If you were thinking about some of the very worst things that will wreck your tack, would you automatically think of water? Water is such a sneaky beast and often flies under the radar when it comes to the health of your beloved saddle, boots, and other leather equipment. Although it’s Mother Nature’s ultimate cleaning agent, water can very quickly do some serious damage to your leather goods. This is why we’ve named it one of the 7 worst enemies of your leather.
In this first installment in a series of 7 articles, we will share with you the know-how you need to help your leather tack and boots avoid water damage. As April showers loom on the horizon, we can definitely see some rainy days and soggy tack in your future, so now is the perfect time to dive into this!
Why Water Hurts Your Tack
Although water seems benign, getting your leather wet actually causes the leather’s fibers to swell. You’ve probably noticed this when your boots have gotten wet. When wet they may feel a little plumper and softer. Unfortunately, the fibers become permanently weakened when they swell too much. In addition to weakening the leather, water exposure also ultimately causes your leather to shrink and crack over time since leather’s structure changes and does not dry to its original full shape after being wet.
Also if the leather is stretched while wet, the fibers become weaker still. Ever observe that wet leather seems to be a little more stretchy than usual? You might have used the trick of wetting a new pair of tall boots and then wearing them until they dry, essentially stretching the leather out to conform to your foot and leg. Although this might be a way to break in your boots quickly, the leather becomes damaged and a little weaker than before with this technique.
Ok, so all of this sounds like really bad news. It is inevitable that some loss of strength and water damage to your tack will always happen just through normal day-to-day use. The thing to keep in mind is that the worst damage occurs with repeated significant water exposure.
Yikes, does this mean you need to quit those rides through the waves at the beach or lose sleep over jumping into cross country water obstacles? No way! With a little awareness and care, you can really keep the impact on your saddle and leather goods to a minimum while still riding gleefully through all of the puddles you want!
How to Avoid Water Damage
Like we said before, water is super sneaky, and it interacts with your tack probably more often than you even realize. Did you ever really think twice about dropping your bridle half submerged into a bucket of water in order to soak your bit clean? No judgement here; we’re guilty as charged on occasion, too!
Here are a few easy tips and habits to get into in order to minimize and prevent water damage, helping your leather have a long and happy life.
- Minimize the Water:
o Avoid saturating your leather. Don’t leave it in the rain or wash it down with a hose. Don’t put your leather in the washing machine or dishwasher.
o Use water sparingly when cleaning your tack. For example, use a damp cloth, not a dripping wet cloth.
- Bit Cleaning:
o Need to get your bit clean? Instead of soaking it in a bucket, try washing it off under running water (wash rack, outdoor spigot, tack room sink) using a vegetable or nail brush to scrub off the stuck on green slime. We loop the reins and crown over our shoulder to help the bridle stay clear of the water stream and splashes.
o If a bucket is all you’ve got to work with, only fill it with just enough water to cover the bit. Drape your bridle over the bucket without any slack so that the leather doesn’t fall into the water.
- Boot Care:
o Wet boots? Try newsprint or tissue paper loosely stuffed in the foot to wick away moisture quickly. Electric boot dryers work wonders, too. Follow with leather cleaner and leather conditioner.
- Saddle Protection:
o Cover your saddle with a saddle cover or blanket if you’re out in wet weather. Quarter sheets are amazing for a little saddle protection. If you tend to ride out frequently in the elements, it may be well worth investing in some rain sheets designed for riding and that have slots for your stirrups to come through.
- Cross Country Splashing:
o Are your stirrup leathers or girth wet from splashing through waves, puddles, rivers, or water jumps? Towel off any excess water, and then apply leather cleaner. Give the leather and girth a light coating of leather conditioner to minimize leather shrinkage once the leather has dried.
- Removing Moisture:
o Caught in a soaking storm? No problem; towel off the excess moisture right away so it isn’t absorbed. Let your tack rest uncovered in a well ventilated area in order to breathe and dry gently and gradually before storing. Terry towels and a fan work well for this. Don’t place your tack next to a heater or use a hair dryer – this causes all kinds of other problems (which we will talk about in an upcoming article in our series).
o If you’ve gotten your leather soaked, clean it thoroughly immediately and apply a nice coat of conditioner once your leather has dried. This will help restore balance to the leather fibers and will help diminish rain spots. Additional buffing with a cloth will also help reduce rain spots.
- Lay Flat to Dry:
o If you need to dry your girth, stirrup leathers, martingale, bridle, or any leather you typically hang up to store, lay these items flat to dry. Gravity will work to stretch your wet tack if left hanging while drying, and we know that is not what you want!
o Also, be sure to dry your tack, boots, and equipment in their natural shape and orientation so that they don’t deform.
Do you see a theme with all of this? :) Ensuring the long-term health and happiness of your leather really starts with avoiding water as much as possible in the first place. This is, umm, pretty much impossible to always do, so the next best thing is preventing as much water damage as possible. In a nutshell, if your leather gets wet you should wipe off any excess water, thoroughly clean with a leather cleaner, let dry gradually in a well ventilated space, and then lightly coat with leather conditioner. Viola! We hope there is a rainbow and pot of gold at the end of your ride in the rain!
**Be sure to keep an eye open for our next and second article in our Series coming out next month!