April 2019 - Saddle Maintenance
Written by by Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CSE - ©2019 Saddlefit 4 Life™ All Rights Reserved
Friday, 29 March 2019 01:44
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Taking care of your investment enhances appearance and longevity.

by Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CSE, ©2019 Saddlefit 4 Life® All Rights Reserved

It seems like the appropriate time to remind you how to take proper care of your leather goods for many years of use and enjoyment, as many people will be gearing up for the upcoming show season. Taking time to take the proper care enhances appearance and lifespan, no matter the brand.


Saddle soaps should be used for cleansing only.  Soap (usually somewhat basic in pH) and sweat (more acidic) are the two greatest enemies - impacting leather longevity and appearance if not removed.  Saddle soap rids accumulated sweat and grime which, if left on, will result in the leather becoming brittle and cracking. Better just to use water rather than leave on a layer of saddle soap. A clean saddle doesn’t irritate your horse’s hide. Most people protect their saddles with a pad – which is easily washed. Important here is to find a detergent that won’t irritate your horse’s skin.


Cleaning Saddles. Photo: Shutterstock

Soaps containing built-in moisturizers are beneficial only because they remove fewer natural lubricants from the leather during washing. Leather gets destroyed by unremoved soap faster because of more chemicals remaining on the surface.

Every time you clean your saddle, the soap (even glycerine) should be rinsed off and moisturizer applied, since leather is no longer alive and cannot replenish its moisture content itself.

For moisturizing, we recommend a leather cream without any cleaning ingredients. Leather oil should be used sparingly to darken the original color, and thereafter only on the saddle panel as a lubricant - the wool will soak up any excess. On the seat it soaks through into the laminated glued layers of the tree, possibly eventually causing tree breakage. (True for most english saddles which still use beechwood trees; not so much for saddles made with synthetic bases). Oil should not be used anywhere the leather comes into contact with you (breeches, gloves) as it discolors these. Oiled flaps can soften the leather, making them too flexible. If used too generously on bridles, the leather may stretch out of shape. Use only products that are meant for leather.

This is just one variety of saddle rack that supports the saddle only through the gullet area without putting any pressure or leaving any undesirable indentations on the wool panels themselves.

Wipe down tack and saddles after every use; clean thoroughly once a week. Over a longer period of time, store your saddle at room temperature, never < 5°C, with 30-40% humidity to retain leather suppleness. Mildew is sometimes an unpleasant by-product of storage – but mildew development indicates the leather is still alive with enough moisture content to allow its growth. Giving it a good wash and apply leather moisturizer to quickly restore the original looks.

The best saddle rack is the same length as the gullet. The panels of the saddle should not be touching the saddle rack to maintain their form. A saddle cover is good to keep out excess dirt and moisture while the saddle is not in use.

Following these few simple steps should ensure you have a saddle to enjoy for many years – but looks aren’t the only thing that you should be concerned about! Fit is probably even more crucial to ensuring that you get maximum use and enjoyment out of your investment (and your horse will thank you even more for!)

Some popular tack cleaning products. Passier Cream and Soap and Fiebing’s 100% Neatsfoot Oil.

About Leather

Leather is basically treated dead skin (via tanning) and still retains about 25% moisture. Historically, the tanning process was called “vegetable tanning” using cedar oil, alum, or tannin (derived from oak or fir trees) as the tanning agent. After the mid-1800s, chromium (chemical) tanning became more popular, as it was deemed more efficient and more effective. Either process permanently alters the protein structure of the skin, making it more durable and less susceptible to decomposition from bacterial attack.  In some countries, urine was (is) used to tan leather – leaving the end product with a very distinctive and unpleasant odor! Tanning takes about six weeks, but an alternative to tanning is simply drying the hide – which results in rawhide. Leather is an incredibly versatile and natural product – it can be made into incredibly soft, delicate material used for gloves and other outerwear; it can also be made into impenetrable armour.  The waste from tanneries can be extremely detrimental to the environment (especially in third-world countries with little environmental protection policies.), but they have largely disappeared from the North American landscape over the last decades, which can account partially in the increased cost of products made from leather, since most leather is now available only from overseas – Europe, Asia, or South America.