Stiff reins

I have a pair of reins that I got that are really stiff. I soaked in neatsfoot oil, but there seems to be some sort of coating on them so the neatsfoot hardly absorbed at all.

Any ideas how I can salvage them? They are not old dried out reins, just really stiff with almost a wax coating on them (by feel - I don’t really know what it is).
If anyone has any ideas about what that finish is & how I might get it off so they can be oiled properly, I would appreciate it.

You could try cleaning them with Dawn mixed in a bucket of water or some vinegar and water to see if it removes whatever they have been treated with.

I usually take my leather reins, oil them up really well, and then work the reins by pulling them around something like a rounded rail on a gate or a clean hitch ball. Someone told me this breaks up the fibers in the leather and makes the reins more pliable. I then oil them again.


Thank you. I will try the dawn & vinegar.

I usually do like you do, but I go nowhere at all with them. Also tried the leaving them in a bag of neatsfoot oil in the sun. Did it for 4 days & they sucked up nothing.

Are you sure they are real leather, and not synthetic (fake) leather?

yes, they are weaver leather - harness leather, but seem to have a coating.

I have no knowledge of Western riding but my saddler told me that modern leather does not need oiling and too much oil will ruin it, making it eternally soggy. Why not contact the manufacturer directly and ask them for advice?

I’ve had better luck with Leather New making reins softer, than straight oil.

My everyday tack is harness leather because it’s traditionally viewed as the most hardy, weather resistant leather. Wax and tallow are incorporated into the tanning and finishing process, which helps make it so durable. That’s also why oil is not readily absorbed. The surface stuff you can get off by using the tips mentioned above. Then use a product like Lexol or Leather New, and wipe off any that is not absorbed. Working the reins by hand helps a lot, but most importantly just use the reins. They may never be super soft, buttery reins… but they’re almost bulletproof.

As a side note, the quality of harness leather can vary. My stuff is all Schutz Brothers harness leather (which has now been bought out by Professional Choice). I found it to get pliable more quickly, which helped justify the slightly higher cost.


This is generally true of English tack, but most Western gear is made of much thicker/coarser leather. It’s amazing how much oil brand new or old/neglected Western leather can and will soak up, just to get to the “right” amount of pliability.

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@Montanas_Girl Ah hah, thank you. It’s good to learn something new every day. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Use the snot out of them and drag them through the dirt. The more you use them, the more supple and soft they will get. I’ll clean mine from time to time, but have never oiled them.

I had a show bridle go missing a while ago and on there were my reins that I got in 2001-- I could cry thinking about it. More sentimental reasons, but those reins were so supple and worn and just felt so right in my hands!

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Lexol seems to help any kind of leather of whatever kind and shape, may be worth trying that?