How do I know if my old piece of leather tack is safe?
And also, very uncomfortable to hold. And STIFF.
For the most part - old leather that has started to crack is not safe. You may be able to restore some flexibility, but not strength. Remember that leather was once alive - and through the tanning process the animal hide becomes the leather that we are all familiar with. The tanning process stabilizes the proteins of raw hides so that the hides don’t putrefy - AKA decay and smell. The tanning ingredients can be a various assortment of chemicals, veggies, chrome, formaldehyde, synthetic polymers, aluminum salts, and even brains. YES - brains.
If leather is not tanned, it will eventually putrefy - just like a dog’s rawhide chew that gets soggy and stinky.
These stirrup leathers have seen better days!
Leather fibers are a tangled mess, held together with protein bonds. The tanning process prevents those bonds from decomposing. BUT - if the bonds dry out, the proteins bonds will shrink, snap, and break. You can’t repair these bonds.
In order for leather to be safe, it must be supple, that is strong and flexible. You can oil and condition ‘till the cows come home and that stiff piece of rein or stirrup leather. The flexibility will come back, but the strength won’t.
And then this happens:
It's almost guaranteed that broken tack only happens while you are trying to show off for someone.
Some daily routine type of stuff can also lead to weak and cracked tack. Wet tack dries out easily, as the water bonds to the proteins and then it all dries out. Stretched leather can sometimes reach it’s breaking point and snap, too. Then you have mold and mildew to contend with, and don’t even get me started on brand new tack that’s stiff as a board.
When in doubt, assume that the leather needs to be replaced or repaired. If replacement is the choice, you can always convert the piece into a bracelet, belt, or make a shadow box or frame to remember your horse. Lots of options!