As winter sets in, turning your riding arena and paddocks into a sea of snowdrifts, you may not feel like riding and your tack can be at the barn for weeks at a time...untouched. But the winter weather isn't just difficult on your unprotected skin, your expensive leather equipment is going to need some extra tender loving care as well.
Moisture and mod spores are leather's worse enemies, often causing quite a great deal of damage. If you do intend to ride during the winter months, keep your saddles and bridles covered - an old terry cloth towel will come in handy if you don't have a saddle cover. Whenever you see mould, wipe it off with a vinegar and water solution as soon as your notice it. I use products containing beeswax and I massage it in well with my fingers to keep the leather supple and flexible. Also, I always keep a can of Lysol spray handy in my tack cupboard and spray my leather equipment prior to cleaning them. However, below are some handy winter tack care tips that may help keeping that "fur coat" off your tack!
Did you know that glycerin soap, a humectant, holds moisture giving mould a great growing environment. So, during the winter months, you should stop using this form of cleanser. Use a water-based, pH neutral product such as Leather Therapy Wash to remove embedded dirt and organic residue that aids future mould and mildew growth.
Have a good supply of old rags or towels ready that you are prepared to throw away. Please note that washing towels after using them to clean mouldy tack does not remove all the mould spores. Wipe as much surface contamination as you can with the wet towel, then discard. Repeat with a clean wet rag. Be sure to discard the towels in a way that won’t allow spores to spread further. Don’t rinse and reuse the rags/towels as you will never remove all spores on the rags. I use an old toothbrush to clean stitching lines and in-hard-to-clean crevices. Also, I always clean any mouldy tack outside so that spores do not land on another host.
Allow your saddle to naturally dry in a well lit, ventilated area. Do not put a damp saddle away in your tack cupboard. Once your saddle is dry, condition the leather using a pH neutral product. A produce that I often use is Leather Therapy Restorer/Conditioner. Apply with a sponge and use very sparingly as the leather will only absorb what is needed. This conditioner will soak in and disappear, so you won't need to wipe it off.
Always cover your saddle with either a saddle cover or towel before putting it away.
There is nothing more discouraging than “damage control”. The best way to deal with mould and mildew is to prevent them from invading in the first place. Spending a few minutes on prevention is much less time consuming than the hours in cleaning up the problem.