Cleaning Leather Horse Tack – Keeping It Soft, Safe and Gleaming

Cleaning leather tack


Although synthetic saddles and bridles are becoming increasingly popular, a large number of people still prefer leather. It’ s traditional, looks good, is long lasting and natural. But it does require some love and attention in order to stay that way. Cleaning leather horse tack regularly is one of the best things you can do in order to maintain it in good condition.

Cleaning your tack also provides a good opportunity to check the buckles and stitching. Identifying issues needing repair in time might save you further expense, not to mention the possibility of a nasty and painful experience!

Saddle Preparation

The first thing to is to “undress” the saddle – remove the girth, stirrup leathers and any other fittings. Drop the stirrup irons in a bucket of water to soak while you clean the rest. Then place the saddle over a saddle rack or fence.

If the saddle is particularly dirty, rub it down with a soft cloth to remove the dust. If the is any mold or mildew on the leather you may need to use more water to wash it off. Don’t be tempted to use chemicals such as vinegar to remove mold as this can damage the leather.

Soaping the Saddle

Use a damp sponge and a leather cleaner of your choice. I prefer a natural based leather cleaner but here are many effective products available.

Rub the saddle down using the sponge and leather cleaner. Large circular swipes help to loosen baked on grime. Don’t apply too much pressure or you risk scratching the saddle. Rather just take your time going over the dirty areas a number of times. Rinse the sponge frequently and re-lather as required.

There will be areas of the saddle that you can’t get to. Just do the best you can!

One word of caution in selecting your leather cleaner. Many people use glycerin based soaps, which do help to keep the leather soft. However glycerin can cause excess moisture retention which promotes mold and mildew.

Once the saddle has been cleaned, rub it down with a dry, clean cloth to remove the excess saddle soap and any remaining dirt.

Use a Leather Conditioner

Cleaning the leather is only one step in the process. Once the saddle has been cleaned, apply a good quality leather conditioner. One option is to use Neatsfoot Oil, but you may prefer a cream type conditioner. The conditioner will soak into the leather, keeping it soft, waterproof and pliable.

Now repeat the above to clean your stirrup leathers.

Metal Fittings and Stirrup Irons

Clean the stirrup irons and any metal fittings and buckles with soap and water.

“Dress” the Saddle

Once clean and conditioner has been applied, re-assemble your saddle with all its bits and pieces such as stirrup leathers and girth.

Cleaning Your Leather Bridle

Clean Horse Bridle

The process of cleaning a leather bridle is very similar to the above. However, before taking the bridle apart you might want to photograph it or make some notes on the buckle settings. This will help when the time comes to put it all back together again. Indentations in the leather can provide a clue as to previous buckle settings but these aren’t always available.

Having made note of the buckle settings,  strip the bridle into all its component parts.

Soak the bit in a bucket of warm water. This will help to loosen any hardened saliva around the edges.

Take each leather strap in turn and wipe clean of dust and mold. Pay particular attention to the areas which feed into the buckles.

Then use a damp sponge and small quantity of leather cleaner and clean each part. When finished, rub off the excess with a dry cloth and apply leather conditioner.

Remove excess cleaner or conditioner stuck in the holes in the leather by using a toothpick (or the tongue of the corresponding buckle)

Next, clean the bit with a sponge, or even use a toothbrush if necessary. Don’t use soap – your horse will not appreciate it!

Reassemble the bridle in the same configuration as before, and hang up under cover.


Cleaning leather tack is neither expensive nor difficult. It’s a vital part of protecting and maintaining your leather investment! It does take some time but can be quite a therapeutic activity. It’s also very rewarding to see your bridle gleaming and your saddle is silky smooth.

Take your time, do it well, do it regularly, and your beautiful leather will serve you faithfully for many years.


Do you have any tack cleaning tales to share? Questions, tips or recommendations? Let us know by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.



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