Our saddles and boots take a lot of abuse, from manure to mud, to being trodden on, bitten and left to bake in the sun. To get the best use out of our leather gear, it's important to take care of it, with regular maintenance.
The first step in caring for your gear is to clean it.
You should never apply conditioner to dirty leather; dirt doesn't just sit on the surface of the leather, but in the tiny pores. Conditioning without cleaning will, over time, lead to clogged pores that are no longer able to take up the oil, which will lead to dry, cracked leather.
Fortunately, cleaning it is as simple as brushing off the excess dirt and applying a little bit of saddle soap with a damp cloth; we prefer Oakwood Saddle Soap. It's a heavy duty cleaner, fit enough to tackle the really gross jobs, but it's also gentle on leather. Plus, it won't permanently darken your snazzy chestnut (or other colour) gear!
Hot tip: use a toothbrush to get into the hard-to-reach places, like under buckles and around stitching.
After cleaning, let your gear dry (overnight is a good idea) before applying a leather conditioner with a soft, clean cloth or brush. Allow some time for the conditioner to soak in, before buffing off the excess.
There are a lot of leather conditioners on the market, but we have a few favourites.
We like to use Oakwood Leather Conditioner for most of our gear, but particularly boots. It's a deeply hydrating cream conditioner that won't damage delicate stitching (such as on western boots) or exotic leathers, while also repelling water and stains.
Leatherphane is a heavy duty liquid conditioner that's best applied with a small, soft brush. We often use it on really dry tack, such as bridles and saddles that haven't seen a lot of love and it works a treat, soaking right into the leather. It's a bit messy though, so we recommend using it outside with a bit of newspaper or cardboard on your work surface, to soak up the inevitable spills.
The last conditioner in our arsenal is Effax Leather Balasm. It's another cream conditioner, similar to Oakwood Leather Conditioner but with bees wax, which makes it a little more water repellent and will give your tack an extra shine.
Our best recommendation for looking after leather, is to clean and condition it regularly. Every 12 months is great for your tack and bags, while you may want to condition (if not always clean) your shoes more frequently, depending upon how much use and abuse they get.
Work boots may need a little care as often as once a month, while dress shoes or that really expensive dressage saddle, once a year.
Taking care of your leather gear will extend its life, giving you the best bang for your buck.
For new boots that are a little tight, try applying a small amount of leather conditioner when you put them on. The conditioner, combined with the heat from your foot will soften the leather, loosening the fit until you break them in.
There is such as thing as too much conditioner! Don't over condition your tack, there's only so much moisture leather can take and the excess will rub off on your clothes, your hands, anything and everything it comes into contact with.
Worse than the oily stain on the bum of your joddies or jeans though, is leather rot. Too much conditioner can break down the leather fibers, shortening the life of your gear.
Clean and conditioner your tack in summer. The warmer weather means less time waiting around for your gear to dry and/or absorb conditioner.