When winter sets in, turning your paddocks into a sea of snowdrifts and your riding ring into an ice rink, you may not feel much like riding. So your tack can sit in the barn for weeks at a time, untouched. But winter weather isn't just harsh on your unprotected skin; your expensive leather equipment is going to need a little extra TLC, too.
Moisture and mold spores are the worst enemies of leather, often causing permanent scarring and damage, says British master saddler Dave Nangreave. If you intend to use your tack throughout the winter, he suggests that you keep your saddles and bridles covered – an old terrycloth towel will do if you don't have a saddle cover. Also, wipe off mold with a vinegar and water solution as soon as you notice it, and condition the leather regularly with a product containing beeswax, massaging it in well with your fingers to help keep the leather fibers supple and flexible.
Don't Store Tack in Barn for Winter
"If you're not using your tack during the winter," Nangreave says, "the worst place to store it is in the barn. Bring it into the house where it can be stored in a dry place – not the basement – at room temperature. Clean it thoroughly. Make sure it's conditioned with an oil or beeswax product, and take all of your bridles apart so that the metal parts, such as the buckles and bit, are in contact with the leather as little as possible."
If you have cloth or sheepskin parts on your saddles, you may want to add a few mothballs to your storage area. But try to keep the mothballs from touching the leather.
"If you're planning on storing the tack for a long period of time, you may want to coat it with a thin layer of petroleum jelly to help keep moisture and mold spores from penetrating the leather fibers," Nangreave says. But be warned: "It's sticky and difficult to remove. You often have to rub on the leather quite a bit to get it all off."
Wherever you store your tack, make sure you examine it regularly for signs of mold growth. And when you take it out of storage, check it thoroughly before you put it on your horse.
"Cracks and breakage in the leather will usually occur next to the metal parts," says Nangreave, adding that rust on buckles can be especially destructive. Leather that has dried and cracked could break at any time, creating a potentially dangerous scenario for you and your horse. If you discover any portion of your bridle or saddle has started to develop cracks, don't take chances – replace it.
A final caution: "Watch out for barn cats who may want to snuggle up to your saddles, or use them as scratching posts. I see more destruction of tack from cats than from mold or moisture," Nangreave adds.