Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

March/April 2007

Great Gaits


by: Barbara Weatherwax

There are two classes of tack cleaning. First, if your tack is simply dusty, then some of the all purpose leather cleaner and polisher will do a sufficient job. If your tack carries a combination of sweat salts and oils and trail dirt and grime, then its time for a thorough cleaning.

Many myths exist in regard to cleaning leather saddles. Some old cowpokes insist that cleaning a saddle ruins the hide. The truth is, a saddle does best when you keep it clean and well oiled. Never clean with harsh detergents or hot water. Natural soaps such as Murphys Oil Soap, liquid glycerin soaps or glycerin bars with lukewarm water are best. Dont soak the leather, but dont be afraid to get it wet. Remember, saddle leather is skin; it is very durable, but do not subject it to harsh scraping or brushing with wire brushes.

Never oil dirty leather. As the oil is drawn into the leather, it sucks the dirt with it. If you can imagine dirt particles as the rough sided sharp edged specks that they are, then you can see how much damage they can do to the structure of the leather. Any use of the leather will cause those dirt particles to simply cut away at the fibers of the leather from the inside out. When you oil clean leather, the oil is drawn into the leather and is able to lubricate and extend its life.

Keeping your fabric tack clean is also important to maintaining its usefulness and extending its life. Dirt particles have the same cutting properties in fabric as they do in leather. Nylon halters and leads, saddle pads, fabric girths and any other nylon items should be machine washed frequently in cool water using a gentle soap. Never use detergent with saddle pads. Detergent has a heat producing agent that is difficult to rinse out. In saddle pads, it could produce undo heat on the horses back.

To wash your saddle, there are supplies to be gathered: 1) Two gallon pail of lukewarm water. 2) One cup of Murphys Oil soap, or liquid glycerin soap or a bar of glycerin soap. 3) A sponge. 4) A soft fingernail brush. 5) Terry rags or a towel. 6) Saddle oil. ie: Liddy oil, or (avoid neetsfoot oil and the rest of the dirty oils). 7) Soft cloth. ie: flannel, or cotton gloves for applying oil. 8) Metal polish. 9) Disposable rubber gloves.

STEP ONE: Find an area where you can set up a stand to place your saddle. If you are inside, you might want to put a plastic drip cloth under your stand. If your saddle is quite dirty, remove the top layer of dust and dirt with a clean dust rag. Then gather the above described cleaning tools and you are ready to begin.

STEP TWO: First strip your saddle: remove the surcingle (Australian), the girth, the leathers or fenders. Stirrups and any bags or accessories. (You can wash any of your leather items using the same process as described for the saddle). Before you begin cleaning the leather you may want to polish the hardware on your saddle. Any good metal polish can be worked into the foot staple and D rings and any other metal on your saddle. After cleaning the metal rinse thoroughly.

STEP THREE: Soak the sponge in the warm water and rinse the entire saddle Take extra care to wet the backside of the flaps (this area directly touches the horse and collects deposits of salt, oils and dirt), Avoid soaking the serge covering or fleece under padding and panels. A) If you are using Murphys Oil Soap, pour a cup of the liquid soap into the warm water. B) If youre using liquid glycerin get your sponge thoroughly wet with the warm water and pour the liquid soap directly onto the sponge as needed throughout the cleaning process. C) If youre using bar soap, get your sponge thoroughly wet with the warm water and work up a lather rubbing the bar into the sponge. Keep adding water and suds throughout the cleaning process.

STEP FOUR: Work the suds into the leather. If the saddle is very dirty, a grey film may appear on the leather. Use plenty of soap and gently scrub the surface with the soft brush. The leather is clean when the film is gone and the pores of the leather can be seen. Sometimes it is easier to clean the saddle in sections. As each section is cleaned, wipe the leather dry with the terry cloth towel or rag.

STEP FIVE: When the entire saddle is clean, rinse the leather by wiping with a damp sponge and towel dry the surface. IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO LET THE LEATHER DRY BEFORE COVERING THE SURFACE WITH SADDLE OIL. If it does dry, the pores close down and the leather will be dry from the inside out. If part of the leather does dry out during the cleaning process, dampen it again with the warm water before applying the oil.

STEP SIX: Oil the leather by wiping a moderate amount of oil over all leather surfaces. Do not wipe it off.

STEP SEVEN: Set the saddle stand where the saddle can dry naturally such as in an open room or outside on a porch. Overnight is usually enough time to accomplish this. When the saddle dries it may have spots that appear drier than others. More oil will remedy this. If too much oil is applied simply buff it away after it has had ample time to thoroughly penetrate the leather. Your saddle may require three oilings before you will see that all the oil has been absorbed and there is a slight residue to wipe away. After the first cleaning and oiling of your saddle, you may substitute beeswax compound for an even softer, more lasting finish.

STEP EIGHT: Between thorough cleanings, it is important to keep your saddle covered and free of dust and dirt. Dust acts like a sponge on the surface of leather actually drawing the oils and life out of the leather. A soft bristled paint brush is helpful in regular quick cleaning. Brush the entire surface of the saddle after each use. Pay special attention to all the folds and crevices.

In your tack room, you can keep a sponge in a covered bucket of Murphy Oil Soap mixed with water. That makes it easy to run the dampened sponge over the entire saddle and then cover the saddle with a cloth between rides. Take the time to quickly run the sponge over your bridle, breast collar and any other leather items. It will extend the life of all you tack by keeping it dust free.

Whatever tack you decide is best for you and your horse should be fitted properly and then it will last longer and give you better service if you keep it as clean as possible. Routine maintenance and timely repairs will help to avoid troubles caused by worn out tack breaking down when youre depending on it.


Please contact me on my email:  with your specific questions or thoughts about the Mountain Horses. And Happy Gaiting!