Saddle Soap or Oil-Which Should You Use on Tack and When?

We all have tack that we love to use. Maybe it’s that pair of reins with just the right feel or that breast collar that fits every horse you ride. According to Dennis Moreland of Dennis Moreland Tack, the side effects of frequent use of our favorite tack are wear and tear on the leather and the buildup of dirt and sweat. It’s easy to overlook caring for your tack, but this can keep it from working like it should. Dried and cracking leather does not give the same signal as good, dense, well cared for leather and it can be a safety hazard. It’s a great idea to routinely clean your tack and check it for wear or damage before every ride.

To properly clean a piece of leather you’ll need saddle soap and a couple of pieces of sheepskin or clean cloth. If your leather is extremely dry, you’ll need to oil it with pure Neatsfoot oil. Some other oils, such as olive oil, will also work. Leather conditioners or any other products that leave a film on the leather aren’t recommended. Rawhide can also be cleaned with saddle soap but should be conditioned with Vaquero (Ray Holes) Rawhide Cream or a substitute after cleaning.

Take bridles and other pieces of tack completely apart if you are able to reassemble them. That makes it easier to examine and clean them. Spray or rub saddle soap liberally onto a piece of sheepskin, cloth or sponge. Rub each piece of leather until any dirt is removed. Examine each piece while cleaning for worn spots or damage including the hardware. If there’s mold on the leather it can be rubbed with a mixture of 1-part mouthwash to 2 parts water prior to rubbing with saddle soap. It usually takes some elbow grease to get the mold off. If you’ve had to remove mold let the leather dry for an hour or two before saddle soaping. Replace any worn or damaged parts. Reassemble your tack and you’re ready to ride!

Like leather, sweat and dirt can build up on rawhide and get absorbed into the fibers. Additionally, rawhide can dry out and feel rougher to the touch than usual. Rawhide is cured but isn’t tanned like leather is. After you use saddle soap on rawhide, you can follow up by rubbing a light coat of Vaquero Rawhide Cream into the rawhide. This helps restore the natural oils that are taken out of the rawhide by use and exposure to air. After using rawhide cream, you’ll need to allow the piece of tack to sit for several hours or even overnight to allow the cream to fully soak in. Although Neatsfoot oil is fine to use on tanned leather when needed, it should not be used on rawhide.

When cleaning saddles, start by wiping down the surface of the saddle with saddle soap. Be sure to lift up any folds or flaps to clean underneath them where dirt gets trapped. If you ride with a flank cinch, make sure to clean both sides of it and its billet since it comes in contact with the horse’s skin. As always, it’s important to check your latigo for elongated holes or any wear on the fold over the D-ring, and wipe both sides down with saddle soap. On your stirrups, unbuckle the hobble strap and check it for wear or mold and wipe it down. Remove your stirrups and clean your saddle fenders, paying close attention to the folds where the stirrups are secured. Although you won’t saddle soap it, remove your cinch and check for any damage or missing strands. Scrub your double off billet with the saddle soap and make sure the holes aren’t elongated and the folds are in good shape. After your saddle has had some time to dry, especially if you use any oil, reassemble your saddle.

If any piece of leather is very dry, wipe the leather down with a clean cloth after saddle soaping and liberally apply Neatsfoot oil with a piece of sheepskin or cloth. Be sure to apply to the edges of the leather and inside any loops. Move keepers and apply oil to the leather under the keeper. Let the oil dry for an hour or two. It can be placed in a warm spot while drying but not in direct sunlight. Buff any excess oil off with a little bit of saddle soap.

Dennis Moreland Tack carries Bentley’s Saddle Soap and Vaquero Rawhide Cream. These are two very good products to use on leather and rawhide and are Dennis’ favorites.  Call 817-312-5305 or email dmtack@vrfmail.com for more information on how you can get the products you’ll need to keep your tack in great shape.

We’re a full line manufacturer of handmade tack and we’re here to help you!