Ah, Wellington Equestrian Festival. The winter wonderland of horse shows, a town built for riding, hacking along the beautiful canals, and… intense, oppressive, and tack-eating humidity. We’re based in the winters at Desert Horse Park – literally in the desert – so moldy tack isn’t something we see on a daily basis. When one of our team members went to Wellington for the winter, we quickly had to help her figure out how to handle mildew and mold on her tack.
Mold is, at its core, a fungus. And just like mushrooms and the other fungus you see, it can grow VERY quickly
in the right conditions: damp, warm, and dim. Unless you have a temperature-controlled or humidity-regulated tack room, mold can (and likely will) grow.
And once those pesky mold spores are present – it’s VERY hard to get rid of them. They like the pores on the leather as a hiding space, and once inside they can reproduce quickly, producing that green mildew you see on your tack.
Preventing Moldy Tack
Prevention is ALWAYS the best solution. Once mold and mildew get into your leather fibers, it’s almost impossible to completely destroy them without harming your leather too. Yes, there are solutions that can kill those pesky mold spores, but they will also break down the fibers in your leather making it weak and prone to cracking and breaking.
- Wipe your tack with a damp cloth (yes, just water) after every use to remove sweat and dirt
- When needed, use a leather cleaner, but avoid glycerin soap in moist environments as it acts as a humectant, attracting the environmental moisture and helping to feed mold spores
- Make sure your tack is completely dry before wrapping up your bridle or putting a cover on your saddle and storing it
- If possible, let your tack sit outside in the sun to dry before putting it on its rack, harnessing the power of the UV rays
- Place desiccant pouches and/or a dehumidifier in your tack room to help absorb excess moisture
- Open windows and skylights whenever possible to use the mold-killing power of the sun
If you – like many others – have neglected to prevent mold and are dealing with an active mold situation, here’s what you should do. First things first, take your tack outside ASAP. You don’t want to wipe your tack in your tack room, releasing all those spores into the air where they can settle on other tack, walls, or trunks and replicate. Then, follow these steps:
Cleaning Moldy Tack:
- Wipe mold away with a damp cloth, then clean with a mild leather cleaner (but never soap!)
- Condition and oil to prevent future issues
- Dispose of and ideally disinfect your sponges, buckets, and rags that you used to clean the moldy tack. If you can’t drop your supplies in the laundry right away, it’s better to throw them out.
- Leave anything out in the sun for an hour or two, if possible!
I can’t say this enough: oils are your best friend. Not only will leather oils keep your tack supple and soft, but – like every 5th-grade science experiment proved – oil repels water. And since water feeds mold and mildew. Well-oiled tack can help to repel mold and mildew!
What To Avoid When Cleaning Moldy Tack
We realize there’s a lot of advice out there, but here are a few things we personally recommend you do NOT do. Not only are we looking out for your mold situation, but we want to make sure you preserve the safety and efficacy of your tack. The following things can harm the leather:
- Never use vinegar, alcohol, or bleach on your leather. While they may kill mold spores, they may also harm your leather fibers causing permanent damage.
- Soaps are of an alkaline PH, while leather is acidic, and using soaps (like glycerin soap) can dry out your leather. Make sure you opt for a PH-balanced leather cleaner.
- Soaps are also humectants, trapping moisture, which feeds mold and mildew. This is particularly a problem in warmer, humid climates. In a desert climate, a humectant may actually help your leather though, so know your context!
As always, please reach out to us with any questions on leather care, repair, or fitting. We’re here to help!