What about soap and water and a little elbow grease using a toothbrush or small scrub brush? Castile soap and Effax Leder Combi are both good at getting residue off of leather reins, maybe try them? And a vinegar/water combo or baking soda is always good for cleaning most anything.
Though once they've started to melt there's really nothing you can do to get them back to their original shape, I do recall using rubbing alcohol last time I had rubber reins get stuck to stuff... I think. It works for Magic Cushion, so perhaps melted reins as well?
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I second the replace the rubber comment - I have a pair of Edgewood reins that I've had the rubber replaced on at least twice. Supposedly, the concern with doing it more than once is that the extra holes in the leather caused by stitching a new set of rubber on will eventually cause the strength of the leather itself to deteriorate, but I'm not sure how much stock I put in that......
Only costs about $50 to replace the rubber, and reins look good as new. At least for the first time, just take them to a tack store or a saddle repair place, and they will get them re-rubbered....
As a maintenance tip, I wipe my rubber reins off regularly either with just a water and a cloth or baby wipes and they seem to last really well. (I have not had mine turn gummy so I am not sure what to do about that- sorry)
As far as web reins, I have been told, but have not personally tried it yet, that you can put them in the washer with leather wash (like for full seat breeches) and they come out like new. I plan on trying it soon The person I heard it from said she had done it with hers though and they looked great, so my guess is it works well. Hers were black though (she rides dressage)- so I don't know if the leather would darken or not.
I have some rainbow reins that have a small melted spot, not worth spending money on them, but not ready to throw away either - I just wrapped a piece of bit tape over the gummy spot. Maybe vet wrap would work as a quick fix too?
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I don't have a solution for saving them once they've gone gummy, but as for preventative measures, I've always avoided leather-care stuff and glycerine stuff on rubber reins. Wash them off with mild dishsoap and they seem to hold up for ages.
I've had the same pair of rubber reins for 12 years now. Granted, they haven't been used in 6 years, but the rubber on them is still fine. The nubby parts have worn away, but they haven't melted or anything. Aside from wiping the rubber part with water, I never paid the rubber any special attention. They've been sweater on, had fly spray on them, kept in a tack room that did not have the temperature regulated (over 100 in the tack room on most days in the summer), etc. What am I doing right? () Maybe my pair is a freak of nature...
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I've always just thrown them out. The ones I buy are generally inexpensive enuf that the cost to re-rubber them would be close to the cost of buying new ones.
I suspect that some rubber lasts better than others, all other factors being equal. I also wonder about environmental factors: for example ozone is known to break down rubber, esp in the presence of light.
You can get them re-rubbered, which we do a lot. This is what keeps happening with my favorite pair of reins. I used them (a lot) for a couple of years, then they get a little sticky or the rubber gets slick from use, so off they go to get the rubber re-done. There probably should be a limit, as supposedly it does eventually become unsafe...whatever...I really like this pair of reins!
The best thing you can do to try and prevent an issue is DON'T use soap (a little water is fine), and try not to spray flyspray on them.