Cleaning tack keeps it looking good and prolongs its useful life. Here are some things to consider.
• Never apply standard cleaners or conditioners to rough out or suede leather, choose commercial suede cleaner instead. Or occasionally renew rough-out western saddles and rough-out saddle seats, as well as the suede padded flaps on English saddles, by lightly sanding them with fine grit (#240) sand paper. Avoid sanding any stitching.
• Caught in a downpour? While your leather gear is still sodden, give it a full-scale cleaning and conditioning. Use lots of conditioner. When your tack dries, it’ll be good as new.
• Spot clean smudges on white leather using a moist cloth dipped in baking powder or a mild household cleanser like Bon Ami.
• Brighten bits and stirrup irons by scrubbing away major grime, then placing them in a knotted pillowcase and running them through 1 cycle in the dishwasher. Use baking soda instead of detergent.
• Save your family’s soft, worn out toothbrushes for cleaning tack. They’re great for getting in to hard-to-reach spots and for cleaning silver plate. Use a toothbrush to crub girth and rein elastic using toothpaste and stirrup treads with dish soap.
• The green gunk you see on brass and nickel silver is oxidation. Use a baby wipe to quickly clean brass and nickel silver hardware after every ride and Brasso for deep cleaning.
• Clean copper bit ports with ketchup. Leave the ketchup on for at least 5 minutes to let it work its magic.
• Some saddlery silver is expensive sterling but most is silver plate (a thin glaze of silver electroplated to copper or another less-expensive metal). Clean both the same, with one caveat: don’t scrub silver plate vigorously and often. It can quickly wear thin.
• Everyday supermarket toothpaste makes a fine, inexpensive silver polish when applied with a moistened soft-bristled toothbrush. Plain baking soda works well, too. Thoroughly rinse cleaned pieces and polish them dry.
• To clean large silver-mounted items such as bits or metal stirrups, or removable saddle, bridle, breast collar, and halter silver, line a pot or baking pan with aluminum foil, and on it, arrange the silver so that no pieces touch. Cover with boiling water and then stir in a small amount of baking soda. The water will foam and fizz. An hour later, remove items one at a time and buff them dry. This process also squeaky-cleans copper and brass bit ports and ornamentation.
• Fittings on most English saddlery, buckles and hardware on better halters and leads, and even quality name plates are usually made of brass or German silver. However, the marriage between these metals, leather, and its cleaners is rarely a happy one. Tarnished brass and German silver fittings ooze a gummy coating of green or black goo that can be removed by scrubbing them with commercial cleaners like Brasso, a mixture of salt and lemon juice, or just plain ketchup. Whichever you chose, use it before you clean the rest of the item. When dry, remove spills from neighboring leather, then buff the fittings with a clean, soft cloth.
• Machine wash most real wool (including felt) saddle pads and blankets using commercial woolen cleaners such as Woolite and the gentlest cold water setting on your washing machine. Immerse the pad or blanket, and then agitate for a minute or so. Switch the machine off and allow the item to soak for as long as needed. You may have to gently hand scrub to loosen stubborn, crusty sweat, or manure stains. When finished, agitate for another minute, then run the item through a single spin cycle. Repeat the process in a washer full of plain, cold water, then lay the pad or blanket flat to dry.
• Before hand or machine washing any saddle blanket or pad, make certain any dyes (especially reds) are colorfast by scrubbing a small, inconspicuous area with plain, cold water.
• Add apple cider vinegar to the rinse cycle when laundering saddle pads, leg wraps, blankets and turnouts, and the like. It helps remove soap residue and removes odors too.
• Hand clean woolen blankets, pads, or the underside of your western saddle by dry-scrubbing with a stiff-bristle brush, then again with a soft brush dipped in a bucket of Woolite-laced cold water. Follow with a clean towel dunked in plain water, then air dry.
• Use a dog slicker brush to gently fluff wooly fleece style saddle pads and the underside of western saddles.
• To keep light-colored leather light, choose only pH-neutral cleaners and conditioners. Apply oils sparingly, if at all, and never use petroleum-based products.
• Avoid using saddle soap on your saddle’s seat and flaps or fenders if you’re wearing light-colored chaps, pants, or breeches because it sometimes rubs off. If you need to use saddle soap, polish your saddle really well using a clean cloth to remove any remaining soap.
• To remove small scratches, moisten a soft cloth with olive oil and rub it into leather using a circular motion until the scratch disappears. Wipe off any remaining oil.
• Drop synthetic headstalls and reins, breast collars, cinches, halters, and other gear into an old pillowcase, knot it shut, and wash it in your washing machine using mild laundry detergent and a cool water setting.
• To prevent your near stirrup leather stretching longer than its mate, switch your leathers right to left and vice versa whenever you clean your English saddle.
• Use a synthetic sponge with a non-abrasive scrubber backing on ground-in sweat and grunge.
• Whenever you clean your gear, check for stress damage like cracks or enlarged holes, especially wherever leather bends or buckles. Examine metal fittings for cracks and bent tongues. Watch for damaged or missing stitching. And check western saddle rigging and English billets and stirrup leathers for stretch and excessive wear.
• Make your own scented glycerin saddle conditioner using this recipe:
1. Break a bar of glycerin soap into chunks and microwave for 30 seconds, then remove and stir; microwave for 30 seconds and stir again, repeating until the soap is melted. A typical bar yields about 2 cups
2. Stir in ¼ cup of milk or cream for each 2 cups of melted soap.
3. Add 4 to 6 drops of your favorite essential oil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
4. Mix everything quickly before the soap re-solidifies and store it in an air-tight container
– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver