Friday, December 6, 2013

I have Higher Standards... Do you?

If you know me, you probably know two things about me:
#1 - I'm a tack snob
#2 - I'm ridiculously picky about tack care products

You might also know that I frequent the Chronicle of the Horse forums.  When a thread popped up there about another poster's saddle soap - Bensmom saddle soap the review thread (if that's okay with Bensmom) - I initially ignored it.  But I kept seeing this thread.  And it kept getting longer.  By the time it was many pages long, I was intrigued.  So I started reading.  People LOVED this shit - including big-name grooms and trainers!  It appeared that it was imbued with magical properties that not only made tack very clean and supple but also compelled people to want to clean their tack.  And their before-and-after pictures they took were impressive.  So I gave in, and I bought some.  I used it once, and I loved it.  And I used it several times more, and loved it.  I bought it for friends.  I bought more for me.  I started recommending it.  I bought more for me.  I bought some for my Horses' Lessees (and more for me).

And I still didn't have pictures.

Until now.

So, back to #1.  I have nice tack (Beval, New Cavalry, Edgewood...).  I use nice tack on a "daily" basis.  Usually I'm pretty good about wiping it down after using it.  But not always.  And when other people rode my horses in my absence, they weren't always great about wiping it down, or at the very least, not to my standards.  Aaand, well, in this past very wet Georgia summer, some of it got moldy.  So after my horses went out on lease and I brought my remaining bridles back to New York, they were in pretty sad shape (though no longer moldy, at least).


Sparky's New Cav - See the ear sweat crud?
Star's Beval - It should gleam.  It doesn't.

Both bridles were dry, dusty (dust had settled into the leather and along the ridges of the raised portions), leaving them looking decidedly dull and absolutely lacking in that beautiful gleam that well-cared-for leather should have.
Sparky's nose sweat
More grime

Sweat, grime, dust, residual mold and general grossness had accumulated.
Assorted pile of other "daily use" stuff
ThinLine Reins - Look at the grossness!

Star's Beval  - Still not gleaming
Star's Beval with nose sweat... or something
Note in particular, how disgusting my much-beloved ThinLine reins are.  That section covering where the ThinLine meets the leather should be havana, not icky grey-tan.  The ThinLine itself should be a nice, true black.

I used Higher Standards Starla's Sugar & Spice, which was a limited edition scent for the month of October.  It smells phenomenal!  I loved the scent so much that I strongly considered taking it with me to work to sniff occasionally.  While I managed to avoid that particular temptation, I could not avoid the temptation of purchasing a second jar of Sugar & Spice.  Nevermind the fact that I had barely made a dent in the original jar.  Or the special edition Confidence scent.  Or my initial Buzz's Citrus Ginger scent....

Really, you can't go wrong with any of the scents.  Ben's Rosemary Mint is a bit strongly mint-scented for my liking (still very nice, just not my personal taste - I'm not a "minty" person); Fox's Vanilla Lavender is quite a lovely scent - very aromatherapy-zen.  All of the scents are far superior to those of the most similar other product on the market, MOSS.

Not only do the soaps smell amazing, they also come with a perfect little cleaning sponge.  I loved the sponge so much that I found some just like it and bought a ten-pack.  The directions (which are printed on a label on the soap container!) instruct you to thoroughly wet the sponge, wring it out, rub it onto the soap without creating lather or suds, and then massage the soap into the leather.  Afterwards, wipe off with a damp sponge.  The idea of no lather or suds might terrify some, but truthfully, suds just make us feel better.  My personal preference for tack cleaners has always been sud-less.

It really does not take very much effort to remove all the nasties that accumulate on the leather.  Maybe a little extra pressure in some bad spots, but no fingernails necessary!  The soap doesn't get stuck in the buckle hol  Leather cleans up beautifully.  It's the awesome, perfect kind of clean that is not clean and dried-out, but it is clean and still supple.  Really, using this soap leaves the leather clean, soft, and supple - just like your face when you finally find the perfect combination of soap + moisturizer.  Seriously, like a baby's skin.  And you just can't help but touch it.  And ogle it.  And want to take it everywhere with you.

But wait, there's more!  Historically, I do *not* like balm-type conditioners for leather.  They always feel too waxy and gross.  This means I hate Passier, Stubben, Oakwood, etc.  I'm also not a huge fan of liquid conditioners - Effol Effax Leder-Soft and its ilk are out.  Of all that I have tried (and I've tried a lot), the only conditioner I have ever liked is Beval Akene conditioner.  But after a bout of sticker shock with my most recent purchase of Akene, I was willing to give the Higher Standards balm a shot.  Turns out, I have a new leather conditioner that I really like.  The balm does not leave the icky, gross, sticky residue on your hands that many others do.  And it doesn't smell like beeswax - it smells like delicious baked goods!

And now, for the

Both bridles - no more crud!
Look at the gleam on the straps!

Closeup of the cavessons
Look at that gleam!!!

Closeup of a pair of reins that were
particularly grungy.
Assorted pile of other things that were dirty

And the best part:

ThinLine reins, side by side
I shouldn't have to tell you, but
the one on the left is dirty and
the one on the right is clean.  Amazing!
Yes, I did a very bad thing and used the soap on my ThinLine reins.  I had always followed the company's directions and only wiped the reins down with a damp cloth, but I've had these long enough that they were getting stiff from all the residual dust, dirt, and yuck left on the ThinLine material.  They were in such bad shape that I figured anything I did wasn't going to make them worse.  They are now beautiful and black again and some of the original pliability has been restored.  They're not quite on par with a brand-new pair, but they are far from brand new, and pretty far gone in terms of pliability and grip.  Overall, the soap did a GREAT job with them, and I think they will continue to improve with judicious use of the soap.  And LOOK!  They're pretty again!  The soap also does a great job on rubber.

And for those who would like a picture of something not-very-dirty cleaned with the soap:


The new saddle prior to my purchase - basically clean, well-cared-for, and in good shape overall.  No complaints.

A bit closer up - new saddle on day of purchase + my Prestige leathers

Holy cow!  Wow!  The new, not-very-dirty-at-all saddle (and my leathers) after cleaning with Higher Standards.
I thought maybe I should clean it before sending it out on lease with Star.
(Are you tired of seeing pictures of the new saddle yet?  I'm not.)

So are we convinced yet that Higher Standards makes the best tack cleaning product EVER?  I am.
Even better, it's a small business with an awesome proprietor and amazing customer service!  Truly, it does not get any better than that!

Buy it here:

and buy it all.  Seriously, you won't be able to stop yourself.  You will need all of the scents.  And there's a special edition scent every other month to continue to fuel your need.

And now back to #2.  I have tried many, many tack cleaning products.  My previous favorites were MOSS (of which I had 2 containers - one for Georgia and one for NY), Tattersall's, and Kirk's Castile Soap for cleaners, Beval Akene for conditioner, and Blue Ribbon Oil for, well, oil.  After using Higher Standards, I gave away the MOSS and Tattersall's (castile still has its uses... I think).  I still have the Akene, but the price is more than I can stomach any longer, so I'm afraid to use it.  The Higher Standards balm, however, is an equally excellent product at a MUCH better price.

ETA - For those interested in the ingredients, this is a quote from the maker: "The ingredients in the balm are all edible even!  It is a secret blend of cocoa butter, beeswax, and a light oil."

So... do you have Higher Standards?