Barrel racing tack is multipurpose. It needs to hold up to extreme athletic action, but it also needs to be stylish. Whether you ride in blinged-out tack or you prefer a workmanlike saddle, we asked well-known tack maker Dennis Moreland of Weatherford, Texas, and Stacy Autry of Shiloh Saddlery in Springdale, Arkansas, to share their advice on how to care for your leather goods. 

Do Clean Regularly

Leaving your tack dirty and sweaty can shorten the life of your gear, causing it to weaken and become brittle, which can lead to broken headstalls or stirrup leathers at the worst times. Stacy Autry says caring for your tack is like changing the oil in your car— maintenance is necessary to ensure a long working life. 

“If you don’t care for your saddle, it dries out and deteriorates from excessive dirt and caked up sweat,” Autry says. “It will shut down the pores of the leather and the leather will get hard.” 

Autry recommends doing a deep cleaning and conditioning of your saddle once a year, but ideally wiping it off with a rag every time you ride is a great way to look over all of the parts of your tack. He says disuse and getting the leather wet without oiling are the hardest things on saddles. 

“Using the saddle is better for it than actually just sitting around not doing anything,” Autry says. “It keeps the leather limber and pliable.” 

Dennis Moreland recommends cleaning your bridles and tack once a month, with a deep conditioning at least every few months. 

“It’s a misconception that you will never have to clean or oil your tack and it’ll last forever,” Moreland says. “Even if you don’t use a bridle for six months and it just hangs there, you may have to oil it because it has dried out.” 

Don’t Neglect the Details

Moreland says the most important thing is to examine your tack each time before you ride to look for weak or worn spots or broken hardware. Take it all apart every few months for deep cleaning. 

“Be very conscientious about where the folds are and look for wear when you’re cleaning,” Moreland says. “Cleaning is a good time to check over your tack completely to make sure there are no worn parts, but you need to unbuckle all of the buckles and unscrew everything.” 

If you use Chicago screws on your bridle, Moreland recommends adding a drop of fingernail polish to the hole to help prevent it from coming loose, and to be sure you screw them back together tightly. If you have latigo strings on your bridle, make sure the strings are stout and don’t need replacing. It’s also worth examining your latigo and off latigo, as well as your stirrup leathers, for wear and tear. 

Moreland says closely inspecting your bridle attachments will increase your ability to catch a worn out piece. He’s seen heavy, blinged-out barrel racing bridles with dangerously flimsy attachments to the bit. 

“Pay attention to how your headstall attaches to the bit, and the reins too,” 

Moreland says. “Make sure the leather is holding up.” 

If you are using roping reins, Moreland says you need to pay particular attention to the snaps. 

“Barrel racers should check their snaps very often,” Moreland says. “Especially the scissor snaps. They can get weak and if you pull on them, they could actually come open.” 

It’s a good idea to clean your tack every few months to keep it in good working condition. Unfasten every piece of tack and examine wear points to make sure the leather is still strong. Using sheepskin or a rag, rub your tack with liquid glycerin saddle soap to remove dirt and grime. a nail brush can help remove stubborn dirt.

Do Soap It Thoroughly

Autry says to use a bit of sheepskin, warm water and glycerin saddle soap to clean saddles. He starts by going over the saddle with the water and soap mixture, scrubbing off dirt and getting into tooling and cracks with a stiff toothbrush if needed. 

“Sheep’s wool has a nap to it like a paint roller, and it gets down into the cracks a little bit better than just a rag,” Autry says. 

Moreland says to spray a mixture of glycerin saddle soap and water onto a soft cloth or a piece of sheepskin, then wipe the tack. 

“I just take the saddle soap and go to scrubbing,” Moreland says. “If the tack is really dirty, I’ll use a stiff fingernail brush and brush at the leather.” 

If your tack has mold on it, Moreland recommends mixing one part Listerine mouthwash and two parts water in a squirt bottle, then spraying the mix on your tack and wiping the mold off. 

Neither expert says it’s necessary to rinse off the soap—they wipe off the dirt with a cloth or a piece of sheepskin and let the leather dry. 

Don’t Forget To Condition

If you get your tack wet, it’s vital to replace the oils or the leather will dry out hard and stiff. Autry allows his saddles to dry completely from soaping, then applies oil. 

Using another sheepskin or a rag, Autry applies Lexol Conditioner to the leather. If the saddle is still dry after the conditioner has completely absorbed, he recommends applying either a good quality neatsfoot oil or even olive oil, and letting it dry. 

“It’s a two or three-day process with the drying time,” Autry says. “It just takes a little while.” 

If your bridles and tack are really dry after cleaning, Moreland recommends oiling with neatsfoot oil and then after that dries, he sometimes will wipe with a clean cloth or a cloth with a little saddle soap to remove the surface oil. 

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Apply liquid glycerin saddle soap with a rag or sheepskin. you can use a toothbrush on tight spaces. Don’t forget to clean all your fenders and stirrup leathers. after your saddle has dried from cleaning, apply Lexol Conditioner.a really dry saddle will benefit from the occasional application of neatsfoot oil. Cleaning and conditioning your saddle will help keep it serviceable for years to come.

Do Store Properly

Proper saddle storage reduces chances for mold, dehydration or opportunities for vermin to damage the leather. Autry recommends placing your saddle on a saddle rack in a climate controlled area. 

“I’ve seen people hang their saddles from the rafters, and I’ve seen them tip them forward on the ground,” Autry says. “But placing them on a saddle stand keeps them away from where mice can chew on them.” 

Moreland stores bridles on a rounded bridle hook or a coffee can nailed to the wall to open the crown up. 

“Don’t hang your bridle on a single nail,” Moreland says. “It will put too much pressure on one little spot.” 

Split reins should be hung properly, looping the left rein over the right side and back to the left, and the right rein over the left side and back to the right to prevent twists or tangles. 

Don’t Throw Cinches in the Washing Machine

Dirty cinches can gall your horse’s skin, so clean them frequently. If you have a mohair cinch, Moreland advises against putting it in your washing machine. 

“First of all, it’s hard on your washing machine,” Moreland says, “And it’s damaging to your cinch. A washing machine tends to unweave the braid on a cord cinch.” 

A better solution is soaking the cinch in a small tub of water with a few squirts of Woolite and letting it soak overnight or for a few hours. 

“After soaking, take the cinch out, hang it up and rinse it with a water hose and a sprayer with some pressure,” Moreland says. “You just have to keep rinsing it until you get the soap out.” 

After washing and drying, if your cinch still has hair on it, Moreland suggests using a rubber curry comb to rub on the hair spots to gently get the loose hair out. 

Properly cared for, good quality tack will last you many years. You’ll be investing time in your safety by regularly taking apart, cleaning, oiling and inspecting your leather gear. 

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Add a dab of clear nail polish to the holes before re-screwing Chicago screws to keep them from coming loose.

Meet the Experts 

Dennis Moreland started producing horse tack in 1976. In 1990, his business evolved into Cowboy Tack, which became one of the world’s leading makers of equine tack. In 2003, he opened Dennis Moreland Tack in Weatherford, Texas, where he continues to make high quality hand-made tack today. 

Stacy Autry co-owns Shiloh Saddlery with Kelly autry in Springdale, Arkansas. Shiloh Saddlery was formerly Cecil Phillips Saddlery, opened in 1970. The Autrys took over the company in 1995, and today make saddles and tack for the Western horse and rider. 

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Barrel Horse News.


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