Here in my living room , sit all the trappings for the tack cleaning project that begun over 3 weeks ago. Itwas supposed to have resumed by now. I just have a ridiculous amount of tack that it's a huge project and I get distracted. I managed to get my two english bridles cleaned, sufficiently oiled and neatly tucked away in a new bridle bag. That was the important part. They were dry. Taking apart english bridles for cleaning and oiling is tedious so I wanted to get that done first.
The Duett is also done but it still remains sitting here in the middle of the floor,( not completely out of the way, on purpose as a self reminder), with stirrups and fleece stirrup leather covers unattached. Its still sitting here because I really don't want it to go back to the tack shed until I have a cover for it . Otherwise, all that work will be for nothing. Only, I can't find the cover. It was just a cheapy vinyl one but it was something. I have looked endlessly until I got tired of looking and now I am thinking I am just going to purchase one of those enclosed saddle bag thingy's that are padded, fancy and have a strap for carrying. The only problem is that they are a little more than I want to spend on a bag that holds a saddle. I am trying to find a used one.
My saddle cleaning process could probably be described as ritualistic. It's a process and I guess it's all those years of Pony club and ratings and shows where everything had to be perfect that created my madness with cleaning tack. I don't enjoy it but if I am going to bother doing it ,even once a year, I may as well do it right.
So, since I am in the middle of this maybe sharing my process might help motiviate me to finish and and see if anyone has any other tricks they want to share.
This process is geared toward the English show tack because in the world of showing, it has to look perfect. (even though my bridles will likely never see another show) Its just too ingrained for me to do it any other way and all my western tack gets the same ridiculous attention.
My process begins with undoing every buckle so all the components are separated:
You end up with alot of miscellaneous parts. If you haven't ever taken one apart and put it back together again, take photos and label it.Believe me, you will be glad you did. Good or bad, it's been burned into my brain through years of repetition and I can probably do it blindfolded, thank you Pony Club!
1. Wipe everything down with a damp cloth to get the dust and most of the grime off.Inspect all the stiching and buckles and arrange repairs if needed.
*BTW- you will need alot of rags.
2. Get a clean rag or sponge with saddle soap and wipe down again. For the really grimy parts, you might need to get a toothbrush out. (* It recommended not to use a loved ones toothbrush and then try to clean it up as best you can to hide the evidence that you used it for something you should not have) Overall, don't get carried away with scrubbing or suds. Good leather doesn't tolerate it and good leather is expensive. If you have cheap leather, scrub away because you probably don't much care.
3. Wipe soap with yet another clean rag and cool water- don't get water too warm, it dries the leather out.
4. Wipe all the moisture off the parts with a clean dry rag.
5. Start singing some kind of tune that makes you happy because right now is where my ADHD starts to kick in. This is really boring stuff so I prefer to make up lyrics that are based on my dogs because the dogs are usually entertained by my singing... as would you be... in a bad way:) and that makes me laugh.
6. Now that your leather is clean, it's time to recondition it. I use Lexol conditioner and/or Horseman's One step. Sometimes I use both , one first and then the other.It just depends on how the leather feels to me or how lazy I feel.
Horseman's one step leaves kind of weird residue unless you really buff but it's quick if your in a ahurry. There are lots of leather conditioners on the market and most English saddle makers carry their own unique brand. I don't get too hung up on this and stick to what I have found works best for a reasonable price.
7.Once you complete that, I buff the leather, as I said, to get any residue from the conditioner off as it tends to leave a film . If left without buffing, this film seems to keep the leather from absorbing the oil in the next step. I just use another dry rag to buff it.
Did I mention the number of rags you might need?
8. Sometimes I mix the Lexol compound (see step 7) with the Pure Neatsfoot oil in one oily emulsion and rub it in together, thereby reducing my steps. This time around I did it separately because the condition of the leather was really dry. I apply the Neatsfoot and rub it in really well with my bare hands, as opposed to just sponging it on and rubbing it off. The warmth from your hands helps the leather absorb the oil better and you get the added benefit of moisturizing your hands, which if your like me in the winter, your skin might begin to have leather like qualities this time of year anyways. It's a win win.
** alot of people say Neatsfoot oil rots stitching. I have never had this issue so I can't speak to it. Maybe it's because I don't soak the leather in the oil? Maybe there is a good alternative out there, not sure.
9. I then lay the pieces out on a towel and let them set and absorb the oil for about an hour. So, I suggest you go grab a beer, tea , coffe, or whatever your poison is. You can't rush this part. You may have to add another round of oil as well if the leather is really dry. I will often make another step after the Neatsfoot oil and rub in a layer of Skidmore's leather cream. I am slightly obsessive about how the leather feels. I really like Skidmores but it will darken light leather.
10.Once the oil is soaked in, buff the leather again with a cloth until the oil residue is off.
***This next step I think is what makes or breaks the whole process just described. At this point the leather is clean and should be well oiled. How often have you experienced oiling tack only to find it gets layered in dirt that has stuck to it because its tacky from the oil?? Well, the trick is to seal that oil in.
11. Moisten your bar of saddle soap slightly with water and rub a little on either a sponge , rag or your bare fingers. I prefer my fingers . Rub a layer of soap all over the leather but make sure there are NO SUDS.. SUDS ARE BAD. You simply want a layer of thin saddle soap all over the leather, like a wax sealant or a final clear coat if you will.
The hubby's Courbette sits awaiting cleaning as well , as soon as I move mine. I suppose I should move mine so he feels more compelled to clean his? I actually have two more saddles to clean, which isn't helping my motivation to get it done at all. I have my Specialized which won't require much more than running over it with a damp cloth and since it's not leather per se, I am not as concerned with it. I also have my western which requires several hours because it's bigger, fancier with alot of brass and tooling. If I am going to bother cleaning that thing, I am going to polish the brass too and it takes FOREVER but it looks so sharp when I do...again, obsessive.. a bit. Both of those saddles are sitting in the garage on another saddle rack, slightly in my way and waiting for me to become tired of walking around them, which hasn't quite happened yet. Now that I have this finger injury, I can't really get the hand wet so I guess those saddles will just have to keep on waiting.. Good thing it's mostly still crummy weather and riding is minimal.
Happy Tack Cleaning! Your horse will thank you!