Rawhide tack is an important part of stock horse heritage, going back to the early vaqueros. Unfortunately, many owners of rawhide reins, hobbles, reatas and other equipment neglect to properly care for their tack, shortening its lifespan as working gear.
By Mehl Lawson
RAWHIDE TACK is an important part of stock horse heritage, going back to the early vaqueros. Unfortunately, many owners of rawhide reins, hobbles, reatas and other equipment neglect to properly care for their tack, shortening its lifespan as working gear.
The first person to ever talk to me about the care of rawhide was Luis Ortega, perhaps the most influential rawhide braider our culture has known. From the 1950s to the 1970s, I bought and used a lot of his rawhide gear, which was popular at horse shows, in particular on the West Coast.
Ortega’s favorite method of caring for rawhide was to first clean it with liquid glycerin. Once he had removed all the dirt and sweat, he would apply a light application of Fiebing’s saddle soap. Using only the white soap, he would cut a small square of it from the can, carefully rub in the soap, then wipe off any excess.
Today, there are many other products that may be used. Vaquero Rawhide Cream is very popular. Some rawhide artisans even apply this product to their work as they braid. Skidmore’s beeswax waterproofing is another product that works well. It gives a nice finish and protects rawhide from any kind of moisture, whether horse sweat or rain.
Every horseman has a favorite way of cleaning and conditioning equipment. The late Frank Hansen, a top braider, always made his own rawhide treatment, a half-and-half combination of beef tallow and beeswax. He would rub this into his rawhide, which seemed to last forever and maintain a great feel.
Horsemen fortunate enough to own quality rawhide tack should clean it regularly, and hang it where dogs and rodents can’t get to it. Simple maintenance will help ensure years of use.
Mehl Lawson is an acclaimed rawhide braider and sculptor. Based near San Diego, California, he is a member of both the Cowboy Artists of America and the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association. Learn more about him at tcowboyarts.org.