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Leather Care: How to Inspect your Leather Tack For Safety

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leather conditioner

Saddles, bridles, halters, surcingles, every piece of horse tack we own and keep is an investment in dollars and safety!  We spend loads of time shopping for it, lugging it back and forth, and cleaning and conditioning our tack.  But do we really inspect it for safety reasons?  Cleaning your leather tack is a daily chore, most of us can do it blindfolded.  But, if you take a few minutes every day to inspect your tack as you clean it, you can save yourself from a major disaster down the road.  I say major disaster because if you have a tack failure, it’s likely to happen at a show, in front of your favorite clinician, or with a video camera rolling.

When you are inspecting your tack, you want your leather to remain supple - that is strong and flexible.  Your leather can remain supple with proper care, pH balanced cleaning, and appropriate conditioning!  You want your leather without cracks, no obvious stretching, no tears.  You should be able to twist, fold, unfold, and even pretzel knot your tack with ease.  Cracks and tiny tears are signs of damage, and even moderate stretching can indicate the need for replacement parts.

Here’s a handy list of things to look out for so that you never have a snapped billet, cheekpiece, rein, or other piece of critical tack fail at the most inopportune moment:


  1. All holes on your tack.  Most horses have their own girth and bridle, and every day we use the exact same settings, so those holes see more wear and stretching than the unused holes.  Undo the buckles of the bridle and check your billets that the holes are not stretching, starting to crack, or are otherwise deformed.  You may be able to alternate holes on a bridle or billets, or you have a spare bridle you can use for new parts.                                                                                        leather care
  2. Any folded leather.  If you are the only one that uses your saddle, chances are your stirrup leathers have “perma-fold” where the stirrup hangs.  Not to mention the never changing hole that the buckle rests in.  Both locations are prime suspects for damage.  You will need to unfold the stirrup leather to check for cracking and tears. You will also find folds around the bit, around the hardware of a halter, and even around the buckles of a bucking strap.  Undo all buckles and unfold the leather for a close look!      leather care                                 
  3. Any place that has stitching! This includes the billets, the leather halter parts that encase the hardware, and even the intersection of panels with the cantle at the rear of the saddle.  Don’t forget about keepers, often these tiny guys have one or two tiny stitches that can get worn out. 
  4. Buckles are a great place for damage to happen.  The leather not only folds, it’s often stitched into place.  Add to that the usual collection of dirt and grime that is hard to remove without taking apart your bridle, and you could have a weak section of tack.  Be sure to undo all buckles and make sure they are not bent, they still move freely, and they are free of dirty build up.  A toothbrush is a great tool to clean these areas!
  5. Don’t forget to thoroughly inspect all of your hardware, too. The stirrup bar that holds your stirrups to the saddle should have a lever that works.  This release latch can be open or closed, depending on your preference, but be sure it still works!  All metal parts should be free of rust. 
  6. Your girth is a location that’s critical, too.  The combination of leather and elastic needs stitching, which can be worn out easily especially because of the dynamic nature of elastic.  When you are inspecting this area, tug and pull on the elastic to mimic what’s going on while it’s on your horse.  Elastic can also fray, weakening the entire structure.

Don’t panic if you find damage to your leather tack!  Be thankful that you caught it, and then get it repaired or have that part replaced!  Some ideas:

  • Have a spare halter and bridle for parts.  A hole punch can help you create a perfect fit from your borrowed piece.
  • Know your saddle manufacturer!  Do they have sales representatives or saddle fitter in your area that can service and repair your saddle?
  • Does your local cobbler also work on other leather products?  If you need to replace billets or repair buckles, they can often help.
  • Does your local tack shop have repair services? 

Ride safely!

Protect Your Investment with Award-Winning Lexol Leather Care!

Since 1930, horse owners have trusted Lexol to preserve the beauty of their fine tack and leather.

Step 1: Lexol Leather Cleaner

  • pH-balanced to safely clean unlike traditional Saddle Soaps which can cause deterioration
  • Leaves no scum or residue
  • Available as a liquid and a wipe for convenient cleaning

Step 2: Lexol Leather Conditioner

  • Prolongs the life of your tack, protecting your investment
  • Softens leather and helps prevent cracking
  • Available as a liquid and a wipe for convenient cleaning

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Liv Gude

Liv Gude

The founder of Proequinegrooms.com. After many years of grooming several Olympians, Liv saw the need to bring Professional Grooms of all disciplines together in a supportive, informative community in an effort to acknowledge them as skilled individuals, deserving of all the rights and respect that other professionals earn. Proequinegrooms.com is also dedicated to sharing grooming knowledge and horsemanship skills to horse lovers everywhere.

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