When the season winds down for trail riding, shows, or other events, caring for your tack and storing it properly can extend its life and ensure that it is ready for next season. As a horse owner or rider, tack is probably one of your largest investments. Often it is representative of years of special purchases, prizes, and treasured collections. When you take proper care of your tack, you can prolong its appearance and useful life. However, it can also help prevent injuries that could result from tack that doesn’t fit properly or is broken. Prepare for off season with these tack care tips.
Do a complete safety check. Horse slobber, dirt, and sweat, can cause leather to weaken so you need to thoroughly check all tack at the end of the season (and it doesn’t hurt to do it periodically throughout the year). This is especially true if you do any type of endurance, performance, day long trail rides or overnight riding where horse, rider, and tack get a thorough workout. Check stress points such as reins, stirrups, cinches, and girths as well as areas where the leather meets metal such as where the reins connect to the bit. Also, check where the leather fastens to metal fasteners or buckles. Any areas that show wear, are rotten or cracked, or have weak or broken stitching should be repaired or replaced. In some cases, such as with a crack in the saddle tree, you may need to replace the tack altogether.
Check for fit. Throughout the year a horse can undergo physical changes, such as with age or fitness level, that may affect how their tack fits. It is a good idea to check fit throughout the year, but do a thorough check when you are preparing your tack for storage during the off season. Improperly fitting tack can cause injury to the horse and it can be a safety issue for both horse and rider.
Clean and condition prior to storage. Most riders don’t have the time to thoroughly and properly clean their tack after each use, but it should be done before it is stored. Follow these tips for cleaning your tack:
· Use a soap that is glycerin based or a saddle soap that is at least 50% fat.
· Use as little water as possible. Dampness or water is damaging to leather.
· Clean your tack:
o Wet a cleaning rag or sponge. Wring it out so that there is no excess water.
o Rub the soap with the moist rag but don’t create a lather.
o Apply the soap, working it into the leather. Make sure to get all areas, especially those that are particularly dirty.
o Gently scrape the leather to remove any “jockeys” (the small globules of dirt and grease that sometimes form on tack) using a knife.
o Place the tack in a shaded, ventilated area to dry naturally. Placing it in the sun or using heat will cause the leather to break and crack because it draws the oil from the leather, leaving it unprotected.
o Apply conditioner once the leather is dry. Choose one that is most, if not all, animal fat. A lanolin base product works well. Applying petroleum based products can cause damage to the leather and cause the stitching to weaken.
Disassemble the Tack. Remove stirrup leathers, reins, girths, and other leather strappings before storage and lay them flat if possible. Saddles should not be placed on the ground or floor, especially with the tree side down. Instead, store them on a saddle rack or similar structure. This will help the saddle retain its shape and keep stress off of the tree.
Cover. Once the tack has been conditioned, cover it in a cool, dry place. A fabric cover is ideal because it allows the leather to breathe. Avoid areas that are very hot, such as attics or outbuildings that are in direct sunlight. You should also avoid damp areas such as basements and crawlspaces. You also want to make sure that the area where you store your tack is free from rodents and insects. Rats, mice, squirrels, beetles, and other animals and insects will chew on leather, causing serious damage.
Storage. Some riders will store their tack in sealed containers or crates. This can help protect your tack, but it can also retain moisture, allowing mold to grow. If you have a closet or tack room, that is a more ideal area for tack storage. However, a plastic, covered crate can work well if you add a few holes for ventilation and keep it indoors.
Eliminate moisture. If you absolutely must keep your tack in a sealed, unventilated crate, take steps to eliminate moisture. Tossing in a couple of packets of Damp Rid® can help combat moisture. Additionally, make sure that your tack is completely dry prior to placing it in storage. Even slightly damp tack can develop mold. If mold is a problem, you can use an ammonia and water solution to kill the spores but most riders don’t like to use something so strong on their leather. There are products on the market that are specifically for leather and claim to prevent mold, so that could be a preferable option.
If you ride all year round, you probably won’t store your tack. However, it is still a good idea to routinely conduct safety and fit checks. You should also periodically clean and condition it thoroughly. This will help extend the life of your leather and keep your tack in good, safe working order for much longer.