Who HASN’T wanted to stand out in their little corner of the horse world? No, no, no, I’m not talking about having your horse’s gleaming coat or your own impeccable attire complimented. I’m talking about tack. Leather.

*Appearance is everything when it comes to tack* (before I get chastised for appearing shallow, fashion-obsessed, and money-driven, let me just say that the following has nothing to do with the highest dollar equipment, the latest trends, or who might be the most fashion-forward individual. With that said, if you read anything that sounds tongue-in-cheek, vaguely snooty, or mildly offensive, just keep in mind I might have a slight flair for satire).

Let’s get back to it. Leather. We’re talking about good, old-fashioned cowhide, that stuff we use to make saddles and bridles and reins and boots. We horse people are a unique lot; the majority of us spend more on our equines than we do on ourselves, often finding perfectly rational (sounding) reasons why we can subsist on rice and beans so our horses can eat that $80/bag brand of fancy new grain, and live in stables more closely resembling 5* hotels. With all of this self-sacrifice going on, it’s easy to overlook some things.

It’s been rainy here in central Texas for months, which means it’s been muddy here for eons. The other day I walked through one such offending piece of damp ground, and was totally perplexed as to how my sock could have gotten wet. I mean, come on! My sock was on my foot, which was inside my boot. This warranted closer inspection. It turns out that dry-rotted, cracked, and split-apart leather isn’t very waterproof. (picture here of dry rot boot and one that’s been properly cared for). This horrifying and embarrassing admission made me do a little soul-searching.

I grew up indoctrinated in the school of leather care (also known as the United States Pony Club, a British Horse Society educated instructor, maniacally “particular” Olympic team alternates, plus my own overdeveloped sense of duty to all things horse). One cared for their leather equipment. One did not simply wipe down the tack after use. Oh, no; said equipment was cleaned and conditioned after EVERY RIDE, and hung or placed with military precision. And you see, there was no forgetting to do this, as that was an unspeakable sin, with the consequences of such an omission being so terrible that one would not wish them onto even their worst enemies. I prided myself on my meticulous attention to detail, the tack that my hands brought to life, the satisfaction of a tack room hanging with glowing bridles and saddles.

With my dry-rotted boot fresh in my mind, and the guilt cascading over me, I ventured a look in my trailer tack room.

Initial Impression: all hanging items are in a particular order; the organizational system has a vaguely militaristic feel; things appear clean; there is no mildew; there are no smells of decay, rotten grain, sadness, or given-up-hope.

Closer Inspection: all hope is lost. This is the end. My shame may as well have me walking with Cersei, the crowds screaming and throwing rotting things at us, and yelling, “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” (We might be moving into the territory of melodrama here, but sometimes that’s necessary). Upon closer inspection, I saw, and more importantly, felt, stiff leather, some of which was dry and had the fine tracings of cracks that only dry leather gets. I saw leather that had a disgraceful orange shade, the tint of a novice; indicative of an owner who didn’t know the most basic tenets of leather care.

Crippling State of Shock and Shame: nothing to be done here except admit fault and pray to the leather gods.

Action: at this point, you might be thinking that all hope is lost, that the only way to move forward would be to throw away all that shameful tack and start over. But really, while that would have been a very specific and measurable solution, it wasn’t realistic, and certainly not attainable, in that I wouldn’t have been able to purchase any replacements. (That little problem goes back to an earlier statement I made about horse people have a certain type of psychosis in which they will spend every penny on their horse and equipment, and be perfectly…mostly…ok with living in a condition precariously close to poverty).

So here you go. What follows is a step-by-step process of resurrecting your tack and restoring it to a glory you never thought imaginable.

Make yourself a tack-resurrection-station. You’ll want a few tack sponges, at least two soft rags, a bowl/bucket of lukewarm water, a bucket (or large ziplock bag), pure neatsfoot oil, and a tub of glycerine saddle soap. Then…

  1. Collect all tack in need of resurrection.
  2. Break down said tack. By that, I mean take it apart.
  3. Get a rag damp in warm water and wipe down the tack. You want all the dust, grime, and jockeys off the leather.
  4. Then place leather items in the bucket or ziplock you’ve filled with neatsfoot oil. Depending on the state of the leather, a quick dunk might do the trick, or if it’s in tragic condition, you might end up soaking the leather for hours.
  5. After the leather has been sufficiently soaked, take it out of the oil and start working it by hand. Bend it and fold it and get it as malleable as you can.
  6. Wipe it off with one of the rags.
  7. Set it out to dry. Leather is alive; it’s got pores, so it needs time to soak in the oil.
  8. Get your glycerine soap, dampen a sponge in the lukewarm water, rub sponge in glycerine saddle soap, and apply to leather. I don’t like it too sudsy; I like it to go on a bit more like a light paste. Wipe off any excess.
  9. Reassemble the tack and admire your handiwork.

Added benefits: you’ll be noticed now; your pride will return, and shame will no longer be emblazoned on your being like that big, scarlet A. Your tack is going to be its own advertisement and you’ll finally hold rank among the Tack Elites. No one will ever know that that bridle gleaming with an otherworldly glow only cost you $20 at the secondhand shop.