How do I clean all that specialty leather on saddles and bridles?
Often, we use tack that has pieces or parts that are made of non traditional leathers, such as suede, patent leather, or white leather. You may find suede as the seat of a saddle, and you may find patent leather or white leather on the cavesson or brow band of a bridle. White leather is typical of piping that is used to accent traditional leathers.
How do we treat and care for suede? First and foremost, prevention is the key here. Try and prevent the rider from sweating while sitting on a suede saddle. (Just kidding. But wouldn’t life be easier?) It’s best to pre-treat any suede on tack with a waterproofing and stain preventing spray before the suede is used. You can find these sprays at outdoor stores, and you may want to check at shoe repair shops also.
Your rump might smooth out this suede seat over time.
So, the suede got dirty anyway. You have some things you can do here to bring it back to life. One is to use a washcloth, a nail brush, a toothbrush to bring up the “nap” of the suede. The nap is the fuzz, you want to make it fuzzier to clean it. Next, use a suede eraser (also available at shoe repair shops) to lift dirt and stains. This is actually a giant eraser, so over time it will shrink as you use it.
I found this "special" suede cleaner at a fancy tack shop. I'll bet a nail brush would be just as good!
You MAY be able to use white vinegar on stains to lift them out of suede, be sure to do a tiny spot test before you attack the stain. You can also use a dry brush and towel to dry off most of the suede should it get wet. Air dry after that!
You may also have some patent leather to clean while on the job! This is a bit trickier, as scuffs and scratches are very obvious. You have a few options here! For scuff marks, grab a felt tip pen in the same color as your patent leather and a damp paper towel. Color the paper towel and use that to buff the scuff out. For general cleaning, use a tiny amount of mineral oil or petroleum jelly on a super soft cloth to clean. Follow with another cloth to buff to a shine.
Patent leather can be found on bridles and boots, among other things!
You may also run into some white leather, which is commonly used as piping on some bridles and saddles. While this is so snazzy in the show ring, it’s a Groom’s nightmare. Let’s be honest here, we love brown and black tack because it’s the color of dirt. It blends. Add white into the mix, and our day got a bit longer.
The easiest thing to use for your white leather trim is plain old saddle soap and a toothbrush on a daily basis. Get into the seams! Have a clean cloth handy to wipe the soap suds as you clean. It’s very important to also keep these trimmings well conditioned, as any cracks are dark and will be very obvious. For more tips on white leather, you can read this spiffy gem of an article.
You may want to also find some sort of implement, like you fingernail or a toothpick, to get into the junction of the white piping and the darker leather. This will clean things up a bit!
Do you have a technique for dealing with these specialty leathers?