Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tack Tips--Spring cleaning for bridles

Sometimes it's not just my house that needs cleaning, it's my tack, too! Today's post is all about dealing with two common tack care and cleaning issues.

I found Honeyson Fellow's bridle in the pile of old basement tack earlier this week. It's a nice bridle, but after several years of neglect it's dusty, dried out and stiff. The reins are kinked and do not lie properly on his neck.Almost any type of leather cleaner that is appropriate for real tack will work on your model tack. I prefer lighter, non oily products that smell nice such as the two pictured below. Avoid all types of leather oils. These will darken your tack and may also adversely affect the glued areas.
I never apply the cleaner directly onto the tack. Instead, I pour a little onto a soft cloth and use that to gently clean both sides of all the straps. I am careful not to saturate the leather as that could lead to color changes and may also weaken the glued areas. This is definitely a time when less is more. You don't want the leather to feel wet just a little "tacky". Let the bridle dry completely, and then go back and buff the straps with a dry cloth.

Here's Fellow's bridle after a good cleaning. It looks and feels brand new again. Hurray!
Excessive wear on the straps is another common problem. This is especially true for bridles with photo etched buckles. After a few shows, it's not unusual for the strap to start looking worn and fuzzy. The left side cheekpiece and throatlatch on this endurance bridle are a perfect example of this.
Of course it's impossible to undo all the damage, but a little gum tragacanth will go a long way towards restoring the strap.
Simply dip your finger into the bottle and rub the gum tragacanth onto the leather paying particular attention to the edges and flesh (back) side. Once that's dry, I will often go back and refresh the holes with either an awl or a pencil punch.

After just a minute or two, Balthazar's bridle is looking show ready once again.
In addition to slicking down the fuzzies, the gum tragacanth also acts as a stiffener. Not only will the strap look neater, but it will be easier to feed it through the buckles and keepers. I keep a little bottle of gum tragacanth in my live show box to spot treat problem areas as I'm tacking up.

Questions, comments, more tack cleaning advice? I'd love to hear it! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.


  1. Is it safe to use Murphy's Oil Soap? It doesn't feel like an oil..

  2. Excellent post, I have to go get me some of that gum stuff!

  3. Thank you for posting this! Where do you get your gum stuff? Looks like my tack box could use some spring cleaning...

  4. Sian--I haven't ever tried the Murphy's on model tack, mostly because I don't like it for real tack. It always seems so sticky and heavy to me. I much prefer other products. Of course, I've known several people who swear by it (for real tack) so take my opinion for what it's worth!

    Danielle--You can find gum tragacanth at either Tandy or the Leather Factory. It's even on sale this month--$5.99 for a 4 oz bottle (which is plenty) or $27.99 for a quart.

  5. Love your tipps! I have to have that gum stuff too! I bought me some gum traganth powder and mixed it with water to get a usable liquid but after a few days it'l started to smell pretty bad.... So it's not the right stuff I guess...

  6. Great, now you're making me feel guilty for not taking care of my model tack. (I rarely clean my real tack!) :D

    What about stuff that's natural colored? I'm always worried about doing anything that might darken it...

  7. Thanks for posting on this topic. As the Tack Librarian for the IPABRA Tack Library I have a lot of older tack. Now I know what to do to refresh it and to keep it looking nice.

  8. Shanti--I've never heard of gum tragacanth powder but if it smells bad, I'd be cautious with it. The gum tragacanth from Tandy has a very pleasant scent and stays good for a long, long time.

    Teresa--It's always a little scary cleaning natural colored tack. No matter how careful you are, there's always a chance you'll affect the color. I would clean only when it's absolutely neccessary, and then I'd go with a very, very small amount of liquid glycerine soap. I would also exercise great caution when cleaning Western saddles that have plates made from silver tape. You really have to be careful not to damage the tape's adhesive.

    Or... Just stick to English tack since it's so much easier!

  9. Thanks for this post! I just bought a Sue Rowe tack set that needs some oiling, I'll be sure to refer to this post when I clean it.