The better you take care of your saddle, the better it will take care of you.
Preventative maintenance, including cleaning, conditioning, proper storage, and using a saddle cover, ensures that worn billets or stirrup leathers are replaced and prevents the leather from becoming discolored or scratched. Don’t use any old leather products-- make sure you’re using a saddle cleaner and a saddle conditioner to prevent damage and discoloration. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about saddle care.
Where Are You Storing Your Saddle?
Proper storage is crucial if you want your saddle to last. Storing a saddle improperly puts additional strain on the tree and can shorten its lifespan. Never leave your saddle lying on the ground. Not only does this put it in harm’s way but it can also damage the leather and tree. Instead, use a saddle rack to keep your saddle off the ground and in the right position. If you have to put it on the ground, lean English saddles up against the wall with the pommel on the ground and the cantle touching the wall. Western saddles follow the same idea, but do not need a wall as the saddle can balance on the horn. Never put your saddle flat on the ground with the horn or pommel pointing skyward. Not only does this bunch up the flaps, fenders, and skirt, but it also places additional strain on the tree.
Be picky about the type of saddle rack you use as well. Metal racks with no padding will start to deform wool-flocked saddles over time, which can create pressure points on your horse’s back. The best saddle rack is actually the simplest. A piece of wood that fits within the gullet of your saddle won’t deform the flocking and keeps your saddle off the ground.
Using a saddle cover is an easy way to keep damaging dirt and dust off of your saddle in storage. If you have barn cats or mice, you’ll appreciate not having to buff scratches off of your saddle seat. A saddle cover is typically made of fleece or other soft material. Other covers have a fleece lining with a nylon outer shell for added waterproofing. Check out a basic cover like this Henri De Rivel Jumping Saddle Cover or go for something a little flashier like the Tough-1 Nylon Saddle Cover in Prints for Western saddles.
How Often Are You Cleaning and Conditioning Your Saddle?
While it needs to be cleaned and conditioned regularly, you also don’t want to overclean or over condition your saddle. To keep dust from getting into the stitching or dirtying your leather, wipe down your saddle with a soft cloth or brush after every ride. However, clean it only once a week or as needed to avoid drying out the leather. Dry leather is more prone to cracking.
Using a saddle conditioner too often is also a concern. If you over condition your saddle, the fibers will weaken and stretch, causing your saddle to lose its elasticity. While it won’t crack, this problem will still take years off of your saddle’s lifespan. Keep in mind that some leathers don’t need to be conditioned at all. As the tanning process has changed over the past few decades, most manufacturers don’t recommend oiling your saddle anymore. For example, the soft grippy leather of the Henri de Rivel Parisian Monoflap Dressage Saddle requires only minimal saddle conditioner.
How to Use Saddle Cleaner
Before you start, evaluate the condition of your saddle. Have you been riding through mud? If it requires a thorough deep clean, a saddle cleaner such as Effax is good to have on hand. But if it’s only dusty, a wipe down with a damp cloth will do.
After setting your saddle on a stand or rack, get your tack sponge just slightly damp. Too much water will ruin the leather, so use caution. For a truly dirty saddle, use a small amount of saddle soap and go over the leather in circles. We recommend using Effax Leather-Combi as it will remove stubborn and dried dirt such as perspiration and dust residues, without fogging the leather. After you’ve covered the entire saddle, rinse your sponge and go over it again with a small amount of clean water to remove any soapy residue. Note that you should always test any soap on a small hidden area to check for discoloration before starting.
Never use any sort of abrasive sponge or cloth on your leather products, no matter how dirty they are! This will ruin the finish of the leather, cause small abrasions, and possibly even deep scratches. If you have to use something thicker than a gentle tack sponge, try a piece of terrycloth.
How to Use Saddle Conditioner
How you condition your saddle and what products you use depend on how often you ride, the conditions you ride in, and the environment in your area. Saddles kept in dry hot climates will need to be conditioned more often than those kept in humid environments. If you have a new saddle made of a hard inflexible leather, proper conditioning can help to break it in and make it more comfortable for you. But soft leathers, like those used in Henri de Rivel saddles, need only minimal conditioning.
After using a saddle cleaner, go right for the saddle conditioner. It’s best to condition your saddle while it is still damp from cleaning. You don’t need much! Apply a light coat of saddle conditioner all over the leather of your horse saddle. If the saddle sucks it up and there is no excess on the leather, apply another thin coat. If there is still leftover saddle conditioner sitting on the saddle after a minute or two, wipe it off with a soft cloth and call it quits. Whatever you do, don’t rinse it off with water or a damp sponge. Conditioner is made to soak into the leather and form a protective layer. Just like with your saddle cleaner, test out the saddle conditioner you’re using on a small hidden area to check for discoloration before covering the saddle.
The Best Saddle Cleaner and Saddle Conditioner
Only use products that are made for saddle leather. Here’s what we recommend:
- Effax Leather Combi
- Effax Leather Balm
- Fiebing’s Saddle Soap
- Bickmore Bick 5 Complete Leather Care
- Lincoln Superior Leather Balsam
Shop our full collection of saddle cleaners and saddle conditioners here.