Tack doesn't get that dirty from one day to the next, right? So why not wait to clean it until you have some extra time?
Well, cleaning your tack is like cleaning your house: Keep up with it?do a little each day?and you won't have to spend a week trying to catch up with an accumulation of dirt. After every ride, use a two-step cleaning and conditioning system that takes only about ten minutes, using the same tools and techniques you used last month to apply saddle soap to new leather tack. Step 1, wiping down everything with a damp sponge, ensures that you won't be sealing in dirt when you move on to Step 2, conditioning: applying glycerine soap to keep the leather supple and prevent dryness and cracking. (For this daily cleaning, you don't have to take everything apart. Next month I'll show you how to do that for a more thorough cleaning.)
Step 1: Cleaning
To wind up Step 1, use a towel to thoroughly dry the bit and the stirrups you left hanging. Then cross your stirrups again and (with probably about six of your ten minutes left) you're ready for Step 2.
Step 2: Condition With Saddle Soap
Drip a little water on your glycerine bar, or dip the bar in and out of the water, and lightly rub your damp sponge across it. Start with the bridle (the strap ends are still out of their keepers and the browband is still out of position); apply soap to the inside and outside of the crownpiece, the browband, the cheekpieces, and the cavesson. Next condition the girth, using the sponge the same way as when you wiped it. Now do the saddle: sweat flaps first; then billets, both sides of the flaps, and the saddle's underside. Uncross the stirrup leathers; soap them and soap the seat.
This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.