Just like you groom your horse after every ride, you should also be cleaning your tack. Whether you’re riding in an indoor arena or you’re outside, you’re bound to get dust and dirt all over yourself. Not to mention the inevitable post-ride slobber if your horse likes to use your shirt as a towel. If that dust and dirt is getting all over you and your skin, you’d definitely want to clean it off. The same goes for your leather tack: it’s animal skin that needs to be cleaned.
If you’re a rider who has mostly ridden in lesson programs, with barn-provided tack, you may not have learned about cleaning bridles and reins. The good news is that it takes about five minutes after your ride and helps your tack last for a long time. Cleaning your tack isn’t just about cleaning either. It’s your time to check and make sure everything is in good working order. You can check your keepers and buckles, as well as the stitching to make sure nothing needs to be fixed before your next ride. So not only is cleaning your reins and bridle good for the equipment, it’s one more way to make sure your next ride is a safe one.
For everyday cleaning of your reins and bridle, you’re going to want a terry cloth rag and hot water. According to saddle fitter Kelsey Nicholls, terry cloth rags are better than sponges because you can really get into crevices that a sponge won’t reach. This helps prevent fungus from growing. Hot water is best because it opens up the pores of the leather, which will make it easier to get the dirt off and out of your tack.
For easiest cleaning, hang your bridle on a tack cleaning hook like this one from SmartPak. Then, start at the top and work your way down. With the crown piece, you really want to focus on where the dirt is. You not only want to wipe down the leather but the stitching as well. Next, move onto the browband, and make sure you wipe down the inside, or flesh side, of the browband. If you have a beaded browband, just use your damp cloth and no cleaning agents unless the maker of the band says otherwise.
Once you’ve finished with the crown piece and browband, work your way down. Make sure you’ll pulling straps out of their keepers to clean dirt out from under the keepers and that you’re cleaning both the outside and the flesh side of the leather. While you’re cleaning, make sure you’re focusing on getting rid of dirt jockeys, which are hard lumps of dirt that create bumps on your leather.
If you’re in heavy work, or if your leather is old, you also want to get in the habit of completely taking your tack apart once a month. With these deep cleans, you’ll want to follow the same steps you do with a normal post-ride clean, except use saddle soap instead of plain water. After your deep clean, if your leather is looking dried out, now is the time to use a leather conditioner.
Taking care of your tack is one of the easiest parts of being an equestrian. Not only that, it helps prolong the life of the investment you’ve made into equipment for your horse. That’s the great thing about tack: if you buy the highest quality piece you can afford and take care of it, it’ll last a long time.