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Leather Care

Posted by Caribu Team on January 17, 2019

With the right care, your leather horse reins, saddles and saddlebags will almost outlast you! I think all of us are guilty of treating our tack to a quick fix, with one-step products that make leather look good initially, but may not be beneficial in the long term.

Some Leather Care products may be found Here.

Cleaning Tack

Leather accumulates dirt & sweat whenever it contacts the horse's coat and skin. A wipe over with a damp cloth to remove dirt and sweat after every ride, and periodic (every 5-6 rides) application of a suitable cleaner or a conditioning cream to the wiped tack is all leather equipment normally needs as regular maintenance.

Keeping the surface clean helps preserve leather's body as the leather can breathe when its pores aren't blocked. The surface also can house the spores of mould and mildew, which can cause the leather to decay.

Leather was traditionally cleaned with saddle soap, however, in recent times chemists and manufacturers note that glycerin saddle soap isn't necessarily the best choice. Glycerin is a solvent and generally has an alkaline PH. Leather thrives on a pH that is neutral to acidic. A high pH (7 or above) affects leather's composition. Saddle soaps can darken leather and remove tanning agents as well as leave a sticky residue. As an alternative, try cleaning your tack with a pH-balanced product, such as a cleanser with a neutral pH.

Apply the cleanser to a dampened sponge or cloth, work up a lather, and scrub the leather's surface. Clean both the grain and flesh sides of straps and both sides of other leather parts like saddle flaps and fenders. Let dry at room temperature. Never force-dry wet leather of any kind - this includes gloves, boots, or jackets.

Conditioning Leather

Leather dries out when exposed to excessive heat or water. Water dries leather by melting the fat that seeps from its fibres. Don't wait till your leather feels hard and inflexible--condition it regularly

Tack should be taken apart and conditioned thoroughly at least at the beginning of each season. This is an important part of safety maintenance, allowing you to check carefully for the following:

  • Stitch Rot: This can happen when you’re not looking, stitching can look sound - but take a closer look.
  • Cracked Leather: This is leather that is weakened and showing stress; an accident waiting to happen. Check your stirrup leathers, including the holes, billet straps, reins, and girths.

Conditioning products are typically are oil-based treatments, of either animal fat or vegetable oil origin and come in liquid, cream, spray, or gel form.

Leather Oils

Oil products nourish the leather and keep it soft and pliable. Oil use to be the product of choice on a new or damaged tack. Most modern tack undergoes different tanning and preparation, making conditioning creams or ointments preferable. Nowadays, oil is most useful on tack that is extremely dried out, or subject to abuse (such as leather turn-out halters or horse boots) for restoring old saddles and bridle work, and occasionally on new saddles.

Remove the dirt using a suitable cleaner, and once the leather has dried (out of the sun or a direct heat source), apply the oil generously, especially to the rough underside of the leather, using a cloth, small sponge or a 1 paint brush. Gently roll and bend the leather, working the oil in with your hands, paying particular attention to where the leather bends around hardware or where buckles go.

Once the oil has soaked in, it is ready for use. Knee rolls shouldn't be oiled because the oil breaks down the glue and foam underneath. Be careful that when you apply oil to rubber reins it is only to the leather ends, as the oil will ruin the glue under the rubber. Oil can make the leather stretch, so avoid over oiling reins, billet straps, stirrup leathers and flash noseband straps. A little bit of oil can go a long way, so use sparingly - you can always add more.


Conditioner creams or balsams usually contain lanolin, beeswax, and so on, and may be used on a fairly regular basis. Conditioners are simply rubbed into clean, dry leather using your fingers or a soft cloth.

The majority of new leather tack nowadays will do better with a conditioning cream rather than oil to break it in. Cream or ointment conditioners are less likely to strip the colour of the leather, add a little 'tackiness' to the leather, (giving the rider better grip), and are cleaner to apply. They may be applied everywhere on the saddle or bridle, but pay particular attention to the 'rough', or underside, of all leather - on bridles, the rough is against the horse's head; on saddles, the underside of the outer saddle flap, underneath the stirrup bar flap, and the inside of the sweat flaps (the sweat flap is closest to the horse - the rough is the side not touching the horse).

A conditioner should also be applied, as a rule, a few times a year; before storing tack; and after tack has been dried out, i.e., after being rained on. Never strip tack. Ammonia, harsh detergents, bleach and wax strippers will ruin the leather. Murphy's Oil Soap and Baby Oil are not recommended by saddle manufacturers. Most saddle makers today supply recommendations when selling their products. Following their instructions will give you the most satisfaction.

Good quality, well cared for leather should last for years. The recipe is easy - Keep it clean, feed it well, and enjoy!