Tack that lies unused for a while, remains damp or is in storage for long periods, can often succumb to mold. This is no reflection on your horsemanship, rather that leather is a natural substance and attractive to mold in the right conditions. Leather is not alone; fabrics such as saddle pads, numnahs and rugs can all go the same way.
Why does mold grow?
mold likes damp conditions and minimal air flow so quite a stagnant, musty or humid environment. Many tack rooms are cold, at a low temperature and often without windows which does little to encourage ventilation. Sometimes tack is kept in external buildings and cabins which are not built to the same specification as human accommodation offering the perfect environment for mold to flourish.
What is the difference between mold and mildew?
Often used interchangeably, mold and mildew are different although they are both types of fungi. The easiest way to tell them apart is by appearance. mold is generally green or black and mildew is a white/grey colour. Mildew likes damp fabrics whereas mold likes food: both will attack your saddlery. A key difference between them is that mildew has a flat structure and so tends to remain fairly superficial and therefore easier to get rid of. mold, however, can penetrate deeper into the leather and is harder to shift.
Top tips for the best way to keep your tack room fresh and dry
- Keep your tack room well ventilated leaving doors or windows open when possible
- If the ambient temperature is cold in the winter months, leave a radiator on a frost setting. Leather goods do not like very cold conditions and the leather can become brittle and crack. A small portable electric radiator works well. If your tack room doesn’t have any integral power, try and run power to it and heat it whilst you are about doing your horses
- Don’t try and keep damp at bay by overheating your tack room, tack dislikes this just as much as an environment that is too cold
- If you live in a naturally humid climate, then a dehumidifier can work well to remove excess moisture from the air in your tack room when simple ventilation is not sufficient
- Small, stuffy tack rooms that sit within another building can benefit from an electric fan left running whilst there are people about to keep an eye on it
Dealing with wet or sweaty tack
Tack that is saturated should be left to dry out naturally, this may take several days if it is thoroughly drenched. If the tack is also very muddy, wash the mud off it first before leaving to dry. Dried mud acts a bit like a mud pack on human skin and draws out all the natural moisture in the leather. Store the wet saddlery well away from other dry tack, don’t be tempted to place it on or near a heater as you will dry the leather too quickly and it will become damaged. Sweaty tack should ideally be washed over with warm water and saddle soap before it is put away in the tack room.
Once the tack is dry, clean it and feed with leather oil to replace the natural oils in the leather. There are plenty of leather foods and balsams or you can use neatsfoot oil, this will make the leather soft and pliable and it is also protective.
Damp or wet numnahs and saddle pads
Ideally, these should be washed immediately after use to maximize the care of your horse’s skin but if they are not too dirty, then dry them in the sun or near a source of heat. Do not leave wet or sweaty fabrics on or near the tack whilst they dry out as this can encourage mold growth.
How to deal with tack that has become moldy
Tack that is in regular use is not usually the culprit, it is saddlery that has been left for a time or has been stored that tends to develop mold. If you find saddlery with mold on it then here is how to deal with it.
- Take the tack apart, stirrups and girth from the saddle or completely dismantle the bridle
- Wash off the mold with a sponge or cloth that you then either destroy or boil if you do want t re-use
- Thoroughly wash the leather, using a small toothbrush to scrub the stitching, a favourite location for mold spores to hide
- You can either use a proprietary tack cleaner with an anti-fungicide in it or your own homemade preparation. Avoid mold removing products which are not designed specifically for leather as these can contain harsh chemicals which will not only damage the leather but could also irritate your horse’s skin. You can use your own cleaning solution, one part white vinegar to two parts water or just add a dash of an anti-bacterial liquid like Hibiscrub to your water
- Allow the tack to dry fully again avoiding direct heat such as a radiator or sunshine
- Clean the tack as normal with saddle soap and water, nourish with leather food before either use or re-storage
Good tack room habits
- Don’t keep anything wet in your tack room as the air will become too moist, an ideal climate for fungal spores to grow, that includes rugs, coats and boots
- Try not to store tack together so several brides on one hook or saddles one on top of another. This can encourage the transfer of both damp, mold spores and bacteria from one horse’s skin to another as the leather is closely adjacent to other leather without sufficient air flow
- If you have spare tack in storage, take it out every two or three months and wash it and oil again. Leave for a few days before re-storing and condition it with a leather food first preferably one which contains anti-fungal ingredients. You can drop a few sachets of silica gel into the storage box as this helps absorb any unwanted moisture and prevent damp
- Always use an airtight container
- Check the integrity and stitching of tack which has been in storage very carefully before use; exposure to mold can damage the tack and degrade the stitching
Remember, mold spores not only compromise your tack which can hit your pocket if not your safety but they are also hazardous for both human and equine health. Good habits will ensure that any mold incursion is kept to an absolute minimum maintaining your rugs and leather goods in tip-top condition.
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