Cleaning Tips                                       

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Tack Cleaning 101

Above one of the famous riding halls in Germany , there is a plaque which translates roughly, “One learns to ride by riding.”  The grooms working below in the vast brick courtyard grumble: “One learns to ride by sweeping. . . .”  As that is indeed what they spend most of the day doing.
   If you ride, you clean tack, but let’s not plan to spend most of the day doing it. Tack cleaning can be quick, enjoyable and organized, or it can be messy, confusing and guilt inducing—the latter by not doing it or not having a good system.
What are we trying to do here?
Basically when cleaning your tack you are checking your equipment for the next ride, cleaning the dirt and sweat off it without removing too much of the oil that keeps it supple and lively, and replenishing any oil lost.  Then you put it away in the easiest possible manner to use next time.

The set up.
Have a tack cleaning hook hung near a source of water.  The water can be a bucket, a sink, or even a thermos. Make it as close as possible to your grooming area and the eventual place you store your tack..  On that tack cleaning hook hang two small absorbent towels--one for your bit and  one for your hands—more on that later  If you’ve got them, you can hang your “Woolies” there as well.

The moment you take your bridle off the horse and tie him or her up, take your bridle to the water and rinse the bit.  Don’t worry too much about getting the base of the leather reins or cheek pieces wet.  You have a towel right there and you are going to dry them off.  Wipe away any green grunge that has accumulated, quickly dry the leather, and leave the bridle there for now and go attend to your horse.

You should also have a towel in your grooming kit.  If your girth or leg gear for the horse are muddy or sweaty wipe them of now, before a crust forms.  This thirty seconds saves time and a lot of effort.

Every now and then you will want to completely take apart your bridle and clean the metal residue from the buckles and bit connections.  But on a daily basis, with the right soaps, oils and cleaning tools you don’t have to do more than wipe it down. The trouble people often have is that they don’t separate the tasks involved and get either dry or sticky and gooey tack.,  First you clean, and then you condition as needed.

Tools.saddle stubben
Your tools are saddle soap. The clear glycerin type in bars is my favorite. Beware of additives in your bar, which might be a nice idea at first, but in my experience makes a sticky mess after a while, leaving an unfortunate residue, which you will have to wash off in a bucket. For cleaning, I don’t use anything you can’t see through, they leave a=2 0residue you can’t see through either, and I stay away from anything with silicone.  If you have a “Loaded Wooly” it will have pure German glycerin soap incorporated into it.

Then you have oil and grease.  I have a favorite kind of oil, which you can see elsewhere in the site, but a non-petroleum based oil is a must.  Olive oil is better than most commercial saddle oil.  It does not go rancid or rot stitching, and is readily available.  The German beeswax grease is nice for some applications.  

If you don’t read German, what they are saying on the beeswax product label is that its use is as a water proofing agent.  It is not a cleaner.  But it is great for billets, and any leather that gets wet—for instance girths and the areas around your bits.  It contains mostly emulsified fats and beeswax.  Good stuff, and a jar, though pricey, will take you a long way.

Then you will need  a towel or two and some natural sponges or a wool cleaner, which you can see on this site as well. (Synthetic sponges really do not work very well—though they are included in almost every saddle cleaning product.  Go figure.)

So, saddle soap is meant to be used as a cleaner with some, not a lot, of water.  It is supposed to melt away the salt and sweat, but  once melted, you have to  actually remove the grime.  You do this  by rinsing the sponge—otherwise you just get layers of soap and dirt.  Not nice.

But, rewetting often leads to too much water and too much suds.  A wool cleaner is the best tool for this, as you don’t have to rinse if very often. The wool fibers pick up an astonishing amount of grunge without being actually abrasive.  And they hold a lot of it without giving it back to the leather--you don’t have to rinse so often

too wet a woolyRe rinsing and wetting and suds.
This is not complicated. If you get too much suds, squeeze the applicator in a dry towel till it quiets down, and keep going (See photos)

Natural oil is an ending touch, for light application after cleaning.  Oil can (and in my opinion should be)  used more generously in the beginning stages of breaking in tack.  More on that below.

Cleaning, how to start?
Add a small amount of water to your applicator of choice,  Rub it in the soap.  If you are using a “Loaded Wooly,”  you don’t have to do this, just wet the wool.

You should see some slight foam, and it should feel slippery, but if your applicator gets too foamy (see photos) you have used too much water. The easiest solution is to squeeze the applicator in the terry rag, Rinsing can be done if you just want to start again, but it’s more work and wastes the soap.  
Loaded applicator in hand, start at the top of the bridle and work your way down with stripping motions on either side of the leather, quickly checking the stitching in the cheeks and reins.  You will probably need to rinse your applicator once before you are done with the reins, and then again after the reins are complete.  

In the end, with a clean applicator (the same damp one is fine) smooth a few drops of oil over your tack to condition and bring up the luster.  If you use the proper oil you don’t have to rinse the applicator after, leave it on for next time. It gets better with use..  hand wooly in action

Finally, if you have not taken your bridle apart this time, from your squeeze bottle or sprayer, drip a tiny bit of oil into the leather loops that make contact with the bit—move the metal to spread it slightly.  Be sparing, it does not take much. This is almost impossible to do from a bottle or can. It gets everywhere. A bottle with tip works better.





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