Cowboy Tack Tips

Craig Cameron runs a tight ship and expects all tack be well cared for.

In the April 2004 Western Horseman print feature "Tack Up!" clinician Craig Cameron discussed the tack-storage system he uses every time he unsaddles his horse. A painstaking perfectionist with his gear, Cameron expects his apprentices and students to follow his example and show the same appreciation for their gear - and any equipment they borrow.

"I don't mind loaning my gear to apprentices or students, but they'd better put it back where they found it," Cameron menaces. And, if someone changes the length of his saddle's stirrups, he says it's only polite to adjust them to their original length.

"I don't want to get on a young horse and find that my stirrups are too short or too long," he declares. The same goes for bridles, although Cameron says that's not as big a concern to him as his stirrup adjustments.

If a piece of equipment breaks, Cameron wants to be told immediately and follows cowboy code, expecting that the equipment be fixed or replaced by the person who last used it. On his Bluffdale, Texas, and Lincoln, N.M., ranches, the horseman has a policy of fixing a piece of broken tack immediately, so it's ready for use at all times.

"It's amazing how many repairs you can do yourself with a leather punch, saddle string and basic stitching skills. It's kind of fun, saves money and keeps you familiar with your gear," he says. Another way Cameron keeps up on his gear is to clean it at least four times a year. "It's a good idea to wipe off your tack with a barely damp rag after each use, but I usually don't do that," he admits. Instead, Cameron and his ranch crew devote cold, rainy days to cleaning and conditioning tack.

"We build a fire, talk horses and oil every piece of leather equipment we can find, including our boots and chaps," he says.

Cameron isn't concerned with darkening his working equipment, so he uses 100-percent neatsfoot oil.

"One time I asked (custom saddlemaker) Jeremiah Watt what type of oil he uses on his tack. He said, 'Vegetable oil is fine on salads,' but recommends 100-percent neatsfoot oil on his gear," Cameron says.

On light-colored leather, Cameron prefers Saddle Butter®, available at tack and saddlery shops, as it doesn't darken leather.

To clean bits, Cameron simply wipes them off with a clean, damp rag.

"I mostly use sweet-iron mouthpieces. I don't want them to taste foul to my horses, so I avoid harsh cleaners," the trainer justifies. However, if necessary he uses a mild detergent, such as dish soap.

Your tack is an investment, Cameron confirms, and by caring for it, it'll keep working for you and your horse.