As that great horsey joke goes… ‘one of my biggest fears is my husband selling all my tack for what I told him it cost me’! Unfortunately, like all the good things in life, quality tack is not cheap. However, it is an investment and, if properly cared for, good leatherwork will give you many, many years of excellent performance.
With thanks to Carr & Day & Martin – the leather care experts – over the next few blog posts we will be giving you some insights into the best way to care for your tack, to ensure it stays in the best possible shape.
WHY CARE FOR YOUR TACK?
We’ll start off with a simple look at why it’s important to care for your tack.
Due to its unique and resilient properties the majority of riding equipment is made of leather. Leather is defined as “hide or skin with its original fibrous structure more or less intact, that has been tanned to increase its durability”. Making leather is a highly skilled and lengthy process which can take up to two weeks to complete – and that’s even before it starts its journey to be made into a piece of tack!
Once a piece of tack is made and it starts to be used, microscopic cracks and splits occur in the leather. This is perfectly normal and totally unavoidable, but these cracks provide an entry site for water, dirt, grime, grease and salt from sweat, which work their way into the leather.
This weakens and damages the collagen and protein fibres in the leather and, if left untreated, can cause irreparable cracks and splits. This together with heat, can cause drying, cracking and hardening. However with regular care and maintenance, all this can be avoided.
If leather is properly maintained it can remain functional, supple and in good condition for many, many years and (importantly) retain its value.
The type of finish used dictates how the saddle or bridle should be cared for. For example, aniline leather is easily stained and so you should be aware that conditioners containing dyes or oils may permanently darken the appearance of the leather. On the other hand, pigmented items tend not to be as absorbent to conditioners, particularly when new, so use a conditioner sparingly but often.
As a general rule when cleaning, conditioning and oiling, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
How to care for New Leather
Whether it’s a new bridle, a new saddle, a girth or even a leather headcollar – your tack is an investment, so it’s important to look after it from day one. New leather items often feel stiff and will usually benefit from light oiling before use.
As a general guide, a thin layer of Neatsfoot Compound should be applied to the grain and two thin layers to the underside or flesh. Repeat the process whenever the leather feels dry or stiff.
Take care to oil stirrup leathers only very lightly as supple leathers will stretch much more easily.
Some leather items will come pre-oiled and ready to use, while others will have a protective layer which is easily removed by cleaning and then treating as above.
Once it has been in use for a short period of time, new leather will soften and ‘give’, so check the fit of your tack regularly as minor fitting adjustments may be required.
It is always important to first check the type of leather used on your saddle or bridle and how the leather has been finished before starting any type of treatment and good equipment should come with care instructions to help you understand how best to care for it.
Next time – how to care for your tack on a daily basis.