We heard through the grapevine that you had questions about cleaning your horse tack. Here we will talk about how to care for different kinds of horse tack, which tack-cleaning products to use, and how to clean tack properly. But before we get into the specifics: what is technically considered horse tack?

By definition, horse tack is anything that your horse wears. Saddles, halters, bits, boots, martingales, and hackamores are all examples of ‘tack’. Horse tack can be made from many materials, including leather, metal, and synthetic materials like nylon or synthetic leather. Each material has pros and cons, but horse tack can perform better and last longer when properly cared for. Read on to learn more about how to care for your tack.

Table of Contents

Cleaning Leather Horse Tack

How to Clean Leather Horse Tack (Saddles, Bridles, Martingales, Etc.)

Leather is a natural, porous material that can hold moisture or get dry and cracked. It’s important to clean it regularly to prolong the life of your leather tack and prevent any accidents from occurring due to dry, cracked pieces.

Here are the 5 simple steps on how to clean your leather horse tack:

  1. Take your tack apart
  2. Dirt will hide under buckles and in the folds of your tack, normally where your tack is under the most stress. Taking your tack completely apart will help you get to those areas for a thorough clean. This means removing the leathers, irons, and other accessories for saddles. For bridles, this means unbuckling each piece.

  3. Wipe your tack with a damp sponge
  4. Remove all the dirt, sweat, hair, and grime from your tack using a slightly damp rag or sponge. Make sure to clean under any folds, crevices, and hard-to-reach areas. The 12-pack of Hydra Fine Pore Tack Sponges is the perfect set.

  5. Apply saddle soap or leather cleaner
  6. With a damp sponge or rag, apply a thin layer of saddle soap or cleaner using circular motions. Scrub stubborn areas of the tack with extra soap and soft toothbrushes. Use toothpicks to clean under the stitching of your saddle, and use the Q-Tips to get into the tight crevices of your tack. During this step, pay extra attention to high-stress areas.

  7. Wipe the soap or cleaner off
  8. Wipe all the soap or cleaner off the tack using a damp sponge or rag. Try not to soak your tack in water. Use the smallest amount of water possible to remove all the saddle soap effectively

  9. Allow tack to dry
  10. When finished, let your tack fully dry before storing it away. This should take no longer than an hour. Make sure you store your tack in a dry and safe environment. Many people use saddle covers and bridle bags to keep their tack clean.

How to Condition Your Leather Horse Tack

After you clean your tack, conditioning your tack is a crucial next step. Conditioning leather tack keeps the leather supple and flexible while also preventing the tack from becoming too dry and cracking.

Here are 3 steps to properly condition your leather horse tack:

  1. Make sure your tack is clean
  2. Before conditioning, double-check that there is no dirt leftover from cleaning. Applying conditioner over dirt can trap it and make it harder to remove when cleaning it.

  3. Apply leather conditioner
  4. Once you are certain there is no leftover dirt, use a dry rag or sponge to apply a leather conditioner to your tack sparingly. Cover every leather area of the tack with a thin layer paying special attention to high-stress areas. You may have to apply multiple layers or oil to restore your leather for extremely dry tack.

  5. Allow tack to dry
  6. After you apply the leather conditioner, allow your tack to dry and store it in a safe and dry environment.

How to Oil Your Leather Horse Tack

Oiling is another important part of caring for leather horse tack. Oil is stronger than conditioner, and tack should not be oiled as frequently as conditioned.

To properly oil your tack, follow these 3 steps:

  1. Check that your tack is clean
  2. Thoroughly check your tack to make sure it is completely clean. If you oil your tack without cleaning it first, dirt can get trapped under a layer of oil and become difficult to remove. The best time to oil tack is right after it has been cleaned.

  3. Apply a thin layer of oil
  4. Apply a thin layer of oil all over the tack using a sponge or rag. Avoid applying too much oil - it should not drip or pool on the leather. If you use too much, it can come off on your clothes when riding and make the leather more prone to overstretching.

  5. Allow tack to dry
  6. After oiling your tack, allow it to dry before using it, and store it in a dry and safe place.

How to Clean Synthetic Horse Tack (Saddle Pads, Girths, Halters, Etc.)

Cleaning synthetic materials, like saddle pads, girths, and halters, usually depends on the material, how often you ride in it, and the conditions you ride in.

Make sure you check with the care instructions for the item from the manufacturer first, but here are 4 general rules for washing synthetic tack:

  1. Remove all dirt, hair, and sweat
  2. The first step to cleaning your synthetic tack is to make sure all the dirt, hair, and sweat is removed. You can do this with a brush or even a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment.

  3. Remove all inserts (if applicable) and fasten any velcro
  4. If you have tack with velcro or shims, ensure the velcro is fastened, and all shims are removed.

  5. Soak and wash using an equine-friendly wash
  6. Check the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions before cleaning. Soak your tack using a tub or sink to loosen any sweat and dirt residue. Use a water temperature appropriate for the material - the manufacturer’s instructions should tell you. You can also use a hose to spray your tack if a tub or sink is unavailable. Use a soap that is equine-friendly. We suggest the Schneiders® Horse Blanket Wash. We recommend using a gentle cycle if you are using a washing machine.

  7. Allow tack to dry
  8. Let your tack dry completely before putting it away. Lie saddle pads on a flat surface to dry in direct sunlight. Hang your girths up to dry.

Cleaning Horse Bit

How to Clean Your Horse’s Bit

Cleaning your horse’s bit is important and should be done after every use. Not only does it help disinfect it, but it also removes any dried grass that could potentially irritate or even cut their mouth.

Here are 3 steps to successfully clean your horse’s bit:

  1. Rinse and disinfect your bit (after every ride)
  2. Your daily bit care is the first step to successful bit cleaning. You should be rinsing off and disinfecting your bits after every ride. You can use water mixed with vinegar or Ultra® Bit Cleaner and Freshener, both have disinfectant properties.

  3. Polish your bit (monthly)
  4. When you polish your bit, you will need a toothbrush to get in the nooks and crannies of the bit. You can use fluoride-free toothpaste or the Ultra® Bit Cleaner and Freshener as a polish.

  5. Soak and make your bit shine
  6. Lastly, you will want to soak your bit in hot water for up to 10 minutes. When the soaking is complete, use a washcloth to dry it. You can briskly rub your bit with a microfiber cloth to give your bit some extra shine.

How to Restore Neglected Horse Tack

If a piece of horse tack has been neglected for a long period of time, it is likely not safe to use. However, neglected tack can often be restored with the proper care.

  1. Cleaning the neglected tack
  2. Neglected tack often has excessive dirt or build-up from sweat, dirt, or dust. Start by brushing as much of the build-up off with a hard brush. Then, go through the normal tack-cleaning process. You may need to scrub harder and use more soap on neglected tack than you normally would.

    Sometimes neglected tack can even have mold or other fungi growing on it from being stored in an area with too much moisture. Luckily mold can be removed easily. Use a wet rag to remove the visible mold from the saddle's surface. The rag should be either bleached or thrown away as it can contain spores. Clean the tack thoroughly using the gentlest antibacterial dish soap you can find.

  3. Oiling and conditioning the neglected tack
  4. Neglected leather tack is also prone to being extremely dry, and cracks in the leather could potentially begin to form. To restore dry tack, use mink oil or leather conditioner and apply over thoroughly clean tack. You may have to let the tack dry and do a few more layers depending on how dry the leather is.

  5. Determining the safety of neglected tack
  6. Even though you can save some neglected tack, you should also know when the safety of your tack has been compromised. Often, you can save most of your tack, but certain pieces might need replacing. If a piece of tack has a large crack in a high-stress area or the

5 Common Mistakes When Cleaning Horse Tack

  1. Using too much water
  2. Especially when learning how to clean a saddle, beginners often use too much water. If you apply too much water to your horse tack, it could dry it out. If your leather tack is soaked and allowed to dry, the water will evaporate along with the oil meant to keep the tack supple and flexible. This is not as big of a problem when you clean and condition your leather tack since you reapply conditioner. It is most important when you are doing your daily tack wipe down. Avoid getting your horse tack wet when you can help it.

  3. Over oiling and conditioning
  4. Over-oiling or over-conditioning can cause the leather to rot or stretch. Leather horse tack should only be conditioned every 2 - 4 weeks, and it should only be oiled 2 - 3 times per year.

  5. Missing hard-to-reach spots
  6. Another beginner mistake when learning how to clean a saddle, bridle or other intricate pieces of tack is missing hard-to-reach areas. Some many small crevices and cracks need to be cleaned when you care for your tack. These spots are often missed but can be very important, especially in high-stress areas.

  7. Storing tack in a moist location
  8. If you store your tack in an area with lots of moisture, it could potentially be at risk for growing mold or other fungi. To prevent this, store tack in a dry area. If you must store your tack in a moist area, store it in a bag inside a dry container.

  9. Neglecting tack
  10. Many people do not clean their tack often enough. Being late to clean your tack occasionally is nothing to worry about. Still, if you never clean your tack, it could risk your and your horse's safety. Dirty tack breaks are easier and more uncomfortable for your horse.

Tack Cleaning Products

Frequently Asked Question About Cleaning Horse Tack

What can I clean my horse tack with?

When cleaning your tack, you will need the following products:

  1. Soap and cleaner
  2. Conditioner
  3. Oil
  4. Bit Cleaner
  5. Metal Polisher
  6. Rags
  7. Sponges

Should you clean your tack after every ride

You should wipe down your tack after every ride to remove any sweat or dirt that may damage your tack. You should fully clean your tack once a week, depending on how often and what you use it for.

How often should you oil tack?

You should oil your tack once or twice a year, depending on how often you ride. Of course, some older tack that hasn’t been maintained might need to be oiled more often.

How often should you condition tack?

Tack that is well maintained and cleaned regularly will normally need to be conditioned once or twice a month, depending on how often and what you use it for.

Can you use vinegar to clean a saddle?

While some say to use vinegar to clean a saddle, we do not recommend it. Vinegar can cause permanent damage to your leather. However, you can use a vinegar water solution to clean your bits.