Equipment Riding and Training Tack Tack and Equipment Young Rider

How to Clean Each Piece of Tack

An equestrian shows how to clean tack by cleaning a bit
Photo by Shelley Paulson

Saddles, bridles, bits, and boots: these are a few of young riders’ favorite things!

They are also things that require a lot of care and cleaning. Keeping tack clean is incredibly important for both horse and rider: Clean tack can help avoid dangerous situations, such as a stirrup leather breaking mid-ride, plus it helps keep your horse protected from the funk and grime that can build up on tack from sweat, dirt and hair.

These tips for how to clean your tack will help you keep all pieces of your tack sparkling for every riding adventure you embark on.


Bits are extra important to keep clean because they go in your horse’s mouth. You wouldn’t want to eat with the same dirty spoon all week, just like your pony doesn’t want a dirty bit placed in his mouth.

Bits can be made up of a few different materials, such as rubber or metal, but both can be cleaned with a bucket of warm water and dish soap. For optimal bit cleaning, a small scrub brush or towel will work better than a regular sponge. The bristles on the brush or nubs on the towel help grab that extra build up of food and gunk that can get trapped in your bit.

Fill up a bucket of warm and soapy water, dunk your bit in, and get to scrubbing. If the bit is really dirty, let it soak for 10 minutes first. After all the trapped grime has been rubbed away, rinse the bit to remove any soap residue. TIP: Make your life easier by dunking the bit in a bucket and cleaning it right after every ride!

Saddles and Bridles

Saddles and bridles make up the bulk of your leather gear. It’s very important to keep up with the care and cleaning of your saddle and bridle, not only to keep them sparkling, but to keep them safe. Dirt and sweat buildup can cause damage to leather and stitching, making them brittle and possibly prone to breakage.

To keep your saddles and bridles in tip-top shape, you’ll need to pick up a bottle of soap and conditioner made just for leather, either online or at your local tack shop.

Once you have your soap and conditioner, start once again with a bucket of warm water. It’s important to remember that warm water cleans better than cold water; it helps the soap get into a rich lather perfect for carrying away that deep-down dirt.

Soak a small tack sponge in the warm water; add about a dime-sized amount of your tack soap (or rub on a bar of glycerine), and begin to work in circular motions across your saddle, paying extra attention to any parts that see more wear and tear, such as the seat and pommel, stirrup leathers, and billet straps.

An equestrian cleans her saddle
Use a small tack sponge to tackle the tiny details of saddle cleaning. Photo by Shelley Paulson

Once your saddle is clean, rinse your sponge out with warm water and repeat the process with tack conditioner. The extra step of tack conditioner helps keep the leather supple, preventing any drying and cracking.

For your bridle, you’ll want to wipe it down with a damp cloth after every use to remove sweat and dust. When you have time to do a deep-down clean, take all the buckles apart so you can really bust the grime and preserve the flexible parts.

Keep track of which holes all the straps are set to before unbuckling to make it easy to put together after you make it glowingly clean.


If you ride in leather cowboy, paddock, or tall boots, the best way to preserve them is to switch into rubber boots when cleaning stalls. After you’ve groomed your horse and tacked up, now is the time to put on your costly investment so that they last as long as possible.

Clean riding boots draw the positive attention of your instructor and show judges, and full-time shine shows your dedication to being a detail-oriented horseperson.

When it’s time for a good boot cleaning, start with a stiff-bristled brush on the soles. Sweep away caked-on dirt, arena footing, and manure. (This step also helps keep your stirrup irons clean when you step into the stirrups.)

Wipe any excess dust and dirt off the boot’s leather with a damp towel, then use a clean, damp tack sponge to apply your leather cleaner in a circular motion.

Follow up with tack conditioner to keep your boots soft and prevent cracks. TIP: Stay out of the wash rack with your leather boots so they don’t get wet and then dry out!

The final step for beautiful boots is a little boot polish and elbow grease. Get yourself some boot polish that matches the color of your boot leather and rub it in using a soft cloth until those boots are really shining. This step can be saved for shows, but it really does make a big difference.

Two equestrian clean tack together
If cleaning tack seems boring, invite a barn buddy and make it a party! Photo by AnnaElizabeth Photography/Shutterstock

Tack cleaning is a necessary chore for every young rider at the barn. It shows your riding instructor, judges, and barn buddies that you’re committed to a safe ride and want to keep your horse looking handsome.

This article about how to clean tack appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Vivian Laughman


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