Once a week, all your nice leather needs to be cleaned with a properly formulated soap and then conditioned with a balsam. I personally like VeruGreen’s spray soap, and of course use Effax’s Leder Balsam to protect and condition my leather. DO NOT use a glycerine soap on your English tack! Those products are formulated for Western tack, which is tanned using a different process and requires different care. The wrong soap will fade the leather, and destroy the stitching holding your tack together.
If you do a good job wiping the sweat and dust off after each ride, then a deep clean will only take a matter of minutes. Cleaning this very dirty girth only takes me ten minutes total! So put on your favorite podcast, playlist, or tv show, and get cleaning!
Wiping down your tack after every ride is essential for the longevity of your saddle, girth, bridle, and all other leather parts! If it is made of leather, sweat and dirt will erode it over time. A quick wipe down also prevents sand from scratching the leather, and in more humid climates an anti-mildew formula can be used.
Effax makes a very nice leder-combi daily cleaner/conditioner for a quick and easy wipe down, and they make a mildew formula in a spray bottle too. But even a damp, clean cloth is fine! The important thing is that you remove the dirt, sweat, and excess moisture before putting away your tack. Plus, it makes your weekly deep-clean and condition a lot easier!
It’s monsoon season here in Colorado, and lately I have gotten caught riding in several tremendous downpours. I hear Copper Penny, the big hunter/jumper show in Estes Park, got drenched last week as well! Fortunately for my clients, their saddles are well coated in laderbalsam from their cleaning routine and can withstand a bit of moisture without damage. My friend and I jumped for about 45 minutes in the pouring rain, wiped off our saddles with a soft rag, and the next day you would never know either saddle got wet and a little muddy!
Laderbalsam is a beeswax and lanolin based leather conditioner and protector that I, and many other professionals, recommend using on a weekly basis. After cleaning your tack thoroughly, you should apply a very thin layer all over. I like to use my fingertips for this. The heat from my hands helps thin the balsam, I can feel how much the leather needs to absorb, and it works well as a lotion! When applied correctly, there is no need to wipe it off. Some people like to use a rag or sponge, but I find it’s too easy to glob on too thick that way. I prefer the Effax brand, and it is what we sell at Singing Cat Saddlery, but there are many great laderbalsams on the market. Look for a natural product that is thick and waxy.
In addition to helping make your leather water-resistant, laderbalsam conditions, prevents and fills minor scuffs and scratches, and makes your saddle a little bit stickier. If you have never ridden in a saddle with a good coating of laderbalsam, the tacky feeling of the seat is typically a nice surprise. I compare the grip level to slightly broken-in full seat breeches.
So next time your horse is mud-colored and it’s threatening to rain, worry not! If you are keeping up with your tack cleaning regimen, your saddle will be just fine! Just watch out for the lightening, and hail!