By Judy O'Brien Van Put
SULLIVAN COUNTY May 13, 2003 Typical spring weather, with its damp, chilly days, can wreak havoc on forgotten or unused tack. Especially for items that are rarely used, cleaned or conditioned on a regular basis, dirty and moldy leather should be carefully examined to determine whether it is still usable.
Verlane Desgrange, a saddle-making instructor at Spokane Falls Community College in Spokane, Wash., has provided information on examining and reconditioning neglected tack in an article in a recent Equus magazine. In less than an hour, the initial assessment can be made and restoration process begun.
First, begin by closely examining the leather for signs of deterioration. Two types of rot to look for are dry rot and red rot.
To test for dry rot, bend a section of the leather back on itself. If you notice surface cracks or hear popping or crackling noises, dry rot has probably set in. This occurs when all of the leathers interior moisture is lost.
In particularly dry climates, dry rot can occur within as little as one year if the leather isnt regularly conditioned. Be sure to check your bridle and saddle in several places.
To check for red rot, bend the leather and inspect individual fibers. If the fibers are reddish or rust-colored, cracked, or seem to disintegrate when you rub them, the leather has red rot. In this condition, the chemicals used in the original tanning process change composition and cause the leather fibers to break down. Examine several locations on the bridle or saddle; red rot is most common in older tack.
If you suspect that your tack is rotted, it is probably not usable.
Leather that has rotted has no strength and will tear easily, making it unsuitable and even dangerous to use. You may want to take it to a tack expert for a second opinion, but once rot has set in, there is no reversing the process or reviving the leather.
Secondly, inspect the tack for signs of stress and wear. If you discover many places of excess wear, you might want to discard the item.
However, occasional wear spots may be repaired or replaced by a saddler.
Be sure not to overlook these early signs of weakening tack.
Inspect the stitching carefully. Any broken, worn or rotted stitching should be replaced, as often the stitching is all that holds together critical parts of the tack.
Check the hardware for rust, chipped plating or extreme wear. Replace any questionable hardware before using the tack, as it can break unexpectedly.
Inspect the most vulnerable areas of your tack. Moldy, dirty and neglected leather will break first wherever it comes into contact with metal. Look under buckles and around the bit ends of bridles and reins; early warning signs of a problem will be indicated by deep cracks, rust deposits from iron metals or green spots from brass or nickel hardware.
Whether English or Western tack, replace any portion of the leather that has deep cracks or corrosion from metal. On English saddles, check the stirrup leathers at the stirrup bar and also where it wraps around the stirrup itself.
Examine the rigging on Western saddles. A critical area, as far as safety is concerned, is the connection between the tree and the cinch systems. If the rigging appears to be loose or ill-fitting, or if you are unable to see closely enough to do a thorough check, bring the saddle to a professional for examination and/or repair.
Lastly, carefully inspect the flank billets, latigos, cinch straps and cinch itself. Replace any leather in these areas that is cracked, torn or stretched.
The billet straps on an English saddle can stretch and wear quickly. Have these replaced by a professional if you notice holes that are tearing, deep grooves near the middle of the holes, or weak stitching that attaches the billets to the saddle webbing. This is a common repair on English saddles.
Next week reconditioning usable old tack.