WHY CARE FOR YOUR TACK?
Once a leather item is in use, microscopic cracks and splits occur in the leather. 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 Corium eventually causing irreparable cracks and splits. This together with heat, can cause drying, cracking and hardening. However with regular care and maintenance, this can be avoided.
If leather is properly maintained it can remain functional, supple and in good condition for 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.
Daily Maintenance - Clean First
Ideally, all saddlery items should be wiped after use to remove the damaging salts found in sweat and grease and be thoroughly cleaned at least every five times it is used.
To ensure thorough cleaning, where appropriate, tack should be taken apart and each piece then cleaned individually.
Just as you would shampoo your own hair first, it is also essential to clean leather before applying a conditioner. This ensures that the surface of the leather is free from grease and dirt and therefore porous to accept a conditioner.
Traditionally, Saddle Soap has been used to clean and condition leather. This should be avoided as it does not effectively remove grease and dirt and could actually seal them in leaving a greasy residue. For muddy leather, carefully remove the mud before cleaning, taking care not to scratch the surface of the leather.
Remember to always use a saddle cloth as this will absorb sweat and grease and protect your saddle. Cleaning leather is a good opportunity to carry out safety checks; look out for wear and tear to billets, buckles, straps and stitching. Any repairs required should be carried out immediately to avoid further damage and unnecessary cost, and of course to ensure your safety.
Daily Maintenance - Then Condition
Once the leather has been thoroughly cleaned and allowed to dry, it may look slightly lighter in colour and parched. It should now be treated with a conditioner to moisturise protect and keep it supple.
Glycerine based soap which will leave a shiny, protective finish on the leather. This coating nourishes as well as filling and sealing pores. This helps by forming a barrier against salt, dirt, grease and water, protecting the integrity of the leather. If using on new leather, take care not to over-apply as this may result in a tacky film forming on the surface.
Belvoir Tack Conditioner is available as spray or the traditional solid bar.
Conditioning Saddle Soap is a soft blended soap with a slightly thicker application. It does not contain the protective properties of glycerine which produces a glossy finish, but gives a highly desirable matt finish ideal for the show ring,
Leather Balsam contains lanolin and beeswax to feed and condition leather. The soft wax formula lightly oils the leather, keeping it supple. It is most effective when used in between the use of replenishing oils and is ideal for new leather and finer items. As with oils, take care not to over apply.
It is always wise to check the compatibility of products on a small area before full use.
Revitalising Dry & Cracked Leather
Leather contains moisturising and lubricating oils which were added in the tanning process. These oils are gradually lost as the leather is used. The once plump and flexible fibres of leather gradually become thinner and more rigid.
Instead of flexing and stretching, the fibres become tight and stiff. In a similar fashion to bending a piece of metal repeatedly, they will eventually weaken and break, causing cracks.
Using an oil such as Neatsfoot Compound will revitalise the fibres in the leather so that they can move freely again, much like oiling an engine.
As a guide, apply one or two thin layers to the absorbent flesh side of the leather. The leather will become strong again, less brittle and less likely to snap.
Treating Mould and Mildew
Mould and mildew thrive in warm, dark, damp conditions. They penetrate deep into the fibre of the leather which can weaken them and cause permanent damage. Be aware that if leather is poorly stored mould and mildew can grow very quickly.
Any such mouldy leather should be immediatley removed from the tack room to prevent the spread of spores to other saddlery items. Wipe away the mould and mildew with a Belvoir Tack Cleaner Wipe taking care to dispose after use to prevent further contamination.
Then clean with Belvoir Tack Cleaner Spray as this has anti-fungal properties to help prevent the regrowth of mould and mildew. Use an old toothbrush to clean stitching and awkward places, and condition as normal. If a saddle has been badly affected by mould and mildew, some staining or mottling may remain. Whilst this cannot be removed, it may with correct care fade over time.
Mould and mildew penetrate leather to its core and so are impossible to remove entirely. However, spores will remain dormant if the correct preventative measures are taken.
Try to keep your tack room dry and light, perhaps using some low level storage heating, or a dehumidifier and wipe your tack everyday after use with Belvoir Tack Cleaner.
It is also important to remove any damp saddle cloths, numnahs and girths, as they should be left to dry away from tack.
To maintain leather integrity, optional storage conditions are essential.
The tack room should be dry and a consistent room temperature with good ventilation is ideal. High temperatures will cause protective oils and moisture to be drawn out of the leather. It is also important to protect leather from direct sunlight and fluorescent light, as this can cause premature ageing and fading.
Tack should ideally be stored off the ground, and saddles should be placed on saddle racks to preserve their shape.
Using a saddle cover protects it from dust, debris and accidental scratches. However, do not use plastic or waterproof covers as they can encourage the ‘moist’ conditions which attract mould. A breathable saddle cover is preferable and cotton is ideal.
If tack is not going to be used for some time, it should be carefully stored to preserve its condition. Leather straps are best stored flat so bridles and leathers should be taken to pieces and stored unbuckled.