Tack Talk: How to Identify your Leather Goods and Keep them in Their Best Shape

Leah Matanky founded Redwood Tack out of a desire to share her love of the sport—and the beautiful pieces of tack that accompany it–with others. Throughout her extensive career in the saddle, Leah has seen her fair share of leather, both in new and used condition. Her own personal experiences as well as her business have made her what some would consider an expert in leather quality and care. She caught up with The Plaid Horse to pass along some of her tips for identifying types of leather and how to keep it in its best shape. 

Do all types of leather require the same type of cleaning? If not, what types of leather require specific care? 

In my experience, different leather types can sometimes require different care.  For example, Buffalo or full Calfskin leather is typically softer and will absorb more product than a grain leather.  If you have a full Buffalo or full Calfskin saddle, it might demand a bit more gentle care and a bit more frequent conditioning than a grain leather one.  Grain leather does have some benefits in that it will hold up to heavier usage and might have a longer overall lifespan.  Often trainers or riders who ride many horses per day will prefer grain for those reasons. 

If you are short on tack-cleaning time, try giving your equipment a quick bout of TLC with the Belvoir Tack Cleaner Wipes by Carr & Day & Martin. For those riders who choose to invest in the Buffalo or Calfskin materials, the Belvoir Leather Balsam Intensive Conditioner is an excellent product to help break-in or maintain the gentle condition of the leather.

How do you identify what type of leather a piece of tack is?

The type of leather is usually determined by feel or touch. Since I’ve had years of experience with different leather types, I can generally identify the type of leather based on its texture. However, this method is not 100% accurate, and the only way to really know is from the original manufacturer.

The Belvoir tack cleaner wipes are a perfect solution for tack cleaning in a pinch and allow you to thoroughly reach those hard to get places.

 What types of soaps / cleaning methods do you need to avoid? Why?

I once made the mistake of soaking my bridle in extremely hot – almost boiling – water (I thought this would cut or melt the dirt off before I cleaned it with soap). To my disappointment, the leather became super dry and actually cracked in some spots!  Only use warm or luke-warm water.  The cleaning method I would say to avoid most is simply not taking the time to be thorough – the areas inside the lacing on your reins for example, or under the buckles and keepers. Those will eventually build up with grime and dirt that is much harder to remove than if you take the time to do your proper daily maintenance. 

The Belvoir Tack Conditioner Tray is the perfect solution to a typical messy glycerine bar. The trays are resealable to keep your bar fresh and long-lasting.

What is the best method for cleaning your tack?

 I like to use a simple glycerine saddle soap first, and the Belvoir Tack Conditioner Tray is a great product for that as it keeps your saddle soap contained and clean, then gently wipe down my saddle and tack. I then follow up with either a light conditioner (for daily use) or a deeper conditioner every couple of weeks. It’s important to make sure to get inside, under, and into the harder-to-reach spots.  This will help you in the long run!  Always remember to thoroughly clean your bit after each ride.  Every few months or so, I enjoy taking my tack home with me for a deep clean and condition.  This can be a fun activity to do on a rainy day, while watching a movie, or while socializing on your patio, etc.  During these times, I like to take apart the bridle, take off the stirrup leathers and so on, so that I can get into all those harder to reach areas!  It feels great to bring your saddle and tack back to the barn with you once it’s super clean and soft and conditioned.  

Carr & Day & Martin have studied the careful chemical balance of leather goods over many years and provide standard, easy-to-use products for the care, maintenance, and recovery of your tack.

Carrs Leather Oil is a heavy-duty alternative to Neatsfoot Oil for those leather products in need of heavy repair.
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