Friday, March 28, 2014

Bridles Part 5: Care

Mmmm nice clean tack
Now that we've covered some of the bridle basics, let's talk about how we take care of bridles. I can't claim to be the ultimate guru on this, because I change my methods frequently, but here are some things I've tried.

First off, let's look at cleaners. It's the first step in the process--removing all things "horse" from the leather so it doesn't get disgusting and either cause rubs or crack. It's also a good time to get up close and personal with any and all buckles, hook studs, stitching, and joints, just to make sure all is well. I prefer to leave my bridle assembled and do a quick wipedown, then fully take it apart before shows to make sure I've gotten every last speck and checked every stitch.


Not kidding. The barn I grew up at would dilute bleach in warm water and then scrub tack with it. I suppose it worked well enough, but I don't like bleach on my skin, so I really didn't care for putting it on leather. Plus, if you're using a cheap container to hold it, the bleach just melts through. There's also a good chance it would take the dye off cheap leather and god only knows what it would do to nice stuff. It smells offensive and I haven't gone back to it. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're desperate.

sexy leather shot
Glycerin Soap Bar
This is one I hear about all the time, especially from more old school folks. Glycerin is cheap and readily available at any tack store, even if they only carry western stuff. It doesn't smell bad and it lasts a really, really long time. It really isn't that great at removing dirt and it serves to seal the leather... this is great if you are putting a polish on clean leather that you want to take out in the rain or something, but it really isn't your best bet for cleaning power.

Horseman's One Step
Just say no. Is that still a thing? This product purports to clean and condition, but all it ever does is gunk up the leather on top of the dirt. I'm not sure why it's considered useful, but they obviously still make this stuff, so someone must like it.

Belvoir Tack Cleaner Spray, Leather Therapy Wash, Fieblings Saddle Soap, Effax Soap
These products are readily available in my part of the world. They join the long list of commercial "soaps" that really don't do anything as far as I can tell. Quite frankly, soaps like this are why for a couple of years, I'd just do a once over of my tack with water and then use conditioner. I don't use soap just to use soap--I use soap to oh, you know, remove grime or something. Kind of like when I shower, right?

So good I almost want to eat it
Higher Standards Soap
LOVE. That is all.
No, that isn't all. This soap is/was taking the online horsey community by storm and I got some through the awesome blogger secret Santa program. LOVE. It smells amazing (the soap, not the program) and it's the first saddle soap I've used that I am really impressed with. It takes up dirt with a minimum of rubbing on my part, it smells incredible, and it doesn't leave a gunky residue. What's not to love?
Just buy it now.


Once the leather is clean, the next step is to put some conditioner on it. This process varies on where you live. I'm in a high mountain desert, so I never worry about moisture/mold, but hot dry air is murder on leather too. I prefer to clean/condition 3-4x a week (if I have time), but no less than once a week. I would say I'm on the high end for neurotic leather care, but I enjoy the process and well maintained leather makes my soul happy. Here are some common conditioners available on the market:

Neatsfoot Oil
Again, all the oldies talk about it and it's available pretty much everywhere. It's not expensive and it's inoffensive smelling. It gets a bad rap for rotting stitching, but given that modern tack is made (in general) with nylon thread, the rotting is no longer a problem.

That said, the stretching is. At least, the other side of it's reputation is that it makes leather stretch. I used neatsfoot for a while when I got back into horses because it's cheap and I was trying new things, and yeah, stretching. It's real. Used in moderation, neatsfoot is perfectly fine and it is GREAT for rehydrating sad old leather or starting to break something new in, but I would NOT put it in the regular rotation for tack care.

Olive Oil
Olive oil gets less of a bad rap than neatsfoot and it's supposed to be good for darkening leather. My two cents on that: just buy the color you want in the first place. ;-) At any rate, olive oil can help darken or condition tack and can be used in much the same way as neatsfoot with all the same benefits and drawbacks. I guess if you're in to that kind of thing, go for it. I prefer to cook with it.

Also good
Higher Standards Balm
Given my rave review of the soap, you'd expect me to be all over this. I only sort of am. The balm is lovely, mostly unscented, and easy to use. It doesn't leave much residue and is my go-to daily conditioner.

However. It's really not a deep conditioner. Between my dry environment and my personal preference for leather with a little bit of creamy protection, I prefer to keep something else around. Some people like their leather a little drier--if that's you, this is your dream conditioner.

Effax Ledersbalsm, Passier Ledersbalsm
I rank these two about the same. I've had both. I like both. They last a long time and they do an excellent job whether you're just using a little bit to soften up leather or you're really rubbing it in to leather you're about to store for a while.

They both give my husband severe headaches. I don't know what it is about them, but if you're sensitive to smell, you may want to steer clear.

mmm nice clean leather

Akene Leather Conditioner
This was my trainer's favorite stuff at the show barn and I could definitely see why. It does a lovely job on conditioning without feeling like you're rubbing Vaseline into your hands. It's also kind of pricey and doesn't have a wide distribution. Honestly, I've never bothered to purchase it because I didn't feel like it was so mind-blowingly amazing that it was worth it. Also I like to try new things.

Oakwood Leather Conditioner
This product is the recommended conditioner for Nunn Finer products. It's what I have currently and I really like it for deep conditioning. It also doesn't give hubs a headache, which is a big plus. It's not the be all and end all, but it certainly does the job.


Wrap Up

There are a lot of products available on the market and I'm sure everyone has their own opinion on them. At the end of the day, as long as you're making an effort with your tack, you can't go too far wrong. First and foremost, make sure the stitching and and hardware are safe, then make sure the worst of the grime is off, then put something on it to keep the leather from dry rotting or molding, depending on your climate.

I realize not everyone has a near-spiritual experience while wiping down leather, but no one wants to have tack break while they're riding. ;-)


  1. Mmm tack cleaners, I have a bucket full of items and still want more. All the soaps! Granted at this point I just want all the higher standards flavors!

  2. I still like Murphy's oil soap for cleaning. Growing up in Florida that's all we ever used and it helped with the hot/humid conditions. I use a variety of things to condition though. We have a whole box full at the barn!

  3. I'm with redheadlins and really want to try the HS products, however just tried to order and they don't seem to ship to Europe #SadTimes :(

  4. Haha I'm going to have to disagree with the Horseman's One Step! I find it cleans, conditions, and makes my tack sparkle. However I've recently switched over to Albion Soap & Balm since becoming an Albion tack fan. Love the stuff!

  5. Lol, how do your posts always coincide with my equestrian life?! I was just ogling HS products, thinking new bridle may need yummy smelling cleaner, especially since I'm out of current stuff.

  6. This post prompted me to finally fork over the $20 for some Higher Standards since I need new soap anyway. I'm a pretty severe Ledersbalm fan and like a deep condition, so I passed on the balm.

  7. I sort of love Horseman's One Step, it's great for when I want to do a quick clean/condition

  8. Am I the only person who doesn't clean my tack religiously? In all honestly, I might clean my tack every couple of months. My saddle (purchased new) is 20 years old and is still in great shape, so I'm obviously doing something right. I know I could stand to do it a little more often, but I think leather that is cleaned every day gets sticky and gross.

    1. Nope, you're not. :)

      I should be better, but time is a challenge!

  9. I love the horsemans one step, So I guess I am the one that keeps them in business, lol. But I don't use it to clean the leather. I have only found that warm water and a little bit of amonia works to clean the leather and then I use one step after the leather is clean. It comes out great. I will have to try the Higher Standers Soap... Interesting...

  10. Good topic! I was kind of "ehhh" on conditioners until I got the Prestige balm with my saddle... and it's AMAZING. After one use it made my not-so-nice schooling bridle butter soft.

  11. Glad to see I'm not the only Horseman's One Stepper! I do agree- I don't think it's great when you're really trying to get tack CLEAN but on a daily basis it's a quick, simple combo that works. Plus- I like to use it on my saddle since it's non-darkening. When I'm doing an overhaul I use glycerin soap (free at the barn) and Effax straight up oil. Have been meaning to try Higher Standards!!

  12. I used to live and die by the Passier Lederbalsm, but something has changed (or my it's just my tub?) and it seems to leave more of a residue than my older stuff ever did... The CWD conditioner is my current fav, although I hate their cleaner.

  13. I literally licked the HS Leather Care Starla's Sugar & Spice, it smelled so good. Didn't taste bad, either--kinda zingy.
    I disagree about the balm. It's FABulous!
    And this is coming from a girl who was a die-hard Effax can for well over a decade, and has just about the whole product line (currently gathering dust in my trunk!).

  14. I know the driving folks on various forums swear by harness honey. Any experience with it? I am a leather snob too!

    1. Sadly, i know literally nothing about drivibg and its accoutrements. Sounds like its worth trying. :-)

  15. I love cleaning tack, I love sparkling leather, and I love Higher Standards soap. I'm still trying to find a conditioner I love as much as I love that stuff, but right now I'm using Effax Lederbalm. I wanna try Tracy's Prestige balm.

  16. I come to spread the gospel of Kirk's castille soap! Cleans really well and leaves the leather as nice as any of the fancy soaps I've ever tried at a fraction of the price.

    1. I need to try that. Hm... samples?

    2. Hmm, I don't know anywhere to get samples, but you can buy a bar for very few bucks. I will admit that I use a good-smelling soap when I'm cleaning not-very-dirty tack, just because I like things that smell nice. But Kirk's is my go-to for a deep clean. Hit me up at hwbowen AT gmail and I will pick up a bar for you next time I buy more?


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