After months of looking and saving you’ve finally invested in a beautiful new high-quality saddle, bridle, halter or another piece of equipment. You can’t wait to use it and break it in because you know you’re going to love it and it’s going to look amazing on your horse.
You know new leather can be stiff as a board but you know you have your trusty friend oil to help you speed up the process…
Hold on just a minute!!!
Before you oil up your new goodies. Let’s take a minute to review the best ways to break in new leather. Did you know that often new leather, especially imported leather goods come with a light coating of preservative on them?
Sometimes you can see a light film or white marks on new leather, this light preservative or wax is used to protect the leather during shipping and storage.
Leather being an organic material is subject to the elements such as weather and temperature change. This will play a large role in how much effort will be needed to properly condition your tack for the first time. Attempting to condition your tack in a cold climate can be frustrating and difficult. For this task, it is helpful to be in a room or area where it is at least 70 degrees for your efforts to be the most effective. A warmer ambient temperature lets the leather soak in oil and conditioners more easily.
Now that we are in the right environment, the first thing you want to do is grab a sponge, some warm water and glycerin saddle soap. Wet the sponge and give it a squeeze so it is just damp not sopping wet. Give the sponge a few passes over the bar of soap until you see a light lather and then move it over your tack in small circles. Make sure to get under the skirt, flaps, billet guard and billets. Wipe clean with a soft cloth. This process removes any preservative or wax coating used on your equipment.
Now that you’ve cleaned it you’re ready to oil it. Oiling leather is something that in most situations should only be done once in the lifetime of the piece. Regular maintenance by cleaning with quality conditioning saddle soap after each use should be all that is necessary. My personal favorite brand of products for this purpose are from Effol’s Effax line of leather care. I start with the Effax LederSoft, and massage it into the leather. You can easily see when more is needed by flexing the leather. A gentle flex of the leather will show the leather absorbing the oil. With lighter tanned leathers you will see the leather begin to soften and darken as it takes on the oil.
We are often asked, “When do I know I’ve oiled it enough?”. As a general rule of thumb, if you gently flex the leather and it is slow to absorb or change color, the process is nearly completed.
Another question we frequently hear is “Can you ‘dip’ my tack?” We do offer a complimentary dipping service for new high-quality leather strap goods once you are sure the item fits your horse. Once dipped, the item is non-refundable, so make sure it fits first (we can help with that if you are confused, plus we also wrote an awesome blog post about it: How To Measure For An English Saddle)! We take apart the pieces, dip them and hang until no longer dripping. For the best results we still recommend that you massage the oil into your tack after you get it home for the best results.
Once your tack has been oiled let it rest for 24 hours in a warm area so the oil can deeply penetrate the pores of the leather. After it has rested wipe with a soft dry cloth to gather up any excess that may not have absorbed and you’re ready to go.
The best way to maintain leather throughout its lifetime is to store it in a cool dry location and cleaning it after each use with a good quality conditioning saddle soap, like the Effax Leder Combi or the Effax Leder Creme. Both simultaneously clean and condition. Overexposure to rain, sweat, extreme heat and sun can dry out your equipment. This is easily remedied by promptly wiping down with saddle soap and then following with deep conditioning Effax Leder Balsam. The conditioning components in the Leder Balsam will penetrate the leather and restore it to its original luster.
A common problem with well conditioned tack is that it will mold in humid climates. You will notice dried out cracked leather is not as prone to mold as your well used and conditioned leather goods. A quick tack room hack to keep your tack from molding in humid climates. Run a fan in your tack room to keep the air circulating instead of stagnating. Always hang wet saddle pads/boots and equipment outside of your tack room until dry. I keep a fan running in my tack room when it is humid and also use Damp Rid when it is particularly humid to help keep my tack from molding.
It is important to note that we deal with English riding tack & equipment. This blog post is not intended for Western tack, which can require special care not described in this article. Additionally lesser quality leather equipment can be made up of leather and non-leather components. As such, it is important to consult the manufacturer details before oiling or conditioning your tack, if you’re not sure, ask us!
Also, if you have any burning tack/riding/horse questions that you’d like us to answer comment below and we may answer it in another one of our blog posts. We are here to help serve riders like you!