Saddle Care 101

Since I get asked this a lot, I thought I should make a post containing all the basic information on saddle care in one place.

Products I Use

  • Effax Leder balsam (any brand is fine, look for beeswax/lanolin)
  • Effax Leder combi
  • VeruGreen Naturals Leather Cleaner, or any other pH balanced soap specifically designed for English tack (Lexol also makes one)
  • Hydrophane oil

Products to Avoid

  • Any oil except Hydrophane
    • Other oils will weaken/wreck vegetable tanned leather
    • Neatsfoot and other tack oils are for Western tack
    • Only hydrophane oil will preserve English tack
    • In a pinch, you can use corn oil!
  • Glycerine based soaps
    • Again, they are for Western tack
    • They may strip the dyes from you tack
    • They may leave a nasty residue on your tack
    • They will shorten the lifespan of vegetable tanned leather

Brand New Saddle (or Bridle, Girth, etc):

  • Wipe with a barely damp cloth
  • Using your fingertips, coat the entire thing with leder balsam to condition and protect it

After Every Ride

  • Wipe off all the sweat, dust, and moisture with either a barely damp cloth or leder combi
  • Do not store your girth on top of your saddle; the sweat left on the girth with erode the seat
  • Hang your bridle nicely to prolong its useful life
  • Wipe gunk off the bit to prevent it from building up

Once a Week

  • Clean thoroughly with a barely damp sponge and your pH balanced soap, wiping away all soap residue
  • Clean the billets weekly, but only oil or balsam them monthly or they will stretch
  • Using your fingertips, apply a very thin layer of leder balsam
  • If the leather is very dry, use your finger tips to apply a small amount of hydrophane oil instead of leder balsam

Please let me know if you have questions or want more information by leaving a comment.  I intend to keep working on the video series as I have time, including tips for oiling, for show boots, etc.

Weekly Tack Deep Clean

Once a week, all your nice leather needs to be cleaned with a properly formulated soap and then conditioned with a balsam.  I personally like VeruGreen’s spray soap, and of course use Effax’s Leder Balsam to protect and condition my leather.  DO NOT use a glycerine soap on your English tack!  Those products are formulated for Western tack, which is tanned using a different process and requires different care.  The wrong soap will fade the leather, and destroy the stitching holding your tack together.

If you do a good job wiping the sweat and dust off after each ride, then a deep clean will only take a matter of minutes.  Cleaning this very dirty girth only takes me ten minutes total!  So put on your favorite podcast, playlist, or tv show, and get cleaning!

Riding in the Rain

It’s monsoon season here in Colorado, and lately I have gotten caught riding in several tremendous downpours.  I hear Copper Penny, the big hunter/jumper show in Estes Park, got drenched last week as well!  Fortunately for my clients, their saddles are well coated in laderbalsam from their cleaning routine and can withstand a bit of moisture without damage.  My friend and I jumped for about 45 minutes in the pouring rain, wiped off our saddles with a soft rag, and the next day you would never know either saddle got wet and a little muddy!

Laderbalsam is a beeswax and lanolin based leather conditioner and protector that I, and many other professionals, recommend using on a weekly basis.   After cleaning your tack thoroughly, you should apply a very thin layer all over.  I like to use my fingertips for this.  The heat from my hands helps thin the balsam, I can feel how much the leather needs to absorb, and it works well as a lotion!  When applied correctly, there is no need to wipe it off.  Some people like to use a rag or sponge, but I find it’s too easy to glob on too thick that way.  I prefer the Effax brand, and it is what we sell at Singing Cat Saddlery, but there are many great laderbalsams on the market.  Look for a natural product that is thick and waxy.

In addition to helping make your leather water-resistant, laderbalsam conditions, prevents and fills minor scuffs and scratches, and makes your saddle a little bit stickier.  If you have never ridden in a saddle with a good coating of laderbalsam, the tacky feeling of the seat is typically a nice surprise.  I compare the grip level to slightly broken-in full seat breeches.

So next time your horse is mud-colored and it’s threatening to rain, worry not!  If you are keeping up with your tack cleaning regimen, your saddle will be just fine!  Just watch out for the lightening, and hail!