Question: I live in a really humid climate and my tack sometimes gets moldy in the summertime. What’s the best way to remove and prevent mold without overdrying the leather?
Answer: Mold thrives in damp, warm conditions. Unfortunately, once it starts to grow on leather, it’s difficult to kill. Even if it looks as if you have removed all of it, the leather is often more prone to getting moldy again. Mold can also discolor leather, leaving unsightly dark patches. The best course of action is prevention.
In an ideal world, we’d all have climate-controlled (heated and air-conditioned) tack rooms, which would reduce the risk of mold significantly. But not everybody has that luxury—including me! If your tack-storage area is more open to the elements, take extra measures to protect your tack, especially during periods of very rainy, warm weather. Cover it up however you can. For example, wrap your bridle in a towel and store it in a trunk. Or bring your tack home and stash it in a cool, dry room of your house.
Tack is especially vulnerable to mold when it goes unused for long periods of time—for instance, if your horse is laid up with an injury. In those situations, be sure to store it in the driest, coolest place possible. For extremely long spells of disuse, consider coating the leather with a thin layer of Vaseline and then wrapping it in brown paper. This technique has been proven to protect tack for years.
If, despite your best efforts, you still experience moldy tack, the worst thing to do is treat it with leather conditioner. This seems to work the mold deeper into the leather. Instead, wipe as much mold off as you can with a damp sponge. Then clean the leather with a quality product like Effax Leder-Combi by the German brand Effol, which strips the mold effectively from leather without disturbing the leather’s pH balance or finish.
Other products I’ve found effective in cleaning mold from leather include Ivory and Castile soap—both in bar form. Use either of these the way you would use regular saddle soap. They won’t dry out your leather unless it was dry to begin with. Ammonia is another effective mold cleaner. Mix it with water at a 1 to 10 ratio before using.
In general, I recommend cleaning tack after every ride, but this is particularly important on days when the weather is warm and wet. Conditions like this are an open invitation for mold. A good cleaning and dry, cool storage are your best defense.
Lynn Thompson has owned and managed The Horse and Rider Inc., an English riding apparel and equipment retail store, since 1990. In addition to its permanent location in Greensboro, North Carolina, Horse and Rider sends a mobile tack trailer to many area shows throughout the year. Lynn also operates a boarding facility, Hickory Hill Farm. She competes in the Adult Amateurs with her show hunter, Snow In Summer, and at Third Level with her dressage horse, Desert Queen.
This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.