Moldy tack is not only an unsightly nuisance; because mold is a living organism, it can actually eat away at the stitching and leather of your saddle or bridle, leading to possible equipment failures that could endanger both you and your horse.
While it might seem counterintuitive, moldy tack doesn’t mean you don’t care for it. In fact, it often means the exact opposite: You’re taking care of your leather goods and keeping them oiled. Mold can’t grow on tack that is dry rotted—there’s nothing for it to eat.
Sparing the microbiology lesson, to put it very simply, molds and mildews are fungus. Common in poorly ventilated areas, the spores of these can “infect” other pieces of tack by carrying through the air and settling on new pieces of leather.
As leather is made from cowhide, it was once living tissue, with layers and pores. Mold spores can get into these pores and reproduce, creating a green or white powdery substance on the leather surface. Mold grows best on leather that has sweat, dirt or manure on it.
Caring for Moldy Tack
In order to get rid of the mildew that’s on your tack, you will need to:
- Take your into an open area with no other leather goods nearby.
- Brush the tack gently with a soft brush, whisking away as much of the powdery substance as you can (you will need to disinfect your brush afterward).
- Wipe down your tack with a mixture of distilled white vinegar (3:1 water to vinegar). While you won’t want to do this every time you clean your tack, it’s great for initial mold removal.
- Clean your tack well with a water-based cleaner; glycerin-based soap keeps leather moist and invites mold growth.
- Use a toothbrush to get into the small crevices on saddles and bridles where mold likes to hide.
- Allow your tack to dry thoroughly before returning it to your tack locker or tack room.
To prevent mold from recurring, wipe the dirt and sweat from your tack after each ride. This will reduce the amount of moisture mold needs to survive.
Other Equine Accoutrements
If you notice small, black spots on your saddle pads, blankets or girths, mold has infected these items as well. Clean these items with hot, soapy water (read manufacturer’s instructions first to be sure that washing will not harm the item.) Add bleach to the wash cycle if the items are colorfast. Place the wet items in the sun until they are completely dry—sunshine has wonderful mildew killing properties.
To prevent mold from forming on both your leather goods and other equine goods, you can:
- Use desiccant packs, which can be found in shoes boxes and supplements. These packets of silica gel absorb water from the air.
- Promote airflow by either turning on fans or ensuring there is enough space between tack for it to completely dry.
- Throw away rags that you’ve used to clean moldy tack. Mold spores will stay on the cloth and spread to uninfected tack if it is reused.
- Run a dehumidifier in the tack room. Be sure it has an automatic shutoff option in case the tank becomes full.
- Don’t leave your saddle pad draped over or tucked under your saddle as this can trap moisture.
Sarah Coleman has a soft spot for chestnuts with chrome, including her off-the-track Thoroughbred that she competes in the hunters. Based in Lexington, Ky., she is the Director of Education and Development for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program.