Saddle Care

When considering saddle care and cleaning, I think primarily about Western saddles; however, the cleaning process discussed here includes leather saddles of all types. It might be best to start with a list of items to have on hand:

1. A plastic five-gallon bucket for warm water.
2. Very stiff nylon brushes - These are the kinds used for cleaning ground in dirt on the hands and for cleaning fruits and vegetables.
3. Old tooth brushes for getting into tight spots and for cleaning silver.
4. Lightweight, fine, brass brushes - They can be picked up for $1 at gun shows as they are used for cleaning guns. They can sometimes be found at hardware stores.
5. Old towels and old cotton tee shirts.
6. Silver polish cleaner in tubes or jars - This can be found in jewelry stores, grocery stores or hardware stores.
7. Mink oil - This is found at hardware stores and local tack shops.
8. Leathernew saddle soap in liquid form - This is also found at hardware stores and local tack shops.

Care of your saddle should begin with safety checks. Check the rigging and stirrup leathers for wear and cracks in the leather. If they are cracked or worn, have them replaced immediately. It is your safety we are talking about. If the leather on your saddle is not soft and pliable, it is way overdue for a good cleaning. Anytime it has been out in the rain or has mud on it, cleaning is advised. The mud dries and pulls the natural oils out of the leather. If you only have one saddle and use it a great deal, you are going to need to clean it regularly. The sweat from the horse will really dry out the leather.

I like to start cleaning my saddles with nothing but warm water and an adsorbent cotton cloth (part of an old tee shirt). I don't use sponges because they tend to come apart when scrubbing on leather. You should clean every part of the saddle that you can possibly get into and that includes turning the saddle upside down to do the underside of the leather. Before you start the water cleaning, blow out the underside of the saddle--if you have access to an air hose--to get any dust or debris that is left inside. Use the stiff nylon brushes and water to clean out the tooling designs. The brass brushes are useful for cleaning caked on dirt on the metal hardware, such as D-rings. After cleaning the leather, use old towels to dry it and remove all excess water. At this point, you can clean the silver with silver polish and toothbrush. Keep the silver polish off the leather. If necessary, re-clean the leather around the silver with warm water.

If your saddle sits for long periods of time in a dark, damp place, it is likely to get mold on the leather. It is necessary to kill the mold, not just wipe it off, as mold is a fungus that eats on the leather. You can kill the mold with white vinegar-just wipe off the leather with the vinegar on a cotton cloth and put the saddle in the sun to dry. It may take more than one application, but keep the mold off of your saddles!

After an hour of drying in the direct sun, you can then give your saddle a good rubbing down with mink oil and the old cotton tee shirt. Do not use too much mink oil or it will leave a white film on the leather. Start with a very light coat and only use what the leather will absorb. Insure that you oil as much of the underside of the leather as you can reach. I do not recommend neatsfoot oil as it is made for harness leather and will come off on your clothes for quite awhile. Use the Leathernew which is a spray-on product after the mink oil treatment. Wipe off any excess with a cotton cloth. I recommend that at least once a year you take your saddle to a professional saddler to have it cleaned inside and out and checked for internal wear.

I prefer to keep my saddles on wooden racks that are slotted. This allows air to flow under the saddle and keeps the skirts from folding. I also recommend keeping a three foot long piece of broomstick or something similar stuck through my stirrups when not in use. See the following section for details on turning stirrup leathers. This keeps a natural twist in the stirrup leathers and eliminates pain in the hips, knees and ankles of the rider.

The cleaning process described above is applicable also for bridles, chest straps, leather halters, lead reins and saddle bags.

Please feel free to email me any time for a particular saddle care problem.

How to Turn Stirrups

Pete Harry - Master Saddle Maker

Here’s a helpful tip that will save you a lot of time, trouble and pain. This procedure will allow you to train your stirrups to stay turned in a comfortable position. In the picture, you are looking at the front view of a saddle on a saddle stand. 

1. Adjust your stirrups to the proper length for riding.
2. Take a five-gallon bucket of clean water and dip your stirrups into the water up to the bottom of the fenders. (Leave your stirrups on your saddle.) The water will not hurt the stirrups and they will return to their original color when they dry. Wait approximately five minutes until the water quits bubbling. When this happens you will know that the leather has absorbed all the water it can. 
3. Set your saddle on a stand. Turn your stirrups like they would be when you are riding. Now, insert a natural wood board or broomstick through the stirrups to hold them turned in place. Do not use a metal pipe as it will discolor the leather.
4. Allow to dry for roughly 24 hours. Repeat the process in about five days. 
5. Then for the next two months, keep the board or stick through your stirrups anytime you are not riding.

What you will achieve is that your stirrups will stay perfectly positioned all the time. Should your foot come out of the stirrup while riding, you simply push your foot forward and the stirrup will be there turned the right way. You will have the added benefit of no pain in the ankles or knees from stirrups that want to twist back to the outside.