Keeping bridles & saddles clean

A regular cleaning regime is the best way to keep your tack clear of mildew. Dr Mac discusses an effective step-by-step routine.

Mildew has destroyed this bridle.
Photo: Dr Mac

Mildew attacks damp leather, destroying bridles and saddles, which is why a rigorous and regular tack-cleaning schedule is essential.

What you’ll need
The British Manual for Horsemanship gives instructions on cleaning bridles and saddles. You’ll need towelling for washing, a chamois for drying, a sponge for applying saddle soap and a coarse dandy brush to remove mud and sweat from the saddle blanket. You’ll also need glycerine saddle soap, saddle oil or leather preserver and a tin of metal polish to shine the buckles.

Cleaning the bit, bridle and buckles
Rinse the bit under running water straight after use to remove saliva. Hang the bridle on a hook and undo the buckle at the back of the noseband, then wipe down the bridle and reins with a damp cloth that’s regularly rinsed in clean water. If the bit is very dirty it can be unbuckled from the bridle and reins and scrubbed with a toothbrush and dishwashing liquid, then rinsed in water.

If you ride daily, the bridle should be taken apart and properly cleaned once a week. Go over each part separately with a damp cloth to remove dirt and grease and use a toothpick to clear the holes in the bridle. Dry with a chamois, then oil to keep the leather supple.

Remove excess oil and seal the surface with saddle soap. Lay each part of the bridle on an old towel or newspaper and dip the end of the saddle soap bar in water, then stroke it rhythmically along the leather. Hang up the pieces to dry in the sun. The buckles and the outside parts of the bit that aren’t in the horse’s mouth should be polished with metal polish to prevent rust.

Cleaning the saddle, numnah and stirrups
Place the saddle on a saddle horse and remove the stirrup leathers, stirrups and girth. Remove superficial dirt with a damp cloth or sponge and dry with the chamois. If the saddle is very dirty, use a toothbrush or damp sponge and saddle soap to scrape off black sweat residue. Once the saddle is dry, apply leather oil to the underside (not the surface, as oil will stain the rider’s jodhpurs) and leather conditioner to all the surface areas. As with the bridle, saddle-soap all surfaces to seal the leather. Lay the numnah (saddle blanket) flat and use the dandy brush to remove loose hair and sweat from the underside.The stirrup leathers are cleaned in the same way as the bridle. After cleaning, polish the stirrups.

Clean tack, show tack and tack room
If your tack is already mouldy, wipe the mould from it with a weak solution of vinegar, copper sulphate, household bleach, 70% alcohol or a disinfectant soap. Once cleaned, reassemble the tack and hang in the sun to dry. Keep your tack room free of fungal spores by vacuuming regularly. Painting with whitewash is also recommended. If you want to ensure your show tack isn’t infected with mildew, seal it in a plastic bag. These are readily available for storing clothes and the jumbo size is large enough for a saddle.