Saddle Care

Neely Heidorn  |  8/24/2011 1:29:58 AM


One of the most difficult things to do these days is to find time to do things like clean and oil saddles and tack. With all the things we have to do in our busy schedules, saddles and tack seem to always end up at the bottom of the list or not even on the list.

If you’ve ever been in a situation where your immediate help was needed horseback and you had to use gear that belonged to someone else and they didn’t even use it regularly, a little oil on the saddle and reins sure would have been nice.

You're probably seeing cracks in the headstall, cracks in the rein loops; the reins are stiff as a board; you can’t adjust the stirrup leathers because they are stuck; strings break easily; the flank cinch is impossible to buckle or unbuckle; the cinch hobble is about to break and you know that means – there could be a rodeo about to take place; rats have begun to eat on the rawhide-covered tree. In a situation like this, a person can’t ride properly and the horse will get mixed signals because you’re not comfortable.

Good horse people keep their tack in good working order. Here are a few ideas to make keeping up your tack a little easier and interesting.

  1. Set aside time to do this – make it a part of your lifestyle and stick to it.
  2. Get young folks involved and teach them. It's quality family time and an excellent disciplinary tool.
  3. Learn ways to really be effective at conditioning leather. Get the proper tools and supplies to spend a minimum of time.
  4. Understand that your tack and saddle will last a lifetime if properly cared for.

Cleaning Tools and Supplies

Tools Supplies:

  1. 1 bucket for water, 1 bar – Fiebing’s Glycerin Soap.
  2. 1 soft bristle brush, 1 can – Fiebing’s Saddle Soap Paste.
  3. 1 firm bristle brush, 1 gallon – Fiebing’s Saddle Oil.
  4. 1 toothbrush, 1 Fiebing’s Aussie Leather Conditioner.
  5. 1 tall saddle stand or Skidmore’s Leather Cream.
  6. 1 sponge for cleaning or R.H. William’s Saddle Dressing.
  7. 1 sponge for applying soap or Ray Hole’s Saddle Butter.
  8. 1 sponge for applying conditioner.
  9. 1 medium spray bottle, 1 small bottle of vinegar.

  1. Place saddle on a stand where it is comfortable to work on.
  2. Remove all tack-breast collars, ropes, cinches, stirrups and stirrup hobbles.
  3. If you have access to an air compressor, blow off dust as much as possible under seat jockeys and back jockeys. If not, wipe as much dust off of saddle as possible with a damp cloth.
  4. If you have mold or mildew on the saddle, using a spray bottle, mix vinegar with water according to how heavy the mold or mildew is. Mix approximately 75% water and 25% vinegar. If this doesn’t work, add vinegar until the solution kills mold and mildew. Let set a few minutes to work, then rinse these areas with clean water.
  5. Shave off slivers of bar saddle soap into a bucket of water and whip up lather in water.
  6. Lightly wet the saddle down with clean water from a hose or spray bottle.
  7. Use a sponge and wash the saddle with the bucket of soapy water.
  8. Pay special attention to the back side of fenders and stirrup leathers, back side of rigging, back side of back billets and back cinch, and stirrups.
  9. Use the brushes to get excessive dirt buildup off or in the tight areas such as under cantle binder. Use toothbrush in tooling area.
  10. When you see that the saddle is once again clean, rinse saddle completely with clean water.
  11. Go back if needed and clean areas that still appear to be dirty and rinse thoroughly.
  12. By the way, try to do this on a dry day. The saddle will need to set and dry now. Before the leather is completely dry (only a little moisture left in it) turn the saddle upside down so that the cantle and horn rest on a table.
  13. Begin to oil the saddle’s underside – seat jockeys, rigging, billets, front and back jockeys, gullet area, backside of fenders and stirrups leather – with a sponge and oil. Let the oil set a few minutes until the leather absorbs it and repeat once more where necessary and let set again.
  14. Turn the saddle over and put it back on the stand and oil under the seat jockeys, on the skirts, and under the front and rear jockeys on rigging and skirts.
  15. Pull stirrup leathers down about 12 to 18 inches. Oil this part of the stirrup leathers on both sides that are now exposed. Oil a second time, and then pull stirrup leathers back to original position.
  16. Now begin to oil the rest of the saddle that is exposed – all that you see – oil it evenly. Take care not to oil one area more than another, so as not to change the color.

You can over-oil a saddle, so apply oil sparingly and let it penetrate. When the saddle feels good to the touch – not stiff, but supple – stop oiling and let it sit.

Oiling a saddle will darken it over time and keep the leather alive. Not oiling it because you don’t want to darken it will over time will let the leather dry out and become brittle, and there is no bringing it back to life.

For roughing-out saddles you can use about 80 grit sandpaper or a soft wire brush, rubbing and brushing lightly to bring back original texture.

Do not oil padded seats or rawhide.

On tooled saddles or smooth saddles after they are cleaned and oiled, use paste Fiebing’s Soap like wax. Apply, let set, and then polish to a shine.

Apply saddle dressing to the backs of rigging, backside of fenders and stirrup leathers, backside of billets and any area that comes into contact with the horse.

On rawhide cantle binders, horn binders, stirrups, etc. do not oil. After cleaning, apply rawhide dressing.

Keep your saddles and tack stored in an area that is rat- and mouse-proof if possible and the air at least gets circulated. Stagnant air and humidity will cause your leather gear to mold if it is oiled with 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil. 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil will also attract rats and mice.

Use “Sheps” Light Harness Oil if possible or Fiebing’s Saddle Oil. 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil is excellent for leather, but south Louisiana weather (moisture and humidity) combined with 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil is not a good combination.

Storage of your saddle should be on a saddle stand that is tall enough to keep stirrups high enough off the ground to prevent rodents from having easy access to something to chew on. The stand should also be wide enough to support the skirts so they don’t begin to roll in. If the saddle is not being used for a week or so, you can install a broom handle through the stirrups to keep them twisted.

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