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I have a confession to make: I have a mild obsession with leather care products. I’ve Googled the words “tack cleaner” and “tack conditioner” more times than I care to admit. And I’ve read a zillion reviews on oils, soaps, conditioners, and combis (thanks for enabling me SmartPak and Chronicle of the Horse). So when my Effax Cream Soap, which has been my go-to daily cleaner since Christmas, started running low, I thought about buying a refill. Because I love that stuff! But then I thought, “You know, maybe there’s something different. Better. Something that conditions and really cleans.” As awesome as the Effax is, it doesn’t quite cut through the dirt like I’d like. Especially on my braided reins; the laces get gunky.

Queue Google.

Higher Standards Leather Care is a small business that makes handcrafted saddle soaps and leather conditioners.

Higher Standards Leather Care is a small business that makes handcrafted saddle soaps and leather conditioners.

Somehow I stumbled on a thread on Chronicle of the Horse about a user who created her own saddle soaps in her house. Scented saddle soaps. And everyone was raving about them. When I saw that Karen O’Connor’s groom adored them (!!!), I was sold. Not that that stopped me from reading a few (a lot) more reviews about Higher Standards Leather Care before I purchased my very own saddle soap from their website. A tub of soap runs about $20 with shipping.

I chose Fox’s Vanilla Lavender, though there are several scents to choose from. The smell is amazing (if only computers did scratch-n-sniff). Plus, the soap comes with its own tack sponge, which I thought was a nice touch.

To try it out, I grabbed my bridle, my saddle, and a stiff leather breastplate that was hanging up in the tack room.
Dirty bridle and breastplate get to be my guinea pigs! If all goes well, then on to the saddle.

Dirty bridle and breastplate get to be my guinea pigs! If all goes well, then on to the saddle.

Dirty rein ends. Between that little flap it's totally black.

Dirty rein ends. Between that little flap it’s totally black.

That icky stuff that gets caked around the braid on the reins.

That icky stuff that gets caked around the braid on the reins.

I didn’t wipe anything down prior to cleaning; just dipped the sponge into a small tub of water, wrung it out until just damp (per the directions), swirled it around on the soap, and started scrubbing. Using just the damp sponge, the soap doesn’t foam or bubble up–if it did, it wasn’t a lot and was easy to wipe off–which is great, since it means nothing gets stuck in the buckle holes, around keepers, or in the crevices of braided reins.

I cleaned the breastplate first. The dirt and mold came right off with minimal scrubbing and when I was done, the leather felt much softer and pliable.

My bridle came next. The soap cut through the grime around my cheekpieces and between the bend of my reins, where they curve over the bit, like it was nothing, leaving a very attractive black smear on the sponge. It didn’t, however, quite power through the gunk stuck to the braided leather on my reins. After scrubbing vigorously, I finally had to resort to using my fingernails to clean it out. Like the breastplate, the soap left my bridle feeling supple and soft.

I let them both sit over night to see what they would feel like the next day. Sometimes that great, just-cleaned-and-conditioned softness goes away once the product is absorbed, leaving the leather feeling stiff/tacky/sticky/gummy/etc. With Higher Standards Leather Care, that’s not the case. Both bridle and breastplate still feel silky and pliant, with just a little bit of grippiness (I personally like a little bit of grip to my leather).

Look at that shine! After a bath in Fox's Lavender Vanilla scent soap, the leather is soft and pliant. But doesn't smell like lavender or vanilla.

Look at that shine! After a bath in Fox’s Lavender Vanilla scent soap, the leather is soft and pliant. But doesn’t smell like lavender or vanilla.

Much cleaner braided reins. 80% of gunk removed. Fingernails are the ultimate tack cleaning tool.

Much cleaner braided reins. 80% of gunk removed. Fingernails are the ultimate tack cleaning tool.

Encourage by the results, I cleaned my saddle with it. Because of the marbling on the flaps, I had to put forth a little more effort, but I actually got the dirt/conditioner out of the crevices. Which is probably a first. And now it positively gleams underneath the lights in my living room.
Look at those dirty flaps!

Look at those dirty flaps!

Partially done: Right side has been cleaned; left side is waiting it's turn for a bath.

Partially done: Right side has been cleaned; left side is waiting its turn for a bath.

Marble flaps look neat. But they hold onto everything.

Marble flaps look neat. But they hold onto everything. (That’s me, wishing the white stuff in this picture was just a glare…)

There's leather underneath that stuff!

There’s leather underneath that stuff!

Cleaned and buffed to shine.

Cleaned and buffed to shine.

The after-math of saddle cleaning. Definitely not something you want to drink.

The aftermath of saddle cleaning. Definitely not something you want to drink.

All in all, I’m really pleased with how well Higher Standards Leather Care cleaned and conditioned everything. I love the scent. And since it’s safe enough to use everyday, it will be replacing the nearly-empty Effax bottle in my tack trunk. They also make a leather conditioner that I will now be putting on my Christmas list (if I can wait that long).

Four out of five horseshoes for being a fun, effective tack cleaner that leaves leather feeling soft without the need for an additional conditioner or basalm.