How to clean and oil a leather bridle

Created by Horse enthusiasts for Horse enthusiasts

When you are an equine owner, you shouldn’t avoid taking good care of your horse’s tack. It’s more of an obligation than a duty for you. If you buy high quality leather equipment for your horse, they can last for decades if you clean and oil them properly. With a new leather bridle ensure you’ve oiled it thoroughly before using it for the first time. It makes it supple and helps prevent it from drying out and cracking during use. Once you have cleaned it for the first time after purchase, continue oiling your horse’s tack regularly for as long as he uses it. Here are our tips on how to do this perfectly:

Take Your Bridle Apart

Undo all the buckles and latches to lay out all the components of the bridle. For a western bridle, components include a basic headstall, two cheek pieces, reins, and probably a throat latch. With an English bridle, you’ll have reins, the headstall, a noseband, two cheek pieces, a brow band, and a throat latch.

How to Clean Your Bridle

Put leather soap on a sponge and rub it all over the new bridle, being sure to get every small nook and cranny. Start out with a dry sponge and then dip it in water so that the soap lathers. For liquid leather soap, you don’t need water.

Working up a Solid Lather with Saddle Soap

Most new English bridles will come with a white waxy coating. Use the saddle soap to completely remove it by applying leather soap to a toothbrush and rubbing thoroughly into all stitching spaces and other tight places where the sponge can’t easily reach.

Wipe Off Excess Saddle Soap and Apply Oil

Using a clean sponge, wipe off any excess saddle soap. Then apply pure neat’s-foot oil onto the sponge and wipe down the entire bridle with it, ensuring that each piece of leather is completely coated with a thin layer of oil. Allow some time for the absorption of the oil into the leather to take place.

Putting the Bridle Back Together

As you reassemble your bridle, flex and bend every small piece of leather using your hands to loosen the leather up and make it more supple. A good quality, well-oiled bridle is supposed to easily bend in your hands, offering very little resistance when the pieces are twisted and flexed.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

The weather forecast for the rest of summer: sultry. Ready to stop sweating it in the barn? Get the chores done early and haul your old tack inside: it’s time for a saddle and bridle deep-clean!

There are a lot of witch’s brews and home remedies out there for stripping and conditioning tack. Walk into a feed store and ask for recommendations, and you’ll hear hearty endorsements for everything from ammonia to olive oil. The general idea is to strip the oils and dirt out of the leather, leaving it clean, but dry, and then returning beneficial oils to the leather to condition it for future use.

Ammonia and olive oil are certainly good examples of solutions that can dry out leather and soak it again, but do we really want to deal with that mess? (To say nothing of what ammonia can do to a person’s hands?)

We checked around with some leatherworkers and saddle restorers and found that the professionals resoundingly endorse on simple product: soap.

Not saddle soap, not conditioning soap, just plain old soap. That horseman’s friend, Ivory, crops up again and again. Beloved by breeders and veterinarians for its pure, no-residue formula, Ivory soap is also good for getting the gunk out of your overworked (and overconditioned?) tack. Another pure and simple choice is Kirk’s Castile Soap, which is usually sold at tack shops or health food stores for less than your average bar of Irish Spring.

Before you get your saddle soaped up, though, it’s time to dust. There’s no point in making loose dirt wet and sticky. Using an air compressor, or a vacuum set to blow, on your tack will clean off the loose dirt, hay, and dust that might be resting under flaps or in the intricacies of tooled leather. Think of it as sweeping before you mop — an essential part of cleaning.

Now you’ll need that plain soap, a sponge, and warm water, along with something to get into the crevices — a toothbrush will usually do the trick. Scrub that leather until the foam is white. Get into all the nooks and crannies, like the leather wrapping around your bridle’s buckles, and then give everything a good rinse with clean water.

Your leather will be wet, so let it dry out while you go check the weather. Still hot? Good. You have conditioning to do. All that water and soap took the oil right out of your leather, leaving it brittle and missing its signature gloss.

Once the leather dries, you can condition it again with your favorite oil. The oil will soak into the dried-out leather, bringing it back to its original softness and sheen. Neatsfoot oil, a commercial conditioner like Leather Therapy, or a leather restorer are common choices. You can also go with conditioners enriched with beeswax. Some are meant to be wiped off after a few hours, while others are meant to be buffed deeply into the leather, so read your instructions carefully. Your leather will let you know if it needs more conditioner, so watch the way it soaks up the oil or wax.

Be sure your leather stays out of the sun after it’s been conditioned — extreme heat could essentially “cook” your leather while it’s dripping with oil, and you don’t want to give your saddle the bacon treatment.

Riding our horses can be messy: we ride in the rain and mud, snow and sleet, rain or shine. Of course, our tack tends to get dirty, and it needs to be cleaned regularly to ensure that the leather stays soft and in good condition. Your tack should get cleaned at least a couple of times a week with water, soap and leather oil.

Here we’ll look at the best tips for cleaning all your tack!

Water, soap and oil for leather

All your leather tack should be cleaned with water, glycerine soap, and oil. Start by cleaning your bridle, saddle, girth, martingales and other leather tack with water. Water takes the dirt off and leaves the leather nice and clean. Remember to dry the leather properly!

However, all leather should also be treated with leather soap after cleaning it with water. Water itself will make leather dry, so remember to apply a nice layer of soap on your leather tack. Finish off with a layer of leather oil to make your tack shine!

Clean your safety stirrups

Don’t forget your stirrups! Your safety stirrups should be cleaned as well, so dirt doesn’t build up on the surface. Grab some warm water, sponge and mild soap and get cleaning! If your stirrups have hard-to-remove stains, you can leave them soaking in mild soap water overnight.

Clean your horse’s boots

Your horse’s boots and wrappers can generally be washed in a washing machine and be left to air dry. Alternatively, you can hand wash the boots and wrappers at home. Make sure that the boots dry properly before using them again.

Clean your brushes

Brushes need cleaning, too! At least a couple times a year, you should leave your brushes soaking in warm soapy water overnight. Rinse the brushes off properly and leave them to air dry in a warm space.


Take time to clean your tack properly to ensure that your tack lasts and lives a long and happy life.

  • Your tack is quite the investment and needs special care at certain times. Oiling your tack will soften it, condition it, and sometimes darken it.
  • The most common time to oil your tack is when it’s brand spanking new before you even use it. The most common oil to use is neatsfoot oil, and lots of folks will even use olive oil. It’s readily found at tack shops and can be applied with a sponge or rag. It will take a bit of time to truly soak in (sometimes days), so be patient.

Please check with the manufacturer of your new tack and before you oil your bridle, some leather types don’t need oil.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

Some brands of Neat’s Foot oil come with a brush – handy!

  • For bridles, you could put some oil in a shallow pan and soak the pieces overnight. This will make the breaking-in time shorter and more comfortable for your horse. Just be sure to check the bridle fit before you oil!
  • The downside is that soaking your bridle in oil also coats the side of the bridle that touches your horse, so wait a few days before you use it on your horse. You can also clean off excess oil with some glycerin soap and elbow grease.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

So many options. Hydrophane WILL absolutely darken leather.

  • If you would like to really darken your tack, you can go with hydrophane, also available at most tack shops. This is very common for hunter/jumper saddles, which sometimes start out more orange in color. A few coats with hydrophane and you have a more natural and darker brown color.
  • Please avoid oiling any leather that covers your saddle’s flocking, as the wool or fiber can soak up the oil, creating a saddle that doesn’t fit and damaging the flocking.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

This brand new saddle will darken up with some more applications of oil. Using a brush saves your fingers from certain grossness.

  • Oiling can also be a good idea if you need to bring a dry, crusty, old, dusty, shriveled up saddle or bridle back to life for decorative purposes. Dried up and cracked leather is unsafe to use, but can be restored enough to display.
  • I have found that by cleaning my tack after every use with a leather safe soap and conditioner, I can avoid the necessity of oiling my leather tack.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

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Effax Leather Balsam 500 ml – not an oil, but a deep conditioning paste.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

How to Clean and Care for Your Leather Horse Tack

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

saddle soap, clean horse tack, care for horse tack, Jochen Schleese, Equine Ergonomist, care horse leather, cleaning horse leather

By Jochen Schleese, CMS, Equine Ergonomist

Taking proper care of your leather goods will greatly enhance their appearance and lifespan. One of the greatest misconceptions in leather care has been with the correct use of saddle soaps. Saddle soaps are basically just what their names imply: soaps, and as such are to be used for cleaning only. In fact, sweat, which is acidic, and soap are the two greatest enemies of leather if they are not removed. Saddle soap should be used to rid the leather of accumulated sweat and grime which, if left on, will result in the leather becoming brittle and cracking. It is important to keep your saddle and other leather goods clean so they don’t irritate your horse’s skin, and to protect your investment.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

Living skin is made up of 70 to 80 percent water, and leather is essentially skin which has been tanned. After tanning, a moisture content of about 25 percent is retained. In the past, leather was tanned over a six-month period and was more durable, but nowadays the tanning process takes only about six weeks. Every time you wash or clean your saddle – even with soaps containing glycerine – you need to rinse with water and then apply moisturizer, just as hand lotion is often applied to return moisture to your own skin. Tanned hides are much like our own skin except that they cannot replenish lost moisture content.

A leather moisturizer/conditioner will return some of the natural lubricants. A conditioner that contains balsam but no cleaning ingredients is highly recommended as it can effectively be used on all leather items. Leather oil can be used as a one-time application over the entire saddle or other tack to darken the original colour. After that initial application, oil should only be used on the saddle panel as a lubricant, since the wool will soak up any excess. Used on the seat, it will soak through and onto the laminated and glued layers of the tree, possibly resulting in the eventual breakage of the tree (especially if you have an English spring tree). Even with saddles built on other trees, applying oil more often is not recommended. Oil should not be used anywhere the leather comes into contact with your person (breeches, gloves) as it tends to discolour these materials. In addition, oil on the flaps leads to such a softening of the leather as to make the flaps too flexible. Make sure you use products that are meant for leather. Baby oil belongs on babies, olive oil belongs in salad dressing – neither belong on leather.

Ideally, saddlery should be cleaned each time it is used. At the least, it should be given a quick cleaning (wipe) after each use, and thorough cleaning once a week. To store your saddle or tack over a longer period of time, keep it at room temperature but never cooler than five degrees Celsius, and at a humidity of 30 to 40 percent to retain the suppleness of the leather. If mildew appears, a good wash and a leather conditioner will soon restore it.

Whether you ride for pleasure or competitively, it is essential to choose a good-quality saddle and bridle to get the most out of your horse-riding. Once you have made the investment, it’s important to know how to care for your tack properly, to ensure its longevity with no risk of injury to either horse or rider. Here is what our experts advise on the subject.

Why does leather riding tack require special care?

How to clean and oil a leather bridleLeather saddles and bridles have the same properties as skin. They need to be regularly cleaned and moisturised. It is important to check the condition of your tack and care for it regularly. Damaged or cracked leather can injure your horse. Worn leather can also be a danger to the rider’s safety since it could break.

The leather used for the tack has to withstand to some very challenging conditions. Dust, mud, sand, rain, as well as the sweat of both horse and rider adversely affect the leather’s quality. Dust, for example, can build up and become abrasive. And the acidity of sweat can leave marks and corrode the tack. To maintain the longevity and suppleness of leather it is therefore necessary to clean it regularly.

There are also some particularly sensitive areas on saddles and bridles. These areas, subject to regular friction, are prone to abrasion: at the bottom of the boots, stirrup leathers and the saddle flaps at the girth straps. This friction causes discolouration or rubbing away of the leather grain. After cleaning, it is therefore highly recommended that leathers be oiled. Oil has the property of nourishing leather deep down and polishing its surface to protect it.

How to perform routine leather tack care

In this article, we are focusing on routine leather care. New or worn leathers require specific care, which we will cover in a subsequent article. Caring for leather is relatively simple and involves two phases: cleaning followed by oiling to condition it.

Our experts recommend cleaning after at least every second use in a sports context. It is important to look after the most exposed areas (in contact with the horse and the rider), liable to be damaged by sweat. Leather cannot be cleaned too often, as long as the right products are used.

Cleaning leather tack

How to clean and oil a leather bridleThe cleaning phase removes dirt to allow the oil to be absorbed by the leather and nourish it deep down. If necessary, you can brush heavily soiled leather. We recommend the use of glycerine soap. As its name indicates, glycerine soap contains glycerine. This is produced by a saponification (soap-making) reaction. In addition to cleaning, it moisturises and protects leather.

Liquid soaps are designed for application to dry leather. They are applied using a slightly moistened sponge. They do not require drying, therefore. However, when soap bars are used, more water is generally required. In this case, the leather must be left to dry completely at room temperature (never next to a direct heat source to prevent it drying out or becoming misshapen).

Conditioning leather tack

The second phase involves conditioning the leather using a balm applied with a sponge or dry cloth. This stage must be carried out on dry leather to promote its absorption and ensure a deep-down action. Care must be taken to use suitable products in reasonable quantities. Too much oil leaves the leather greasy and encourages the build-up of dirt. The tack becomes less pleasant to use for the rider (slippery and soiling).

Various types of products are used to condition leather. Beeswax has some very useful properties for leather tack. It provides deep-down nourishment, while at the same time shining the leather to promote friction.

How to clean and oil a leather bridle

Your bridle, reins and saddle can get stiff if you ride in rain without cleaning and conditioning them afterward.

“Many people think that rawhide reins are indestructible, but they also need lubrication within the fibers,” said Jeff Minor, a saddle maker at Baker, Idaho. “It takes longer to work it in, because of the structure of the rawhide, but they still need just as much care. They may be even more susceptible to the harmful effects of rain and moisture because they soak it up more quickly. Leather remains fairly soft even after water opens the pores, whereas rawhide gets softer (because it soaks up more) and then when it dries it dries hard and stiff.

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“Never use heat when drying leather (whether it got wet in the rain, or wet from being cleaned) or it will dry stiff,” advised Minor. “It’s always better to air dry it.”

He tells people to take the bridle reins off when they get back to the house after riding in the rain and hang them up somewhere, but not behind the stove.

“Many old saddles that have been stored for years and not cleaned/lubricated turn black and become hard, stiff and cracked,” said Minor. “When you try to bend that leather, it will break. Once a piece of old, neglected leather gets to a certain point, there’s not much you can do to bring it back; it gets past a point of no return. But if you keep it in a lubricated state, it will last a very long time. It could last indefinitely if it’s kept supple enough to accept all the lubricating agents that you put into it.”

Dry leather needs oiling, according to Cary Schwarz, a saddle maker at Salmon, Idaho. “You’ll be able to tell how much oil to use, because the dry leather will drink it in,” he said. “At room temperature, indoors, or in warm sun, where the leather is warm, it will receive oil quite readily.It’s also best if the oil is warm. On the label it may recommend that you heat it to about 100 to 110 degrees. It should feel warm to the touch. I have a hot plate where I warm my oil. Even with new leather, I like to have the oil warm. I may not always get it quite up to 100 to 110 degrees, but if it’s warm it will dissipate into the leather fibers more readily.

“You can heat the oil on a stove, in a saucepan with water,” continued Schwarz. “It’s probably safer to put the oil container in the hot water rather than directly on the burner, or it may get too hot. That way you can control the temperature.If you can touch and handle the oil, it’s not too hot.”

It can be hotter than 110 and won’t hurt new leather, but it might get too hot to handle—and would definitely be too hot for treating old leather.

“Leather absorbs warm oil very readily,” said Schwarz. “After you oil it, let it sit awhile, and in a few hours or another day, come back and feel the leather. If it feels brittle and dry, it needs more.If it feels like there’s some life back in it, that’s enough. Over-oiling can be just as bad as under-oiling. Too much oil can break down the fibers. You need to strike a balance, so the leather is pliable.If there’s any stiffness or brittleness, it needs more oil or some kind of conditioner. Then, after the leather is pliable again, you can go apply R.M. Williams Saddle Dressing or saddle butter, to seal it and protect it.

“If you use a wax-based product, it is critical that you do it under warm conditions,” he stated. “You don’t have to warm the product, but it’s important that the leather be warm to absorb it. The product has beeswax and other hard waxes in it, and if it’s cold, it will just cake on. It will take a lot more elbow grease to get it to render into the pores of cold leather than it would if it were warm.”

Schwarz said to render it and help break down the wax, “I sometimes use a hand-held blow drier. Warmth helps the wax go into the leather faster. On a carved saddle, especially, it will cake into the creases. But the drier will warm it enough that it will soak right in. If you can get some penetration with the wax-based product, then when the leather cools, the wax hardens. That’s where you get the sealing effect that works so well as a moisture barrier. You don’t have to get the leather hot, just warm enough to help melt the wax.

“After that I use a piece of soft cloth and buff any excess off, so it doesn’t have a sticky finish and won’t collect airborne dust,” said Schwarz. “You want a nice, slick, smooth finish. It repels moisture and dust better that way, and will help protect the leather from mildew. The mold spores won’t penetrate the leather.”

Like leather, sweat and dirt build up on rawhide and get absorbed into the fiber causing it to degrade over time. Additionally, rawhide will dry out and feel dry and rougher to the touch than usual. Check your gear regularly, especially the parts that are often against the horse’s skin. If you see sweat and dirt built up, or if it’s dry, it needs to be cleaned and conditioned.

Rawhide is cured but unlike leather, it is not tanned. Although Neatsfoot Oil is fine to use on tanned leather when needed it should not be used on rawhide.

Follow along with the guidelines below and the video to see how easy it is to take good care of your beautiful rawhide equipment. You will need saddle soap, Vaquero Rawhide Cream (made by Ray Holes Co.) and sheepskin or rags. The saddle soap will help clean the sweat and dirt from the rawhide and both the saddle soap and the rawhide cream will help to replace the natural oils that were taken out of the rawhide by use and exposure to the air.

1. Spray or rub saddle soap on a piece of sheepskin or a rag.

2. Rub the rawhide aggressively, especially where the dirt and sweat have built up. This will take some time and elbow grease but you will see it become cleaner as you rub.

3. Allow the saddle soap to dry at approximately room temperature for an hour.

4. When the saddle soap has dried, rub the rawhide with a clean cloth to remove any excess saddle soap.

5. By hand, liberally apply Vaquero Rawhide Cream. Work the cream into the braids.

6. Leave the rawhide in a warm area for a few hours or overnight so the cream can be absorbed into the rawhide fibers. If it’s a nice sunny day you can leave it lying in the sun for about 30 minutes but not much longer. If there’s excess cream that hasn’t been absorbed rub the rawhide with a clean cloth.

7. Now you’re ready to ride!

In earlier days the buckaroos on the big cattle ranches used only beef tallow, usually from the kidney, to soften and preserve their rawhide. The tallow was stored for short times in a jar or tobacco can with holes in the top and it often became rancid, but this was when it was the best to use. Of course the old-time cowboy was not dainty about the odor.*

Dennis Moreland Tack is a full line handmade tack manufacturer and we’re here to help you! We have a wide selection of hand braided rawhide tack and Vaquero Rawhide Cream. Visit or call 817-312-5305 for more information.