Saddles are as expensive as horses, if not more so. But they’re one of the most overlooked pieces of tack, not only when it comes to cleaning, but proper fitting and maintenance. Used or new, custom or off-the-rack, regular upkeep of your saddle is necessary if you want it to last a long time.
Cleaning is easy once you get in the habit of doing it. After your ride, take a damp rag and clean off the dirt. Make sure to get every part of your saddle, including the flesh side. If you don’t know, the flesh side of the leather is the part of the saddle that touches the horse. When your horse is sweating through their saddle pad, your saddle is soaking it up. Wiping down this part of the saddle makes it possible for the pores of the leather to breathe.
Once a month or if you get water spots on your saddle, use a high-quality glycerin soap. Before you use soap you still want to take a rag and wash all the dirt off your saddle. Otherwise, the glycerin soap will seal the dirt into the saddle’s pores. Kelsey Nicholls of Addiken Saddle Fitting suggests Effax Glycerin Soap to her clients. “When you’re using the [glycerin] soap,” Kelsey explains, “a little bit goes a long way when it comes to the soap and water. Your sponge or rag should be damp, but not dripping. If you have suds, you have too much water.”
Using too much water with your saddle soap is not just unnecessary, it’s bad for the saddle. “Using too much water can actually drown out the natural oils of the leather.” With glycerin soap, there is no rinsing. You want the soap to work into the leather to help create a barrier.
Of course, you can, and should, replenish the oil on your saddle but only to the flesh side. Applying oil, such as Neatsfoot oil, to anywhere you will touch or sit on can result in the loss of coloring of your saddle, and extra colors on you or your clothes.
When you’re doing your monthly deep-clean, this is a good time to check your saddle. If you have a brand with an adjustable gullet bar, such as Hastilow, Fairfax, Thorowgood, or Kent and Masters, check to make sure all of your screws are tight. A loose screw will back itself out of its hole and can not only be a safety hazard for you, but can create a rub spot on your horse’s back.
Finally, every three months or so you should have your saddle fitter come out. Not only will they check to make sure the saddle is still a good fit for your horse, but they’ll make sure the saddle itself doesn’t need any adjustments. If you have a wool-flocked saddle, your fitter will need to make sure that there aren’t any lumps or bumps and re-fill any gaps that might have been created during use. For Kelsey’s clients, who own Hastilow, Fairfax, Thorowgood, or Kent and Masters, a full re-flocking is done every two years.
Taking care of your horse is easy to remember. Taking care of your tack is hard, especially if you’re feeling busy or rushed. Building in a few extra minutes to wash off your saddle at the end of a ride is worth the time, especially when you’re still using the same saddle twenty years from now.