How to clean a western saddle, if you own one, is something you definitely need to know. Without proper care, normal wear and tear from use, and the environment it’s kept in, your leather saddle will degrade.
And if you ignore your saddle too long, it will eventually reach a point where cleaning and conditioning won’t be able to salvage it. So, when you’re tempted to put your mud-splattered, sweat-stained saddle back on the rack and leave the barn, don’t.
It won’t take a lot of time to clean off the grime. When cleaned regularly, doing so will add years to the life of your saddle. So here are some tips on how to clean your Western Saddle.
Reasons for Regular Cleaning
It’s worth the time and nominal cost to keep leather clean and conditioned. You want to take care of your saddle because:
- A good saddle is an investment. Quality saddles aren’t inexpensive. You’ll want to protect your investment.
- Your saddle will last many years.
- A well cared for saddle will retain value.
- Cleaning and maintaining will keep a saddle safe to use. Cracked leather is dangerous and cannot be restored.
When Should You Clean
It depends on how frequently you ride and the conditions.
If you only ride under optimal conditions and you’re riding once a week, you should clean your saddle every month. Two months at the most. But when riding more often, you’ll want to clean your saddle each week.
However, other factors will make cleaning your saddle necessary.
- If you get mud on your saddle, remove it immediately with a damp (not wet) towel.
- Horse sweat is damaging to leather. Never leave sweat on your saddle. Clean it right away.
- If your saddle gets wet (rain or crossing a body of water), clean it immediately. Water may mark the leather if it isn’t cleaned. Allow it to air-dry (drying time will depend on how wet the saddle got).
When the leather is almost dry, apply a small amount of conditioner. The leather will need to be completely dry before you can thoroughly condition it.
- Clean immediately if you find mold (a white or greenish powder) on your saddle. To clean off mold, mix one part rubbing alcohol and one part water. Then wipe mold off the leather. You’ll want to condition after cleaning because rubbing alcohol is drying to leather.
- Clean and condition if the leather becomes dry. If a saddle becomes dry and isn’t cared for it will eventually crack. Cracked leather is dangerous and should never be used. It can’t be repaired and should be replaced immediately.
Additionally, clean your saddle if you’re going to:
- Sell it
- Compete in it
- Put it in storage
Supplies You’ll Need
- Saddle soap – the best is glycerin-based and retains moisture. Saddle soap can be a liquid or paste. Paste can fill crevices, requiring a toothbrush or cotton swabs to remove it.
- A small bucket (or other container) for warm water.
- Make sure they aren’t abrasive.
- Leather conditioner – when needed. Do not over condition. Leather can lose rigidity when over conditioned. Use it sparingly. Lanolin, a product of sheep’s wool is a waterproof moisturizer. Neatsfoot oil can also be used before conditioning, but some leather can darken, so be aware of that possibility, and make sure it doesn’t contain mineral oil, which is not good for a saddle. Neatsfoot oil should be pure and not an oil blend. After oiling and the leather has dried, then use a conditioner.
- Soft towels (3 or 4).
- A still bristle brush
- Toothbrush for hard to reach spots.
Cotton swabs (optional)
How To Clean A Western Saddle Tip #1
If you have an air compressor, you can blow out dust and grit from hard to reach places. When grit is left between pieces of leather, it will rub and cause damage. You want to get as much of it out as possible.
Use a brush to clean any fabric parts.
Suede can be refreshed with a stiff brush. Don’t do this too often or with too much force as you will damage the suede. If it doesn’t come clean, you can use a suede cleaner.
How To Clean A Western Saddle Tip #2
Remove any mud accumulated around stirrups. Use a stiff brush to remove as much as you can. You may have to scrape some of it off.
Dampen a towel, make sure it isn’t too wet. You don’t want to get the leather wet. And wipe off the saddle. Don’t skip this step even if it looks clean. You don’t want to grind gritty dust particles into the leather.
Note, always read and follow all directions on cleaning products you aren’t familiar with.
Take a damp sponge and work up a lather with the saddle soap. If this is the first time you’re going to clean the saddle, try the soap in an inconspicuous spot. Some cleaners, especially all-in-one cleaners, can change the leather’s color.
How To Clean A Western Saddle Tip #3
Clean leather with small circular motions. Rinse the sponge often and re-lather. Change the water frequently. You can’t clean something by putting dirt back on it.
Start with the seat and work your way down to the stirrups. Clean all leather parts. Make sure you clean beneath flaps and all parts of stirrup leather.
If the stirrups are covered in rawhide, you’ll need to use a rawhide cream to clean and condition them. Never get oil on rawhide.
How To Clean A Western Saddle Tip #4
Once you finish cleaning, make sure you don’t leave any residue on your saddle. Clean off any remaining soap with a damp towel.
Use a toothbrush or cotton swabs to remove soap from crevices or tooling if it doesn’t wipe out.
Some More Tips…
When all of the leather has been cleaned and no residue remains, wipe it down with a dry towel.
Clean any conchos on your saddle. If they’re so tarnished they need polish, you’ll have to take them off the saddle. Never get silver polish on your saddle. It will remove the color from the leather.
Make sure to clean the girth. Pick out anything that has become lodged in it and brush off mud.
Don’t Over Oil Your Saddle
Oiling shouldn’t be overdone. Don’t do it more than once or twice a month. Too much oil will saturate and damage leather. Make sure the leather is dry. Use a light coat of oil. Only use products that are not made of animal or vegetable oil.
Those can get on the stitching and turn rancid – which may rot the stitching.
Don’t Over Condition Your Saddle
You won’t need to condition as frequently as cleaning. You will need to condition more often in dryer climates. Conditioners work best if the leather is slightly damp. Don’t use too much. An excess can result in the conditioner soaking all the way through the leather and causing damage.
Don’t leave residue from the conditioner. Buff with a clean towel until no residue remains.
Brush the Underside Fleece
Brush the underside fleece…but be gentle. Don’t rip stiff bristles through the fleece, or you may damage it. You just want to remove any debris caught it in and fluff it a tad. Fleece should be handled with care.
Important Points to Remember
- Always let saddles air dry. This is super important. Don’t dry a saddle in direct sunlight or with a heat source (such as a heater or hair dryer). Saddles placed in direct sun or next to heaters can become unsafe to use.
- Leather needs to breathe. Only use products made specifically to clean leather. You don’t want to clog the pores.
- Pick an all-in-one cleaner and conditioner with care. Some can damage leather over time. Some may discolor leather. Always test for color-fastness in an inconspicuous place.
- Don’t stack saddles. Store each one on a rack. Saddles are best kept in a climate controlled environment. Leather exposed to excessive moisture can mold. Leather stored in too much heat can crack.
Cleaning and conditioning your saddle is the most important thing you can do to keep it in great shape.
No matter what type of riding you use your saddle for, maintaining it will keep it looking good and you won’t have to worry that it has become degraded and is no longer safe to use.
Regular care is a simple way to ensure the saddle you wanted, and paid good money for, will serve you well for many years to come. Would you like tips on how to navigate wintery trails? Read my post, How to Dodge These Scary Winter Horse Trail Riding Hazards.
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