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Saddle & Tack Care Questions

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  • Saddle & Tack Care Questions

    What is your preferred method of taking care of your saddle and other tack to prolong its useful life?

    I've come across all sorts of contradictory advice and don't really know what is best. To clean or at least wipe down after every ride or not to, to oil or not to, etc. All sorts of different products, too!

    Also, does the leather type make a difference? For example, my saddle is an older Courbette made of German cowhide (I'm pretty sure). It's extremely durable leather that is nice and pliable, but is a completely different animal than the butter soft French leather I see on a lot of saddles. Does this leather require different products than softer French leather, for example? Or is leather pretty much leather when it comes to care?

    What about English vs. Western? I've always heard that neatsfoot is okay for Western, and mixed responses about whether it was okay or not for English. Do these different types of tack require different products or a different routine?

    I'm a little nervous about oiling tack (I've been using a Lederbalsam instead with good results) because I've heard so many horror stories about neatsfoot rotting stitching and people over-oiling stuff, etc. I even had a saddle fitter (for both English and Western) tell me she's seen leather disintegrate with neatsfoot oil. I used to oil Western tack with neatsfoot with no issue, but never tried it on English tack. I know there are other oils out there too, like Hydrophane, Saddle Oil, etc. What are the differences and best uses for these? Also, what is the difference between regular neatsfoot and a neatsfoot compound?

    What is your favorite method for breaking in new tack? I've heard of people talking about "rolling" leather in their hands as they're oiling or conditioning it. Is that like bending it and massaging the product into it?

    Sorry for so many questions, I just want to hear about all of the different methods and products and find out what is best for preserving tack.

  • #2
    I was recently complemented by a cwd rep on on the condition of my saddle so I think I can speak on this...
    To be honest, I don't do a whole ton. I use a wet rag to wipe it off if there's dirt, but I mainly just use effax lederbalsam maybe every two or three weeks, less in the winter. I use glycerin soap maybe a few times a year. I avoid neatsfoot oil for the reasons you listed. This is for a full calfskin saddle that is about seven years old.

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    • #3
      If your saddle is older you don't need to worry about breaking it in. Just worry about keeping it clean and conditioned. You're going to get tons of contradictory advice but really it's not complicated - there are actually only two rules. If your tack is dirty or sweaty, clean it. If your tack is dry or cracking (or prone to getting dry or cracking), condition it. It's pretty hard to ruin tack.

      Glycerin saddle soap is the old school standard. Some people love it the nice soft shine you get from it and others think it makes tack too gunky. Try it out. If you don't like it, try something else.

      Oil conditions new leather. Over-oiling is a thing to avoid. Oiling calfskin is definitely a thing to avoid. Your saddle is not new or calfskin so this isn't an issue. If your saddle get super dry a little bit of oil will not kill the stitching, regardless of what anyone says about old vs new fibers in the stitching.

      There's lots of conditioners out there. I don't see much of a difference in most of them. Try some out and see if you like them!

      Some people wipe down tack with a damp rag (me!). Some people faint if their saddle sees the rain. Both of these parties have saddles that look just fine

      Some people get all super sciencey about polar vs non polar and closing the pores and sealing things with glycerin. If that interests you, awesome! Me? Like I said before, I clean my tack when it's dirty with some stuff that cleans leather and I condition it when its dry with some stuff that conditions leather (and my tack looks great).

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      • #4
        A lot is going to depend on the climate where you live, and indeed the time of year. Leather in a dry desert climate is going to need more conditioning than leather in the temperate damp PNW. Leather in the PNW in winter or a hot humid subtropical climate is going to need mold control. Leather that gets rained on will need more conditioning than leather only used indoors. If the horse sweats through the saddle pad, the panels of the saddle will need cleaning too. If the horse sweats on the underside of the flaps, those will need cleaning. If your arena or your tack room is dusty, you may need more wipe downs. You really need to evaluate the leather you have in front of you, and the climate around you, and then (IMHO) do the least you can get away with.

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        • #5
          There is a lot of stuff available these days - cremes, special oils, conditioners, you name it. All of them cost $$$ and IMHO, don't make your tack look/feel any better than a few multipurpose simple, inexpensive products:Add to your tack cleaning kit:
          • a DULL knife (like an old girl scout knife or swiss army knife - but an old metal fingernail file will also work)
          • an old SOFT toothbrush
          • soft cotton washcloth/face towel (I send old, worn out towels to the barn)
          • sponge (synthetic is OK, but I prefer a natural sponge, they don't get as nasty or break down as quickly)
          • scrubby (like those green scotch-brite brillo pad things)
          How often you clean tack totally depends on 1) how many days a week you ride & 2) how dirty your tack gets (loads of slobber on a bridle/breastplate, dusty arena gets on saddle, etc.). So that part really depends on use and conditions.

          If you buy good quality tack, made of good quality leather, you really can't ruin it by properly cleaning it, oiling and conditioning it. I own a 1970 Barnsby close contact saddle I have had since 1973/74 - my parents bought it for me used. It still looks great. Oiling has not deteriorated any of the stitching on my saddle or any of my bridles (which are probably older than most people posting on this forum! Hahaha).

          You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to have nice looking, clean tack. So don't let anyone tell you that you need all that fancy, pricey, frufru stuff. That fancy shmancy stuff will work just fine, but why spend all that $$$$ when it will look just as nice with basic supplies you can get at Target or Walmart?
          ~~ How do you catch a loose horse? Make a noise like a carrot! - British Cavalry joke ~~

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          • #6
            Years ago, I groomed for a barn that had an awesome set of soft-tipped tack cleaning tools. They were awesome for getting in the grooves and seams, around buttons, etc. They were silicon-tipped or something similar. Does anyone know what I'm talking about? I'd love to have a set for myself!

            As for tack care, I clean infrequently, once a month if I'm lucky, but try to wipe down after each ride and try to avoid to rain. I use regular saddle soap and Belvoir leather balsam or Lexol conditioner on pretty much everything, including my soft French saddle. I keep my stuff covered in the barn as much as possible.

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            • #7
              To answer another question - yes, english and western saddles are different. Western saddles are generally made with vegetable tanned leather which leaves the leather more open and maleable than the the chrome tanning process used for english tack leather.

              The vegetable tanning process is what permits the tooled designs. Western saddles tend to use heavier (thicker) leather than english saddles. The vegetable tanned leather will lose the oils more easily and needs deeper conditioning. Oil penetrates further than other conditioners, and the heavier leathers take more oil. It is quite possible to over oil leather but if you apply several coats and allow it to soak in between coats you can stop before overdoing it.


              Whatever your discipline, if you know in advance that you're likely to be caught in the rain (show, scheduled trail ride, whatever) clean and condition your leather tack the day before. It will help your gear resist the rain and make post ride care easier. Let it get mostly dry without using a heat source (heat, not water, is the enemy) then clean it, and if it wasn't done before the soaking, condition it. The slight dampness in the leather will help the conditioner penetrate.


              One way to tell if your saddle needs conditioning is if you start seeing wear marks or scuffs.


              And because you asked I use Fiebings glycerin saddle soap bar or a linseed oil soap for cleaning (the linseed offers some conditioning but can get gunky if used too often) and a paste conditioner like Fiebings Aussie conditioner or Oakwood. My tack is english english leather with some veg-tan pieces (bridle, martingale, halter). I do occasionally oil (Fiebings neatsfoot compound) in the winter as it gets too cold to clean tack very often and the deeper conditioning helps.

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