Saddle Cleaning Tips

Idaho saddlemaker Cary Schwarz discussed what to look for when buying used saddles in the December issue of WH. Here he outlines his saddle-cleaning process.

"Proper cleaning is perhaps the most neglected and misunderstood part of taking care of leather goods," he says. "It's also one of the most important things you can do to extend the life of your saddle. This process should take you about 30 minutes if you complete it on a regular basis, perhaps once yearly depending on frequency of use and the saddle's overall condition."

Materials:

Saddle soap
Bucket of warm water
Nylon-bristle brush
Sponge
Leather conditioner - oil- or wax-based product
Soft rag or scrap of sheepskin (available from a local saddlemaker)

Saddle-Cleaning Steps:

1. Using saddle soap, water and nylon brush, clean the saddle with just enough pressure to work up a lather on the leather. Remember to thoroughly clean areas that directly touch the horse (fenders, stirrup leathers, billets, latigos and back cinch).

2. With the sponge and water, flush clean the areas you've lathered. This process removes surface dirt and opens the leather's pores, which releases dirt that's penetrated the leather.

"Don't be afraid to use lots of water in this step," Schwarz offers. "It won't hurt the leather as long as it's allowed to dry immediately."

3. Allow the leather to dry completely.

4. Apply leather conditioner. Use a scrap of sheepskin if it's an oil-based product or your hands for a wax-based conditioner. Pay close attention to areas that contact the horse.

If the leather is particularly dry (evidenced by stiffness), use 100-percent neatsfoot oil. Apply the oil sparingly, because over-oiling adds weight to the saddle, causes the product to bleed from the leather in hot weather, and can break down the leather's fibers.

Wax-based products are suitable for all saddle surfaces (front- and backsides). The wax helps seal the leather so dirt and salt don't readily penetrate the surface. Hand-rub wax-based products into the saddle's surface when the leather is warmed to room temperature or outside on a warm day.

After applying conditioner, buff off any excess product with scrap sheepskin or a soft rag so the saddle's surface isn't sticky and doesn't attract dust.