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[RC] Leather Headstalls (was: biothane) - k s swigart

Jen said:

I don't have time to clean and condition a leather headstall.

Pretty much all of my headstalls are leather, and I can, unequivocally say that 
they need very little "cleaning and conditioning."  For my show tack (which is 
always leather), I clean it, pretty much, after every use.  But this is because 
it needs to look clean for the show ring, not because it needs this type of 
regular care to maintain its integrity.

For my schooling tack (which is the heading all my endurance tack comes under), 
I MIGHT "clean and condition" the headstalls once or twice a year.  I have had 
to replace them because they were broken (from the horse stepping on the reins 
or pulling back while tied with the bridle), but not because they were too 
dirty to clean up for use.

However, this is assuming that you use it regularly.  You only have to 
religiously "clean and condition" leather if a) you want it to be spotless for 
the show ring or b) you want to store it and not use it very often.  Even the 
sweat and grime that accumulates from being put on a working horse does not 
cause problems with leather unless you leave it on there for while you store it.

I have one leather headstall that I have used for the past ten years on my 
endurance pony (she doesn't pull back when tied with the reins) for as long as 
I have had her (10 years).  I have probably cleaned and conditioned it maybe 
five times in those ten years, and one of those times was when I had to clean 
it because I was taking her to a show (and being a pony with a dinky pony-sized 
head, it was the only headstall I had that fit her).  And despite the fact that 
had been used daily on an endurance horse without being cleaned, it still 
looked good enough for the show ring.

What I do with my leather tack is hose it off and run an oily rag over it when 
it starts to feel dry to me.  And as long as I am using it regularly, this 
doesn't happen very often.  And if you do this (assuming it was decent quality 
leather in the first place), it will serve you well for years, AND it will feel 
nice in your hand.  Something I cannot say about biothane.  I don't know 
whether horses like or don't like the feel of the stuff, but I know _I_ hate 
the feel of it.  And I am also of the opinion that even the grimiest, not been 
cleaned in months leather LOOKS better than brand new biothane.  Because, in 
addition to hating the way the stuff feels, I also think it is ugly.

The only tack that I have that isn't made out of leather (other than lead 
ropes, and all those are made out of cotton) is stuff that was given to me (or 
was included in some "box of tack" that I bought at the auction).  Even the 
halters that I buy are leather.  I have some nylon halters, but they either 
came with the horse or were given to me.  On almost all of my leather tack, the 
stitching is what wears out first (and because it is leather, it is really easy 
to find somebody to fix the stitching and have it repaired).

I still have headstalls, reins, girths, etc. that I bought for my first horse.  
So trust me, I know how much time it takes to take care of leather.  And it 
isn't very much.  Taking care of leather only takes a lot of time if you aren't 
using it, as I will heartily agree that leather doesn't store very well unless 
it is scrupulously cleaned and conditioned before putting it away.

Orange County, Calif.

p.s.  I don't buy really expensive bridles for my schooling tack (no $200 
bridles for me, more along the $50 so a lot of time it is because it is on 
"close out"); however, I DO ensure that it is good quality leather.  And I do 
this by holding it in my hand.


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