Tack Care {Conditioning and Restoring Leather}

If you are going to train donkeys you will need tack. Tack care and the ability to recondition tack will become important because tack is expensive!

One of the best ways to stay on budget? Buy used tack and equipment! Even if you have to restore the leather tack or make some repairs its worth it. It’s usually not hard and you will really save SO much money! On top of that, the hunt for used tack and equipment can be half the fun.

I recently had the opportunity to buy a miniature horse breeders collection of carts and driving harnesses. I knew most of this stuff would be restoring projects, and some would be bigger than others but I bought it all for what 1 wagon would have cost me.

*Note about buying horse harnesses to use for Donkeys. There are few harnesses especially made for donkeys and the custom made ones are expensive. By having several harness sizes I can usually fit any donkey I have. For example, my 11 HH donkey wears a size B mini horse harness but a pony bridle. By buying used I can afford to have many harnesses (and saddles), although sometimes I may have to put a little work into them.

cleaning tack

How to Clean and Restore a Leather Harness

I got 3 leather harnesses in this big mess of driving tack and equipment! One is a studded fancy show harness in really bad shape, dried out and some pieces look like a mouse might have chewed them into. One is like new still in packaging and the other is a dried and cracked leather pleasure driving harness. The average price for these harnesses is only $30 each. Totally worth trying to restore!

I decided to try to restore the dried out leather pleasure first. This harness is comparable to several online that sell for $250 new. I’d say it’s very much worth a try to restore. I have NEVER restored leather tack, so I hit google and got tons of contrasting information. Imagine that!

From lots of research, I was confused. Use oil, don’t use oil! Some sites would say use water, or don’t use water! Use soap, don’t use soap! My goodness!

This article made a lot of sense of chaos. Restoring Old Tack and so did this one Common Leather cleaning myths.


Choosing a method to restore old leather tack

The first step to reconditioning and restoring leather tack is always to take it all apart. Every buckle! But it was so stiff I couldn’t even take it apart. This harness was so dry and stiff I couldn’t straighten it in places though! I was afraid it would break it was so brittle! I tried using a damp sponge but that really didn’t help. No sense in adding oil because it really wouldn’t soak it up at this point. It was so stiff I couldn’t even take it apart!

So I took a tip from a British forum on restoring leather tack and did something super scary!

I submerged this harness in warm water for a few minutes, then I started using saddle soap to clean the dirt off. This harness leather had been so void of moisture that only then did it soften enough for me to undo all the buckles!

After getting it soft and clean with the saddle soap, I rinsed it well. The next step was to lay out to semi-dry. This is important because you don’t want it to get TO dry or it won’t soak up the oil properly. Then you’ll be back at square one with overly dry stiff leather!

restoring harness

Once the Leather is almost dry now condition

To restore and recondition this leather harness I used a glycerin-based saddle soap and Black Rock Leather conditioner a friend gave me. I used a cloth and rubbed it into the leather on both sides. It was soft and I was beginning to see a beautiful harness underneath!

restoring harness


I let it dry overnight.

The DIY Restore leather harness results

As you can see it’s black, shiny and dropped softly here. It looks like a new leather harness. I was thrilled! BUT… there were a few problems.

restoring leather tack

The Blackrock leather conditioner left the leather feeling tacky at first then it left the leathers hard again. The conditioner also had a weird chemical smell to it I did not like. I looked up their company online and like so many leather conditioners they don’t give out what’s in it. A big secret! Whatever, a big red flag to me they are hiding something.

I hate chemicals around myself and my equine. There are a lot of shady products on the market that have harmful things in them that aren’t revealed to us. There are also a lot of unregulated products that aren’t even what they say they are all together. This leather craftsman wrote an article about what he found out about leather conditioning products and what works best for him. Spoiler: Basically any oil will do the job! Leather Conditioner Comparison

The Solution: A Totally Natural DIY Tack Leather Conditioner!

Right! Here’s where the second DIY Tack Care Project comes in. Making your own Leather Tack Conditioner! After much more research coupled with what my husband uses to soften hides he has tanned, I came up with the most lovely leather tack conditioner. It’s easy to make, you’ll know first-hand what’s in it and you know it’s absolutely amazing for your leather! No weird chemical smells and it will save you money! In fact, it will provide extra protection to your tack and maybe some aromatherapy for your horse or donkey too.

Leather Conditioner Formula

2 oz. of Pure Lanolin

2 TBSP Sweet Almond Oil

5 Drops of Lavender Oil

Mix thoroughly together! You can melt first if you like. Wipe onto the leather with a cloth. Let set overnight. If there is any conditioner that didn’t absorb wipe it off.


After reading up on all the oils I might use, I choose Sweet Almond oil. It is stable and won’t go rancid. Mice shouldn’t be attracted to it as they can be to some oils. Lanolin is highly recommended for leather from many sources. I use it in several products I make and it is an amazing skin conditioner so I can see how it could benefit leather too.

This conditioner did the trick! It turned out gorgeous!

restoring leather tack


Essential Oils Safe for Leather

Reading up on oils to use for restoring leather tack, I came across an article on using Essential oils as part of leather conditioning! Most essential oils won’t harm leather but many can add benefits such as anti-bacterial and cleansing actions. Many essential oils also repel mice. Remember, I mentioned a harness that looked like a mouse chewed it. I’ll want to avoid that in the future.

And yes, many essential oils are great for donkeys! I choose to use Lavender for all those reasons in my Leather Conditioner recipe. Sure beats all those fake toxic chemical fragrances they add to leather cleaners and conditioners!

I have a book with instructions making your own essential oils for donkey kit, formulas, safety, dilution chart and more. Click the picture for more info.

essential oils for donkeys

Here are a few more of my Natural Donkey Care recipes using essential oils:

Donkey Grooming {FREE Recipe Coat Conditioner) 

Rain Rot in Donkeys {FREE Home Remedy} 

Donkey Care [Calming a Stressed Donkey]

Other Leather Harness Repairs

There were 3 pieces of this harness that had broken ends. Two of them weren’t bad and super easily fixed!

The end of the crupper strap and one of the bridle ends had the hole ripped. To repair the holes I used Upholstery thread, leather needle, velcro fabric (on the bridle end) and scissors. I also used a Hegar needle holder to grip the needle and pull it through the leather easier. Like this one, you can get at Wal-mart Hegar Needle holder.  I highly recommend one of these when repairing anything that’s tough to pull a needle through! I use it for canvas and denim projects too.

The Repaired and Reconditioned Harness is Done!

I can not believe how pretty it is!!! From that awful dried out mess to this nice little harness! Well worth the $30 I paid. 

Tack Care and staying on Budget!

One of the main reasons people avoid doing anything with their donkeys is because tack is expensive. I understand that. Tack does not have to be super expensive though! There are many tack hacks and DIY tack projects to help you stay on budget and enjoy your donkeys to their full potential! 

tack care

Donkey Lovers List

Passionate Donkey lover? Join my Donkey Lovers List! I’ll be sharing my favorite and most helpful training tips, natural donkey care health support tips and more! Sign Up and learn to enjoy your life in balance with your donkeys!