our choices may bring us many, many years of a wonderful products that not only serves us well but can become sentimental and endearing.