PONY'TUDE Approved & Tack Cleaning 101

My "new" western saddle isn't really all that new. In fact, it very well may be older than I am. It needed some serious TLC when I got it, so I'm going to take the opportunity to share the process I went through to clean it up, as well as my favorite leather cleaning and conditioning products.

There are so many ways to clean leather tack, and so many people have their favorite methods. From "only glycerine soap EVER" to people who prefer all-in-one cleaner/conditioner creams, to people who swear by water and Castile soap, at some point you're bound to be told that you're cleaning your tack The Wrong Way, and someone will only be to glad to show you the Light Of Tack Cleaning.

This is just what works best for me, and what I've found keeps my gear in tip-top shape.

So, let's get started! *claps hands and rubs them together with excitement* I love cleaning tack! First let me show you the really super-sad-looking silver conchos on my poor saddle:

Let's not even talk about that nasty, rusty screw, mmkay?

The first thing I did was attack the silver and metal fittings so that the cleaner I used could be wiped off the leather later. I used a handy-dandy toothbrush and a combination of Bar Keeper's Friend and some cheap jewelery cleaner. BKF is an abrasive cleaner that is THE ABSOLUTE GREATEST CLEANING PRODUCT EVER CREATED. Not even kidding. Go out and buy some. Now. It will change your life. I used it to get rid of the really tough gunk on the metal bits, and then shined everything up with the jewelery cleaner and wiped it all down with a towel.


Next came the leather. Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of "cleaning" leather with glycerine soap, whether it be in bar form or a spray. Glycerine by nature seals the leather, and quite honestly doesn't do a great job of cleaning off the dirt and gunk that accumulate on tack. When tack is cleaned solely with glycerine, you end up with some manky, sticky, soggy leather. And no one wants that.

My hands-down absolute favorite leather cleaner is Belvoir Spray. This product is just brilliant. It cuts through that horrible sticky noseband gunk (you know what I'm talking about) like none other, and really cuts down on the scrubbing. Leather Therapy Wash is a good second, but just isn't quite as good as the Belvoir. I like to spray the cleaner directly on a small tack sponge and then go to town scrubbing away all dirt and grime, wiping off excess cleaner and dirt with a towel as I go. If your tack is seriously gross, you can finish by wiping everything down with a damp sponge and then toweling off, just to remove that last bit of residue. A good tack cleaner should leave the leather feeling smooth and clean, NOT STICKY! If your tack feels sticky after you clean it, you're using the wrong stuff.

After your tack is clean, you may need to condition it. Conditioning is important to keep the leather hydrated (it's skin, remember) and prevent dry-rotting and cracking. My poor saddle was really thirsty; the leather felt dry and stiff. While your leather tack should never ever feel sticky, it should be pliable and supple. You shouldn't feel like it's about to crack if you bend it. I haven't found a conditioner that I absolutely love, but I've been using the Belvoir Spray conditioner for a while, and I find it does a pretty good job. With a separate, conditioner-only sponge (I use 2 different colors to keep them separate) rub the conditioner of your choice into the leather, wait till the leather "drinks" it up and absorbs it, and apply again if it still seems dry. I did about 2 coats to my saddle last night, and this morning there was still a bit of a "film" of conditioner on the top, so I'll probably quit there.

It IS possible to over-condition your tack! Over-conditioning makes tack weak, soggy, floppy, sticky, and gross, and can also compromise the strength of the stitching, making over-conditioned tack a safety risk. So please, don't condition your tack every time you clean it! Once a month or whenever it feels "thirsty" is more than enough.

If you follow this simple process: cleaning, then occasional conditioning, you will have some lovely, happy tack that will last a lifetime!


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