November 2018 - The Pony Club Purist on Tack Care
Written by by Leslie Nelson
Thursday, 01 November 2018 04:36
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Everyday attention preserves function, beauty and prevents breakage.

by Leslie Nelson

Cleaning your tack after every ride should be a part of horsemanship duties everyday. Horse sweat contains salt and dirt that needs to be removed. Dirty tack has the potential to create sores, fungus and skin rashes.

Also, tack is expensive and it will last a lifetime if properly cared for. I clean my bridle, saddle, stirrup leathers, girth, boots and leather halter daily. Tack leather is porous and will become dry and brittle if not cleaned, so cleaning it is just another part of caring for your horse.


I use plain old glycerin saddle soap, a sponge and rags and a small bucket of warm water. There are so many products to make it easier to clean tack, but the one thing that gives me the richest result, when it comes to clean, shiny and pretty, is that bar of glycerin soap. I work more with the rag than the sponge because a rag really cleans better.

nov2018 tackclean1Wherever metal and leather meet and bear weight, accumulated dirt increases the risk of breakage — often at the worst possible time!

I use cheap rags from Target: Little washrags that sell for $4.99 for 12. I launder them in hot water with a little white vinegar and double rinse them to make sure to get all the soap out.

I don’t use conditioners. This is more of a preference for how my tack feels than anything else. I don’t like my tack to feel sticky or gummy: I like a nice, clean feel. The only time I use a conditioner is if my tack has been rained on. With my routine, my tack stays soft and supple without conditioner, but it’s fine to use oil or a conditioning product if you want to.

The Bridle

First, wipe down entire bridle with a warm, damp rag: the warm water helps lift the dirt off. Clean every part: the reins, the headstall, etc. Then I use the sponge with glycerin and go over every part.

Last, I use a very damp rag to get the soap residue off. It’s important that soap is not standing on the bridle where it comes into contact with the horse’s skin. Horses often have sensitivities to soap and it could cause a rash or worse.

I do this level of cleaning after every ride. Once a week, I take the bridle apart and clean every piece of leather separately.

Cleaning the bit every day is essential because saliva and debris harden very quickly. If it sits overnight, it can cause mouth sores. During the weekly deep clean of the bridle, I let the bit soak in water and use a scrub brush on it.

nov2018 tackclean2The finished result.

The Saddle

Clean the saddle with a warm, damp rag. Then use the sponge with glycerin in a circular motion. I pay special attention to parts of the saddle that get extra wear: Underneath, it’s the billets where the girth is attached. It’s really important to get the black, metallic gunk that forms where the girth buckle and billet attach. If left untended, that will wear through the leather and the billets will break. I’ve seen it happen! And it’s the same on stirrup leathers, with extra wear where the stirrup hangs. I’ve seen stirrup leathers break, too.

The girth needs to be cleaned with equal care, including wiping off any residual soap. Dirt, sweat and leftover soap can all cause sores and girth galls and, believe me, you don’t want to be fighting that.


I clean my boots every day. People sometimes don’t realize that the inside of the boot touches the horse, so it needs to be cleaned every day. And, by the way, polish is a no-no on the inside of boot, where it touches the horse. Who wants boot polish on their horse??

Leather Halter

Same drill. Don’t forget it!

I enjoy cleaning my tack. It’s part of my horsemanship ritual. As I’m doing it, I hear my horse eating and I know I am doing him a service of having nice clean tack for the morning.

Daily cleaning of all my tack takes 30-45 minutes, and the once-weekly session when I take everything apart is about 90 minutes. If you can’t clean all of your tack every day, at least clean the girth and bit. That is the most important.

Leslie Nelson, a 70-year-old active jumper rider from Northern California, was profiled in our June issue. You can find it online at