With proper care a saddle can last a lifetime. What’s proper care? A regular cleaning and conditioning program combined with good saddle storage and handling practices. The heavier the use your saddle receives, the more often it should be cleaned and conditioned. While leather is a durable material, it needs regular care to stay supple and strong. Dirt, sweat, and lack of moisture are enemies of leather that cause cracking and hardening.
Synthetic saddles also require regular cleaning. While one of the supposed major advantages of synthetic saddles is that they’re easy to clean, we find that to not always be the case. The better quality the saddle, the easier it will be to clean. Some synthetic saddles just don’t seem to bounce back very well from lots of dirt and lots of cleaning.
A saddle used daily should be cleaned and conditioned every two to three months. If the saddle is used only once a week or so, two to three cleanings a year would be sufficient. The one thing to keep in mind is that the more frequently you do this job, the less of a chore it will be. You just need to incorporate saddle care into your regular horse activities.
Recommended Cleaning And Conditioning Products:
- Soap: Fiebing’s Saddle Soap Paste or Glycerine Bar Soap used with Tack Sponges – Stay away from liquid soaps which add way too much moisture to your saddle.
- Synthetic Saddle Cleaner
- Oil: 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil – There are many synthetic versions of neatsfoot oil that are not 100% pure. Stay away from these.
- Conditioner: Skidmore’s Leather Cream – Just the absolute best there is. Well known among saddle makers and boot makers, but not so well known to the public.
- Rawhide Cream: Vaquero Rawhide Cream – Cleans, softens and preserves rawhide.
Steps for Cleaning A Leather Saddle
- Place your saddle on a saddle stand.
- Remove the stirrups, breast collar, cinches, and any other attachments.
- Wipe off all dust and dirt with a dry cloth.
- A glycerin bar, glycerin gel or yellow paste saddle soap should be used as a cleaning agent.
- Create a thick lather using a sponge with the soap and water. Try to use as little water as possible.
- Wash the entire saddle and all leather attachments, methodically working each section. Clean BOTH sides of the leather. Give extra attention to the areas that come in contact with the horse – the backside of the fenders, stirrup leathers, and cinch straps.
- With rough out leather, which is where the flesh side of the leather faces out, you’ll need to use a stiff brush to bring up the nap of the grain.
- A small, soft brush can help get dirt out of tooling and tight areas.
- Rinse off all of the soap with warm water and a sponge or rag. Don’t use an excessive amount of water, but make sure you get all of the soap residue off of the saddle.
- Allow the saddle to dry. Do not leave it in the sun or near direct heat.
Steps For Cleaning A Synthetic Saddle
- Take a stiff, dry brush to the saddle, removing any crud – hair, dirt, sweat, cobwebs, etc. Get into all of the nooks and crannies. Wipe off loosened dirt. With a softer brush and a mild soap or synthetic saddle cleaner, scrub the saddle all over.
- Rinse the entire saddle with clean water. If your saddle has any leather parts, make sure that you don’t soak the leather. Clean and condition the leather parts according to the instructions on this page for leather.
- Synthetic saddles do not require any further conditioning.
Steps for Conditioning A Leather Saddle
- After cleaning the saddle as outlined above, you’ll want to condition your saddle with either an oil or a conditioning cream. We recommend applying oil only once or twice a year and using a conditioning cream in between. Never apply oil to a dirty saddle.
- With oil, apply a light, even coat of neatsfoot oil with a soft rag to the grain (smooth) side of the saddle and the leather attachments. Do not oil the flesh side our rough out (where the flesh side faces out.) The flesh side will absorb too much oil and weaken the leather. Make sure you use 100% pure neatsfoot oil and not a synthetic. If the oil is applied unevenly it can cause spotting. Also, too much oil can attract dirt and make the leather too soft, causing it to lose some of its strength.
- With a leather conditioning cream, apply a light (as with oil, a little goes a long way) even coat and really work the cream into the leather and all of the nooks and crannies.
- Let the saddle sit for an hour to soak in the oil or conditioner, then wipe any excess off with a dry, soft cloth and buff.
- Do not apply any oil to rawhide covered pieces such as stirrups, horns, and cantle bindings, as the oil will soften the rawhide. Use a rawhide cream to clean, soften, and preserve the rawhide.
- You can apply a finishing coat of saddle butter or leather wax dressing.
Between cleanings, use a clean, slightly damp soft cloth to wipe off dirt and grime.
With proper saddle care, your saddle will last a lifetime.