How to: Clean horse tack

I am very particular about my horsey things. Aside from my horse, my tack and stall are what I obsess over the most…That’s a lie. I obsess over everything being clean: horse boots, saddle pad, polos, organized locker, water buckets, etc.  If you keep things clean on a daily basis they…spoiler alert!…stay clean. Here’s my step-by-step how-to for cleaning tack…

Step 1: Gather your supplies! You will need a clean small/medium sized bucket with HOT water, a bottle of Ivory dish soap (I use this for everything), sponge(s), 1 medium or 2-3 small towels/wash rags, Lexol conditioner, glycerin saddle soap, and metal/silver polish.  Tack cleaning supplies

Step 2: Dilute a small amount of Ivory soap into the bucket of hot water. Do this after you have alreHOT water and Ivory soap to "strip" the leather of dirt.ady filled up the bucket as opposed to putting the soap in first to avoid excessive bubbles. You should put in just 1-2 drops and swirl gently with your hand to mix the soap throughout the water. The water should look a bit cloudy as in the picture to the left. The Ivory/hot water mixture will be used to “strip” your tack of any dirt and sweat before applying any product to the leather. You may have to repeat this step as your water becomes dirty throughout the cleaning process.

Step 3: Use a small rag or one end of your towel. Get the towel damSqueeze out as much excess water as possible!p with the hot water. Squeeze out as much excess water as possible. You do not want to put too much water directly onto the leather. You will repeat this very often while stripping your tack. You want the towel to always remain hot.

Step 4 (I accidently deleted the picture, sorry!): Rub the towel over all parts of your tack. You may have to use some elbow grease if your tack hasn’t been stripped clean in a while. Slight pressure but don’t scrub too hard. Don’t substitute excess water for elbow grease, be sure to follow step 3.  Be sure to get all of the nooks and crannies where dirt and sweat build up. This step allows the leather to get direct contact with the product you will apply in the following steps and avoids piling product on top of product without ever actually cleaning the leather. Repeat step 3 as needed during the process. Depending on how dirty or clean your tack is, you may have to change out your hot water once or more during this process. DO NOT use dirty water. That is counter productive.

image (4) Step 5: Grab a clean sponge (doesn’t have to be new, just no left over product on it!). Dunk it into the hot water, squeeze out excess water, and pat it on a dry towel to make sure it is only slightly damp. Apply Lexol leather conditioner to the sponge. I have the larger container of condition, so I simply turn over the container one time to get the right amount of conditioner onto the sponge. If you use the spray bottle, spray the sponge 2-3 times on the “spray” setting.  Squeeze the sponge a few times to get the conditioner to soak into the whole sponge.

Apply glycerin soap to sponge in addition to LexolStep 6: Rub the sponge with Lexol condition onto a bar of glycerin soap (preferably one not broken in half like mine!). Rub the sponge on the bar about 13-15 strokes. Again, squeeze the sponge a few times to mix the glycerin and Lexol mixture into the whole sponge.

 Step 7: Apply the glycerin/Lexol mix onto all leather parts of your tack. You should not be “lathering” the leather during this step and their should be no white residue. If there is, or your sponge seems “foamy” then your sponge is too wet or has too much Lexol. Simply squeeze the Scrub away!sponge with a dry towel a few times, and then run it over the glycerin bar a few more stokes and continue applying the product. Put some elbow grease into it as you apply your product. Use slight pressure and work the product into the leather. You will have to dunk your sponge into the hot water and repeat steps 5 and 6 multiple times throughout this step. DO NOT repeat steps 5 and 6 without first dunking your sponge in the water (removing excess water, pat dry, etc.) in order to clean the sponge. That would be counter productive as you would be layering clean product on top of dirty product and a dirty sponge.  For an entire English saddle I clean my sponge about 5 times. For a bridle 1-2 times. Again, you may have to change out your water and repeat step 2.

Step 8: Time for an important step that many people skiDifferent types of metal polishp! I always polish all metal parts of my tack. This includes the very small buckles on the bridle, stirrup bar on the saddle, stirrups, spurs, bit, etc. Polishing metal will remove any dirt, sweat, or soap build up and produce an extra shine. It gives the overall picture a more polished (punny!) look and emphasizes attention to detail. There are many different types of metal polish that can be found in most grocery stores. Any will do, but my personal choice is Brasso.

Apply the metal Use a dry towel, cloth, of sponge to apply polish to metal. polish to a dry rag. Rub a generous amount of the product onto all metal parts of your tack.  “Never Dull” is not liquid so would not require this step, you would simply tear off a piece of the treated cotton and using pressure rub all metal pieces.




NeWipe away the polish with dry towel/clothxt, use a dry rag (or dry section of the rag you used to apply the polish) and buff the metal. You will want to use a lot of elbow grease and remove all of the polish so there is no residue. You want to make the metal shine!




Which equipment?: I use this method on all of my tack (leather horse boots, spurs/spur straps, bridle, girth, martingale, breastplate, etc.). DO NOT use this method for tall boots. For my tall boots I use steps 2-4 (only without as much pressure) followed by a boot shine with boot polish and a buffing brush. As opposed to tack, where we don’t want to layer on product, layering boot polish is a good thing.

How often?: I do not do this entire process every time I ride. I use the entire process once a week for my saddle and 2-3 time a week for my bridle. The remaining days I simply follow steps 2-4 (I call it “wiping down” my tack). You can use the hot towel and some elbow grease (shocking, I know) to clean your bit and any dirt/sweat off your spurs rather than using polish throughout the rest of the week. I always put my tack away clean, bridle wrapped, and saddle cover on…it takes maybe an extra 5 minutes for at least a quick wipe down.


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“Ten Habits of Competent Riders”

This blog post provides a great list of attributes that every rider (or human being for that matter) should strive for. The only thing I would disagree with is the use of “competent”. To me, “competent” sounds like a synonym for “adequate” or “average”. When I am choosing someone to ride Rudy while I am out-of-town, I search for an adequate or competent rider; a rider that will be able to assess my horses soundness, stay on if he acts up, and pilot well enough that he is left with a good work out. Nothing more. One can be a competent/capable rider and make small progression while not possessing all or most of the desirable things listed in the article.

I don’t expect a “competent” rider to consistently do as the article describes a “competent rider” should/does…”We can all think of a rider we know that seems to always do well, has calm, happy horses, and steadily improves their horse’s physical and mental state in an almost effortless manner.”. That sentence, to me, describes a great rider. The rider that you stop and watch in the warm-up ring. It’s the type of rider I (and most) aspire to be.

I would rather the title read “…successful riders” or “…great riders”. Where “success” is measured by getting the best out of each individual horse as opposed to ribbons, money, wins, etc. Perhaps “noteworthy” or “effective” or something similar would also be a good adjective to take the place of “competent”. No one should strive to be average!

Habit #2 listed relates to my previous post We are all horse people

Aside from my over-analytical critique of one word choice, it is still a superb read with a very good message.

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Timing is everything

View of Laurel Creek Farm walking up from the jump ring.

View of Laurel Creek Farm walking up from the jump ring.

It was a beautiful day here in North Carolina. In a state known for HOT and HUMID summers, high temperatures in the 70s-80s in August is unheard of. And what do horse people instantly think of when they hear clear skies, low humidity, with highs around 79? A perfect day to ride of course!

Laurel Creek Farm jump ring

Laurel Creek Farm jump ring

The beautiful weather must have rubbed off on me and Rudy. We had a very productive lesson this morning. It began with simple flatwork that consisted of lengthening and shortening followed by figure eights at both the trot and the canter, focusing on maintaining control of his right shoulder and using my outside aids to turn. We warmed up over the blue gate across the diagonal, cantering it both directions. During my warm-up jumps the emphasis was put on continuing through the corner and then stretching away with my body at the base of the fence.

After that we moved on to the triple combination on the outside. It was set up one-stride to one-stride, similar to at the previous horse show. After going through the combination once or twice my trainer called out to me “Think about the TIMING of your release!”. Light bulb! I have constantly been thinking about lowering my hand through my release. However, that is not helpful if I continue to be just 1 second off on my timing. After going through the combination and receiving a “Much better!”, me and my trainer discussed. I told her how concentrating on the timing of my release makes so much more sense. Reflecting on pictures of myself jumping, I always appear to have a too high release in the pictures that are taken at the ideal time. However, my release is soft and on the crest in the pictures that are just 1 second too late and Rudy is beginning to unfold his leg. I must be releasing once my horse is actually in-flight as opposed to when he is beginning to bring his front legs off the ground.

This picture was taken just a moment too late and you can see my knuckles actually pressing into his crest.

This picture was taken just a moment too late and you can see my knuckles actually pressing into his crest.

Rudy is at the apex of his jump but my hands are "floating" above his neck.

Rudy is at the apex of his jump but my hands are “floating” above his neck.

Timing is important in all aspects of riding. Very often it is not a stronger aid that is needed, but a more accurate and earlier use of the aid.  Too often have a heard “you were late to realize you needed to balance” or “you were late to use your leg out of turn”…you get the point. I try to be as accurate and apply my aids as soon as I feel I need to. But so often in riding, and with horses in general, the softening of aids is needed before the horse gives. That’s the hard part.

Now time for some post-ride Rudy shots!…

Handsome man all groomed up and begging for treats after his lesson. Didn't even break a sweat!

Handsome man all groomed up and begging for treats after his lesson. Didn’t even break a sweat!

Rudy's new favorite treats. Peppermint flavored Walmart brand Tums. Anything peppermint really...

Rudy’s new favorite treats. Peppermint flavored Walmart brand Tums. Anything peppermint really…

Happy to be back outside!

Happy to be back outside!

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Technology: tools to learning!

First of all, Rudy was fabulous today. Per usual. About 3 times a week I like to take him out on the trails that surround the property. They aren’t much. Only take about 15 minutes to complete the loop at a walk. However, they have good footing, hills, shade, and peace and quiet. There is a good stretch where I can do a good gallop on some days and a huge hill I like to make Rudy walk or trot up to build muscle.  There are various grass areas surrounding the rings and house that I will incorporate as well during our rides. OK, enough of that. I promised a recap of the horse show this past weekend and I intend to provide just that.

A barnmate’s dad got a new camera and was ale to snap a few impressive shots! I will critique each of those individually. My other barnmate took video footage of me off of my trainer’s iPad. I won’t provide a full critique of those as it would probably be a few paragraphs long! After all, I am my worst critique.

As a side note, it is so helpful to have all of this technology available to help learn! Critiquing footage and photos I have of myself helps me to come up with a new plan for future rides and learn what I need to work on. I take lessons regularly, but not nearly enough. My trainer recently got an iPad as a birthday present. She has been using it to video lessons and rounds at horse shows. She will then sit down and watch it with you later or email it to you and write a few words along with it. It is super helpful! And being able to blend both video footage and still photos from this past weekend has been even more helpful.

This first picture was taken at thGreensboro_2013_1e third jump. The previous jump was a wide oxer off of a roll back turn followed by eight easy strides bending to this vertical. Judging by Rudy’s overly tidy front end (isn’t he fabulous), I must have gotten in at a slightly deeper spot. However, because I had leg on at the base of the fence Rudy produced a very clean effort. As for my position, I am probably my worst critique. I think my release is good, back is flat, and head is up. However, my seat is too far out of the saddle and my body is too far forward. Because I chose to set my horse up for the deep spot, I need to remember to stay strong in my core and tall with my upper body. If I were jumping a not so careful horse, my upper body position would have caused rail with the front end. My leg is too far back. I believe this is due more to me gripping with the back of my calf rather than the inside. I may be gripping slightly too much with the knee, but I believe thinking about keeping my toe forward and contact with the inside calf will naturally alleviate that grip.

The nIMG_0636 (2)ext picture was taken at the first vertical of a very quiet four stride line. The line was preceded by an oxer off a short turn out of the corner followed by a normal bending six stride line. Although the picture is a touch late, my overall impression of it is soft. That tells me I did a good job truly bending the six strides while maintaining my leg and Rudy’s impulsion as opposed to aiming direct and having to pull to fit the six stride in. My release is a bit high and is not truly pressing into his crest. This is something I have been trying to work on recently. But I am still giving Rudy an adequate release and soft rein. My upper body appears to be better here. I believe that is due to the upcoming balance for the short line. It is hard to tell, but it seems there is a better amount of space between my bum and the saddle, but I still appear to be slightly far ahead. This is a good angle to confirm that my leg grip is not the best. You can see my stirrup leather and see that I am gripping with the back of my calf. You can also see that my knee is not necessarily pinching, it simply has contact with the saddle. Contact with the knee on the saddle is necessary, but I think I am overcompensating for a previous habit of pinching with my knee by rotating onto the back of my calf. This is not a problem on the flat, so I will have to do a lot of gymnastic work and retrain that jumping position memory.

In this picture I think my base of support is the best, but my upper body could still be taller. My release is again too high and perhaps with it 2-3 inches lower, pressing into the crest, and my leg about 2 inches my forward I would be able to keep my upper body taller. Although my release is an adequate length for a short release, the amount of effort Rudy is giving her warranted a longer release. This may not be the case, but it seems I have restricted him a bit as he is stretching his neck down and his head is perpendicular to the ground as opposed to stretching his head and neck down and forward. Perhaps simply lowering my hand will lengthen the release enough to give him more freedom in his head and neck.

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We are all horse people

I know I promised some video of me and Rudy from the show this past weekend…do not fear. It is coming! But before I start attempting to be tech savvy and figure out how to get said video footage onto my laptop, I wanted to share a fun experience I had this weekend!…

I visited my old college roommates this weekend in their hometown. We went tubing down the river (so much fun!), reminisced, drank, ate, and had a grand time. One of my roommates and I first connected over our mutual love for horses. So naturally, we can’t spend much time together without horses coming into the picture before too long! While her and I ride Hunter/Jumpers and were on the IHSA team together, her dad is a cutting horse trainer. I always love going to his barn and riding his horses when I visit with her. It is so interesting to me to see the different approaches he takes as well as the similarities.

Today I got to ride a young Quarter Horse gelding named Scooter. Scooter was apparently “big” for a cutting horse. I would guess he stood just around 15 hands. I got a chuckle out of that! And then got teased for my 17h warmblood, how big his shoes are, and how much it probably costs to feed him (all in good fun of course!). Scooter was a blast! I got to warm him up and play around in the ring before her dad got on to “work the flag”. It was described to me as being similar to gymnastics for jumpers…

It’s essentially a flag tied to a long (about 60 feet) horizontal rope that moves side-to-side by the control of a motor. There are different patterns, speeds, lengths, etc. that you can set it to or you can control it with a remote you Velcro to your wrist while you ride. It is what they use to school their horses for cutting so that they are sharper when they cut actual cows.  It was a neat concept I thought! They will use other things besides a flag too. They also have a “critter”. Which is a fake cow on a mini-railroad track that operates similar to the flag and string. I got to work the critter one time and it was a lot of fun! I rode “the babysitter” and she wasn’t as athletic as the other cutting horses but I got the general idea and had a good time.

While riding I was surprised at how similar it was to what I do. Obviously there were some differences too. For one, I was in a big western saddle. Duh. You use a lot less hand, less “supportive” leg, kept your hands lower, and the horses have a lot more woah. However, Scooter was naturally forward, I didn’t use big western spurs, he moved off my leg, used the same aids for a lead change (except more lift with the inside rein), etc. I was told “just ride him like a hunter horse. He’s broke.”

While I was riding I realized that the western saddle actually really helped my seat. And the way you are suppose to ride (how I attempted) helped me to relax my leg and wrap around the horse more.  I rode in an English saddle later today and felt like I could sit better even after just one ride! I don’t think riding western very frequently would benefit my hunter/jumper riding, but definitely a few times hear and then is a good way to readjust some bad habits I get from being too comfortable in the English saddle.

When watching some of the horses get worked on the flag and a few lessons be taught I again noticed similarities and came away with a few things to help in my own riding. One beginner rider was instructed on how to stay more balanced while the horse swept around to change directions and chase the flag. “Put more weight on the back [outside] stirrup while he moves so you don’t lean and fall to the inside”…Wow. That sounds familiar. I don’t know how many times I have heard “Turning should come from your outside aids. Don’t lean through the turn”. There was a lot of “be softer”, “you ride better when you just relax”, “think less and let it happen”, “stay out of her way”… Again, all things that apply to my (really, all…) discipline as well.

When in the barn, again, there was both differences and similarities. Grooming was essentially the same but they keep their tails showsheened and braided and manes long. These horses were clean, slick, well fed, and shiny. I wanted to steal all of them and turn them into division hunter ponies. Stalls were bedded with similar bedding and to the same depth I bed my own stalls. Turnout was different. There was only two pastures for eight horses but horses were turned out by themselves for just a few hours occasionally. Instead of turnout, horses were usually put on the walker, which had different settings to let the horses either play, trot, have a brisk walk, cool down, etc. ALL of the horses had amazing ground manners. Which was impressive because there is hardly ever a horse over 9 in the barn and most of them are under 4.

What I took home from this experience (besides wanting to add a cutting horse to the list of horses I want when I win the lottery) was that there is something each discipline can teach us. There are great horseman in all disciplines and there are poor representations of all disciplines. There are jumpers that tear around and make people think jumpers are all about being fast. Then there is Beezie Madden (enough said). There are eventers that are dangerous. Then there is Mike Plumb. There are dressage riders that over flex their horses. Then there is Totilas…I can only give these examples because I am not familiar enough with other types of disciplines like racing, western pleasure, walking horses, cart horses, etc. I would love to expose myself to other disciplines more frequently. I would like to observe and learn from the best of each discipline. Many, if not all, disciplines are rooted in history and have evolved over the years from practical use. I believe the foundation and basic principles of all disciplines are all very similar. After all, “we are all horse people”.

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Winning attitude

Today me and Rudy had a great show day! We attended the Greensboro Hunter Jumper Classic ‘A’. I decided to just trailer in for the day for financial reasons. We competed in the 1.15m and the 1.20m (EEK! Our first 1.20m at a rated show!). Rudy was amazing; he was very responsive and bold. We BOTH had a lot of fun!

The numbers in the jumpers were small, so our two firsts place ribbons were not anything to brag about. But what I will shamelessly brag about is how far my horse has come and our recent consistency. I feel confident entering the competition ring that we will lay down a solid, respectable round. Small details is now what costs us a rail or time faults or a simple mistake. He is consistent and I am consistent.

What I was most impressed about today was when I made a mistake my horse tried harder and jumped better! Previously, a not so stellar ride on my part resulted in poor jumping form, a rail, a missed inside turn, or a stop in the extreme cases (…not in a while *knock on wood*). Recently, I have been able to give him a better ride and instill such confidence in him that I feel he WANTS to try for me. It’s an amazing feeling! It felt like such a milestone in his training. But training aside, Rudy is the amazing athlete he is because of his tremendous work ethic, trust, boldness, and “winning attitude”. He enjoys his job and that was apparent today. It inspires me to want to try even harder for him. To give him the best ride possible. Granted, that has always been the goal…but still!

I was able to get some video of our two rounds. I will share those and a more detailed recap tomorrow or Monday!

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More leg, less hand

For Rudy and I, one of our biggest issues is maintaining “straightness” through our turns. Meaning, I often lose his shoulder to the outside or his haunches to the inside. This weakness was exposed in our lesson on Tuesday afternoon.  Although the exercise/course was simple and consisted of only verticals, it is apparent that I need to ride better off of the outside aids.

I wish I could add the video footage I have of the lesson but I am having some technical difficulties at the moment. I can’t seem to find the videos on YouTube or saved on my computer…

In order to continue to improve on this weakness I chose to focus on basic flatwork without stirrups today. What inspired me was this short video clip on “Fundamentals for Equitation” with Frank Madden. The shoulder-fore and shoulder-in are great exercises to improve a horse’s straightness and balance.


What most helped me in my ride today was to think about “placing the inside hind leg between the two front legs” for a shoulder-fore or “Putting him on 3 tracks where his hind leg shares a track with his outside front” for the shoulder-in. I have schooled Rudy well on the flat throughout his training, so these movements aren’t new to us. However, the way Madden explained the movements stuck with me. Thinking of controlling the haunch for the shoulder-in helped me to do more with my legs instead of my hands. This is similar to a specific point I took home when watching my friend’s lesson with Olympian Mike Plumb. He told her “it’s called a leg yield, not a hand yield”. So the take-home lesson of todays ride was more leg less hand. All of us riders know this theory, and yet it continues to be a challenge for many of us on a daily basis! Maybe I should make an audio recording of George Morris saying “more leg!” and listen to it the whole time I ride! It’s nice to return to the basics now and     again in order to remember that fundamental theory.

Madden said the goal of these movements were to “see how difficult and easy it is to move and change out horse”. My findings today on Rudy were that it is much more difficult to move and change him when tracking to the right. I knew this before, but it was confirmed today. What I need to continue to experiment with is whether this difficulty is due to not enough right leg, too much right hand, or not enough left hand.

I plan to incorporate more shoulder-fore and shoulder-in into my flatwork more frequently from here on out.

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