Next to your horse, your saddle is likely the most expensive part of your equine gear. For this reason alone, it pays to take care of it and do everything you can to preserve it.
With only a few exceptions, most saddles are made of leather, and leather is essentially skin or hide. You can care for and preserve your leather saddle just as you take care of and preserve your own skin.
Most saddles come from the factory or saddle maker's shop with the leather properly conditioned and ready to ride. Saddle makers usually include information on how to care for their saddles and it's best to follow their instructions. If you've lost the care and cleaning information, or you bought your saddle used, chances are the manufacturer has a website where you can find either instructions or a phone number to call for information.
Now read on for some great tips to help get you started!
When you clean your saddle, you don't need to throw the entire arsenal of products at it each time. Many times a dusting will do. But when your saddle needs more than a quick wipe-down, reach for tried-and-true products. While bath soaps and shower gels might be good for your own hide, they're not so good for the hide used to make saddles. In addition, grease, fats, and heavy oils also leave a coating that clogs leather pores. Plus, the now-sticky surface can attract and hold dirt that you will grind in the next time you ride. Stick with basic, pure, time-tested products.
When it's time to give your saddle a really thorough cleaning, remove the stirrups and cinches to clean separately. Turn the saddle upside-down on a blanket or feed bag, then vacuum the sheepskin. Next, set it on a saddle stand in the aisle of the barn or in the shade outdoors. Remove all of the dust with a vacuum cleaner, brush, or rag. Use a small, unused paint brush to remove any dirt that got under the skirts, down in around the bottom of the horn and gullet, and around the conchos. Then go over all of the leather with a sponge wrung out in clean water. Change the water often to keep from rubbing dirt-via dirty water-right back into your saddle. Use a vacuum cleaner, stiff brush, or a suede sponge to remove any dirt from a rough-out seat.
After you remove the dirt, then it's time to use saddle soap. A tin of saddle soap usually is in everyone's tack box. Saddle soap is formulated to clean your saddle without causing any harm-as long as you don't get too heavy handed with it. So, like soap or shampoo, it should be used judiciously and rinsed completely off. For that reason, I'm not a fan of combination saddle soap/conditioners. Check the ingredients list to be sure there's no alcohol, mineral spirits, or similar chemicals that could be harsh on leather. If your saddle is light-colored leather, test your cleaning product on an inconspicuous spot first to see if it will darken the leather. Rinse all of the soap off with a sponge dipped in clean water, then let the saddle air-dry outside in the shade. Since heat harms leather, never use a hair dryer, heat lamp, or direct sun to hurry the drying time.
• Your saddle is likely your most expensive piece of gear. It pays to take care of it.
• You can irreparably damage saddle leather by over-cleaning, over-conditioning, or over-oiling it, so be careful.
• Storing on a saddle stand will help avoid stretching or misshaping the leather.
• Avoid dirt and any kind of extremes in temperature or humidity to preserve your saddle's "skin."
When your saddle is drying, that's the best time to apply conditioner. Again, be sure all the soap residue has been rinsed off entirely first. There are many good conditioners on the market. When the saddle is not quite dry, apply a light coat of conditioner to both sides of the leather, then follow up with another light coat after it has dried completely. Conditioners help keep leather pliable and prevent it from drying out. Saddles should be conditioned more often in dry climates.
Saddles soften with use, but tend to stiffen up when sitting idle. So if your saddle is going to be stored for some time, rub a light coat of conditioner over it every now and then.
If your saddle is 100% synthetic, of course you can ignore all of the above and just drag out the hose! But if your synthetic saddle has any leather parts on it, don't douse it. Keep the water off the leather areas and treat those parts as you would any leather saddle.