How can I soften a new leather bridle? Or even old and crispy tack?
So you have a new leather halter, bridle, martingale, halter, or reins. Or, you found some in the deep dark recesses of your tack trunk and you want to try and resuscitate them. But first - a not about dried out leather that you want to bring back to life. Leather is a dynamic material that is made of proteins and water and all sorts of organic material. When leather is neglected and dries out, the bonds that once made it strong are weakened and often destroyed. You will see cracks, tears, and folds that only want to remain folded. Chances are that the leather can be brought back to look nice, but the failed structural integrity makes using it dangerous. Snapping and breaking leather is not the best way to ride a horse or hold your tootsies in the stirrups. Consider using these pieces of leather in a decorative fashion instead of on your horse.
New leather is often stiff and doesn’t really want to be soft and supple. But it’s so beautiful and clean and awesome that you just can’t wait! It’s acceptable to just put your tack on and go. But it’s easier if you can soften it up!
You may also notice that some of your new tack has a white film covering it. This is normal - part of the leather making process and is used to protect the leather before it gets to you. You can easily clean it off before you get going.
Neatsfoot oil is a great way to soften (and sometimes darken) your leather. You can also use a balsam, which is sort of like hand cream for leather. Olive oil works for some people too.
Use a large plastic bag or storage container to soak your bridle or other leather item. Fill with your oil of choice, and let it soak! Plastic bags are great because you can squeeze out the air and then massage the oil in without getting all sticky and gooey. Let the oil work for a few hours or even overnight. You will need to clean your newly softened tack to remove the conditioning residue, but it’s worth it!
For saddles, it’s a bit easier to follow some different techniques, which can be found here.
How do you like to “break in” your bridle?