With warmer weather right around the corner, I’ve found myself opening the barn door wider, keeping windows open at night and ultimately organizing every part of my little barn to best utilize the space. Having converted a non-traditional building into a barn, I discovered a few obstacles along the way – including where to fit things like blanket bags and saddles. Luckily, I had a great team to help me revamp the barn as well as great barn supplies from Big Dee’s for organizing!
The struggle with having a three stall barn with smaller dimensions, is finding the right place to tack up. The outside of my third stall serves as the “tacking-up area”. One of my absolute favorite and versatile pieces is the Portable Swivel Tack Rack – this little less-than-ten-dollars rack fits virtually anywhere, swivels both the top and bottom hooks, and is sturdy enough to hang bridles, grooming totes and more without issue. If I need more space, I can simply push the hooks to the side, or move them around as needed. My second favorite tool is the Adjustable Blanket Bar with Hooks – this cool little piece fits all sorts of odds and ends. The Blanket Bar is a great place to put my saddle pads, half pads and other tack pieces, like the lunge line and girth.
Where to Store the Halters and Fly Spray?
I liked the products mentioned above so much, that I got two more for a different part of my barn! The Blanket Bar also serves as a great place for topicals. I keep my coat conditioners, shines, fly sprays and spot-treatment sprays hanging across the bar. I can adjust the length to fit the season – in the spring and summer I have a lot more products, in the fall and winter, just a handful so I can shorten the bar and take up less space. The swivel tack rack makes for a fabulous halter, lead and other miscellaneous item organizer.
Tack Locker Organization
While my tack locker was build specifically for the space I had available, I am a bit of a tack collector (let’s be honest, who isn’t?) – so I needed some alternatives for using the space. I put up several Bridle Brackets to hang various bridles and headstalls on. I added the 10 Pocket Trailer Caddy to one of my doors, and it was a game-changer for storing my prized “matchy-matchy” boots and fly veils! The zip compartments fit several veils and the mesh holders fit the boots so well. Proof that you can make this Caddy tailored to your own needs. One of the latest additions was the Three Hook Tack Rack Case. When I ran out of space for bridles in my locker (oops!) I needed something sturdy, convenient and adjustable to put my extras in – and this fit the bill! It was pleasantly surprised how well it held up in my barn, and how easy it would be to move if needed.
Transitioning between seasons is made easier with the most versatile Utility Hook. I have a few of these in the larger size for hanging blankets, sheets and fly sheets. In the wet season, the hooks help drip-dry the blankets and sheets. In the summer, these help keep fly sheets, masks and fly boots out of the way.
No matter the space available, the size of the barn or the amount of horse tack you have – there is an option to fit your needs at Big Dee’s!
I’ve always considered myself fairly proficient when it comes to cleaning my leather tack and boots. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn more – and that was the case this past weekend! Big Dee’s very own, Lisa Gorretta, bestowed her knowledge of all things tack cleaning upon an eager crowd.
She started her presentation by reminding everyone that any time we purchase a piece of tack, whether it’s brand new or dug out of a “diamond in the rough” bin at a tack swap, that it is an investment. The better we take care of that investment, the longer it will last us – and the safer it will keep us.
While some leather items might have a standard cleaning process, like halters or horse boots, items like saddles and bridles require a little more consideration. Lisa emphasized that if you are buying a brand new saddle, check that saddle’s warranty information BEFORE you start cleaning! Several brands will come with a small cleaning kit, but everyone has a personal preference when it comes to tack cleaning products – that’s good and well, as long as it follows the warranty! A quick check will save a lot of hassle down the road.
Before even getting your spot ready to clean, make sure you have the basics down! Did you know that warm water helps the process go a little easier? That doesn’t mean cold water is bad per say, it’s just a helpful bonus to use warm water. Strongly emphasized throughout Lisa’s presentation was – moderation is key! Prepare yourself for the time needed to clean your tack the correct way. If you need three coats, do three light coats, versus one massive gooped on swipe of cleaner or conditioner. Remember, leather should be supple, flexible, and sturdy. You don’t want saturated tack or brittle, dry track. Lastly, leather does not like extremes – when selecting cleaning products, search for one that is pH neutral so it is not harsh on your tack.
New Saddles and Cleaning
Most new saddles come with a wax layer that needs to be properly removed. This is done to open the pores of the leather and prepare the surface. You should start with a pH neutral cleaning product like a Castile Soap. With a little water and a little soap, gently work into the saddle with a sponge to clean off the wax or buildup from a used saddle. Another product that works well is the Leather Therapy Wash. This cleaner is safe to use on just about any leather item and won’t darken the leather over time. Also be mindful of the water used when cleaning – hard water is not kind to black and dark leather. For tough to reach areas or heavily tooled tack, try using a toothbrush (you will be pleasantly surprised how much easier it is).
Balsam or Oil?
After cleaning the tack, the next step is conditioning. However, you need to make sure the product you are using is the correct match for that particular part of the saddle. There are two surfaces on leather – the raw side (or open side) is rough like the underside of fenders and flaps, and the sealed side (or closed side) is the smooth leather surface, like what you sit on. Oils are used on the raw side of leather only, they WILL darken the leather and they WILL soak through if applied too heavily. Conditioners like Effax Leather Balsam and Colorado Leather Conditioner are made from beeswax and lanolin to bring out the suppleness of leather without making the surface slick. Other great conditioning options are Leather Therapy Conditioner, Amerigo Balm, Walsh Oil (if you want to darken the leather) and Bates Leather Balsam (if you want a slightly tackier surface).
One thing to consider when conditioning, is to be mindful of the seams of your saddle. English saddle panels are flocked, foam filled or a combination of the two. These materials do not like getting oil or moisture in them. So when conditioning, be careful not to heavily cover the area.
Remember, use light coats regardless if you are using an oil or balsam. Let the tack air dry naturally. If there is any excess conditioner, wipe it off with a rag. If your leather is still dry, apply another light coat. Repeat this process until the suppleness is back in your bridle or saddle.
Chrome and Bits
For Western riders, whether their entire saddle is silver or they have a few pieces – keeping the silver shiny is actually very easy if you make it a part of your routine cleaning process. Never Dull is a fabulous wadding polish for all metals. My personal favorite is Simichrome Silver Polish, but it is a very aggressive cleaner and should not be used on bits. However, it does the job of cleaning up even the most corroded and tarnished silver on saddles and bridles!
If you want to clean up bits, the Herm Sprenger Diamond Bit Polish Paste is the product to use. It is non-toxic, non-acidic and brings back shine to not only bits, but spurs and stirrups as well. With any silver cleaner, use a small amount on Q-tips or throw-away sponges to apply, then buff out for a lustrous shine.
Most of us don’t have the time to deep clean and condition our tack after every ride. But you should at least wipe the tack down, especially the inside of bridles and reins. Why? Well, have you ever tried to clean your horse’s bridle after you’ve ridden him in it all summer, and there’s that layer of gunk that just will not come off? That’s the horse’s natural oils and sweat, built up from many rides. You can easily avoid this by using a cleaning wipe like Oakwood Wipes. Simply wipe down your tack and put away – easy breezy! You could also do a quick wipe-down with an all-in-one product like Lexol Quick Care.
You should strive to deep clean your tack at least twice a year (more is always better), this includes pulling every piece apart, making sure it is structurally still safe to use, clean, condition and then put everything back together.
How we store tack, whether used daily or put away for the winter months, is important to consider. If you keep tack in a moist environment, you might start to see mildew. Removing mildew requires either more layers with a mild cleaner, or a more aggressive leather cleaning product. Just remember that after really putting elbow grease into cleaning, your tack will need a conditioner to keep it from getting dry. If you are storing tack for extended periods of time, go through the regular cleaning process, then cover the tack in a dry place. You can put a very light layer of vasoline on bits, then store them in a small unsealed plastic bag.
If you want a light protective coat on your tack, you could as a layer of glycerine. Using a Glycerine Bar Soap, dip it into water, then take the sponge over the bar. Apply the sponge onto tack in a light layer. Using too much glycerine can clog the leather’s pores and dry out the tack, so be careful. After applying, let the tack dry naturally, then wipe away excess with a cloth.
Other Kinds of Oils
There are other kinds of oils available for leather goods. One mentioned often is Mink oil – but it’s not as strong of a conditioner as it is a waterproofer. Mink oil can be used on winter boots or as a barrier, but it will not supple up the leather like other oils or balsams. Olive oil can technically be used, but it was not designed for leather and it not recommended. Murphy’s Oil is also not the top pick for cleaning, but if it must be used, use it in very small amounts. Leather should not be saturated when cleaning. Also be wary of products with petroleum, as they are not kind to the stitching used in tack.
At the end of the day, the main point of having tack is to it keep us safe and secure when riding, driving, working or leading horses. We should make it a priority to not only check our tack regularly, but keep it clean and conditioned so it can perform the best for us. Once you get familiar with the products and routine, it becomes less of a chore and more of a point of pride. Clean, supple leather not only keeps you safe, but also looks incredible!
Written by Marketing Associate, Cassie
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