Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mold and Mildew – A Saddle’s Worst Enemy

That same mold and mildew that plagues us in our showers and basements are the same organisms that can easily infect your tack and completely ruin it or cause a tremendous amount of work to eliminate if you don’t take immediate preventative measures.

Mold is one of your leather saddles worst enemies.  Did you know that mold spawns thousands of tiny offspring that can be carried from small spots on your saddle to your bridle and boots via a cleaning rag or a puff of wind?

Mold and mildew come from the same family, but are slightly different in their organic make-up.  Both, however, are a fungus that I am sure many of us have found in damp manure piles.  They are their own sub-category of a living organism.  The difference between them is that mold tends to be green while mildew is whitish gray.  Whatever the differences, you MUST attack both to prevent them from spreading.

For those of us living in the South, we may see this mold appear overnight.  Mold grows best in 65% humidity and above.  Mold only needs a single spore, needs no sunlight and spreads rapidly.  However, don’t think high humidity is the only cause, mold can also grow in cold and damp environments such as basements.  If you spot mildew, you can almost be certain that the environment is ripe for mildew’s bad cousin – MOLD! 

You ask yourself, “Why is leather so susceptible to mold damage?”  Before it was made into saddles or other leather goods, it was the skin of an animal and has three layers.

The smooth side or top layer is called the grain of the leather.  Compared to human skin, the top layer has pores, tiny holes in which dirt and mold spores can penetrate.  The second layer is the core or the protein fiber that forms leather’s strength.  Most reputable saddle makers use a vegetable tanning process to retain the organic structure of the leather.  Finally, the third layer is called the rough and the side closest to the horse.

Just one tiny spot of mold produces thousands of microscopic spores.  If the mold begins to grow on a piece of leather, it penetrates the pores in the grain and begins to eat away at the structural fibers causing stains and weakening.

Therefore, mold living in an enclosed tack room will spread wildly because the recirculating air carries it to other leather items.  Once mold is present in a tack room, it is very difficult to get rid of.  As you know, it can cause irreparable damage to your tack and even allergies in humans.

With the riding season upon us and as you begin to inventory your trailer and tack, take time to closely inspect your tack for mold.  Your first clue that you may have a mold problem will be the presence of a musty odor.  There are many procedures and products on the market so seek advice from your saddle maker or someone that is expert in leather care to attack “your saddle’s worst enemy” mold!  I personally store all of my leather gear when not in use in an environment free of humidity until the riding season begins.  When I am gearing up for the trail riding season, I inspect, clean and protect my equipment from the elements with the proper cleaning tools and products. 

So as the riding season gets closer, inventory, inspect, clean and make all those equipment repairs necessary to experience a safe and fun trail riding season!  Happy Trails. 



  

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