I often get asked by customers what the proper way is to take care of their new bridle and with the many sales Five Star had this holiday season I thought it would be a good idea to go over how best to take care of your Five Star tack. This is important because failure to follow these simple instructions will have a negative effect on the leather and most likely shorten its life, so read carefully!
It is a very common practice in the US to oil or dip tack before use and most often too much oil is used to do this. Unfortunately this is not good for Sedgwick leather. This is the leather Five Star uses for it's Five Star Bridles. High end companies such as Hadfields, Beval, and D'yon use Sedgwick leather as well for their bridlework and if you look up their care instructions they also advise against oiling.
"How come I can't oil my bridle when that's what I've always done?" Sedgwick leather is carefully tanned to preserve the natural oil in the hide. They start out using a better quality hide than most companies which makes for a strong, tight grain with a good moisture content. The leather is further tanned using fats and greases which results in a product that is ready to use from the start. The leather is also "dyed through" meaning the hide is colored all the way through. Some companies put a color finish on their bridle leather and if you've ever had color bleed this is why. With the wide selection of colored hides Sedgwick has there is no need to darken the leather. With use the leather will darken but you can't take a light colored Sedgwick bridle and oil it to get it to a dark havana color. There are those that think you can strip the color off the leather so that it can then be oiled and darkened. You can't do this with dyed through leather and will once again ruin the leather if you attempt this. Other companies, such as Edgewood, use a leather that has to be oiled to darken but they use a different leather. You can still over oil an Edgewood bridle and if you read any threads about Edgewood you'll see many comments about the leather stretching. Which brings me to my next point.
"What will happen if I over oil my bridle?" Well, its not good. Since the leather already has a high moisture count, adding more moisture through oiling creates too much moisture causing the leather to stretch and weaken due to the leather fibres being damaged. You cannot repair the damage once done. The leather will have a greasy feel as there will be a layer that sits on top, and it doesn't go away. I did an experiment a few years ago with some pieces where I dipped the leather in neats foot oil and let it sit for a few minutes. That little time in oil ruined the leather. It still has a greasy feel. When I hear of people putting their bridle pieces in plastic bags filled with oil I shudder.
Too much oil will also cause the leather to split wherever there is a raised portion. In order to insert the leather piece that creates the raised portion the leather has to be "skivved" a/k/a split in order to insert the piece. Better bridle companies only split the portion where the raised portion goes. After the leather piece is inserted the leather is glued down, stitched, rubbed and sealed. Better companies do this by hand. When you oil Sedgwick leather too much the oil can eat away the sealant and cause the leather to split and can also cause the glue to "leak". It is a common misconception that when this happens it's due to poor quality leather or workmanship when in fact it is the improper care of the tack by the owner that caused the leather to fail.
Why do we oil our bridles? In the case of Edgewood, the color that they come in has to be darkened and the leather they use takes oil nicely. In the case of better english leather there is simply no need to oil the tack before use. I have had many conversations with Sedgwick and they don't understand why we Americans are so fond of oil! I think much of the perceived need for oil is to break the leather in before use when actually the best way to soften the leather is to just go out and use it. Sedgwick leather requires very little time to "break in". Their leather stretches less than other leather types due to it's tight grain. It has a stouter feel than other bridle leather before use but quickly softens up on it's own. It will have a feel unlike any other bridle which is a big reason why people love their Five Star Bridles. The soft leather used on other bridles may feel great out of the box but it will stretch more over time.
So if you've read this far, here are the instructions for maintaining your Five Star bridle:
1. After your ride simply wipe the tack with a damp cloth then go over it with glycerine or a mild conditioner being careful not to use too much water.
2. Stay away from any dark colored or heavy conditioners as they may darken the white stitching.
3. If the stitching gets dirty you can use castile soap to whiten it.
4. If the leather gets dry due to heat or sweat lightly oil the flesh side of the leather with a brush. It's better to do light coats than one heavy coat. If you need more than one coat, let the first one dry completely.
5. Keep your bridle in a climate controlled environment, away from direct heat.
6. If you live in a humid climate and don't have an air conditioned tack room it's best to keep your tack at home especially if it's not in use so that the tack doesn't get moldy.
The best advice I can give you is to go enjoy your Five Star Bridle! Keep it simple and you will be enjoying it for years.
For more information on caring for Sedgwick leather tack you can visit J&E Sedgwick. There is a wealth of information on their products as well as a video showing how the leather is prepared.
Thanks for reading and thanks for being a customer!