Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
Previous entries: What About Tack? (Part I)
What About Tack? (Part II)
Alright, I apologize in advance for the slight lack of creativity in this edition of Jog-Up (hey, not everything about grooming is fun and glamor). Saturday, my usual writing day, was a Holy Day here in the Bluegrass, and I became overrun with ceremonial celebrations as College Gameday came to Rupp Arena. I’m still a little light-headed, hoarse, and sore-handed from the record-breaking pep rally that morning. But, never fear, I’m here to fulfill your quest for grooming knowledge with a little bit more about tack management.
When I was a working student, we were taught a specific way to clean tack; it’s pretty simple, but very effective. I’ve continued that method for years, daily, with excellent results: clean, supple leather that lasts a lifetime.
Cleaning materials: small bucket of water; dish soap; scrubby sponge; washcloth. Conditioning supplies: glycerine (melted into a tupperware tub*); Lexol conditioner; sponge.
Add a squeeze of dish soap to your bucket of water, and use this to wipe your tack down with the scrubby sponge. Take bridles completely apart, remove stirrup leathers and irons from saddles. Put bits and stirrups in the bucket to soak. Wipe the damp leather with the washcloth to remove dirt and sweat. Use plenty of scrubbing to remove grease spots (“jockeys” as pony club calls them); pay attention to the underside of particularly sweaty areas, like browband corners, breastplate chestpieces, and saddle skirts.
The dish soapy water does a good job getting leather clean, but it can leave it a little bit dry. Pour a small amount of Lexol conditioner into a tub of glycerine* (instead of wetting it with water) and apply to leather with a sponge. Use a bit more Lexol on the underside of leather, where it will be well-absorbed. In humid areas, where leather tends to get a bit sticky or gummy, use conditioner more sparingly. The Lexol and glycerine is very safe, won’t rot stitching, keeps leather soft, and helps a little bit to repel water. Be careful around rubber items– reins, especially. Leather conditioners of any kind are the leading cause of sticky rein death.
Personally, I stay away from beeswax-based leather products. The leather may feel supple, but also sticky. And the stickiness inevitably attracts dirt, making more work later to clean it all off. If you MUST use a “balsam” gooey conditioner, use it on a slick new saddle so at least it gives you some extra grip!
And finally… polish your hardware. I’ve tried various polishes, cremes, pastes, liquids, but my favorite is NevrDull hands down. The soaked-wadding polish is easy to use, less messy, and a can of it seems to last forever. A little piece goes a long way, though it does create black fingers. Applying the polish is only the first step, however. Next you must spend plenty of time buffing and rubbing the metal with a clean cloth. The polish merely breaks down the accumulated crud; your elbow grease and a rag actually removes it. Even the greenest, dingiest brass can still be restored to a bright shine if you’re willing to put in the effort. For shows, make sure ALL your brass is gleaming– halters, lead ropes, and those evil chain shanks. I’ve yet to discover a quick and easy way to shine chains, without spending hours rubbing link by link, ending up with numb black fingers. But one dull item seems to detract from all your other metal pieces, so put in the time!
*So what is this tub of glycerine? Well, it’s a bar of regular glycerine saddle soap, melted into a pint-sized, lidded plastic container (any tupperware or ziploc bowl will do). Use a microwave, on low power setting, to melt the glycerine. It will mold to the container’s shape, harden into a block, making for very easy storage.
Procedure for the melting process:
-Break bar in half, place in container. Covering with lid at this stage is optional.
-Place container in microwave, on low setting. Heat for ten seconds at a time.
-Nothing will happen. Heat for another ten seconds.
-Repeat above. Take bowl out, swirl gently. DO NOT POKE WITH FORK OR SPOON!
-Repeat above. It’s getting softer. Resist the urge to stir it, it won’t help.
-Keep going, another 10 seconds. Remember, no spoons!
-It’s probably starting to liquefy, DO NOT TOUCH IT. It is sticky, will burn your fingers. Ask me how I know this.
-Another 10 seconds, swirl the bowl to encourage the molten liquid to cover the remaining hard lumps.
-Keep going, 10 seconds at a time, until it is completely liquefied.
-Allow to cool overnight. With the lid on, if you think a cat may get into it.
Now, why all the fuss about ten seconds? Why not just put it in for a minute and leave it alone? You’re welcome to try it; but don’t call me when there’s glycerine all over your microwave and you’re scraping it out with a butterknife. As the glycerine gets hot, it bubbles viciously and will overflow easily; a break every ten seconds allows it to settle. DO NOT TOUCH THE BUBBLES; they will burn your skin, and it is impossible to “tame” them with any sort of implement. Ignore them, they will go away. Your first melting project may not look very pretty (usually lumpy, off-colored), but it works just the same. After a month of use it will be sufficiently smooth anyway.
Have fun, happy tack cleaning! I will continue to bask in the cold, snowy glory of basketball excellence, but I promise to return with an in-depth grooming topic next week.