My Saddle has a Drinking Problem (Part 1)

Sometimes (well for some of us, regularly) we cringe with guilt at the sadly neglected saddlery lurking in the tack room.

How often do you clean your saddle and bridle?
Do you know what products to use and how to use them?
Does your saddle need a quick touch up or a deep therapy session?

Hopefully I can shed some light on these and other questions!

Firstly – What is leather?

Simple huh?  Well it gets slightly more complicated as we go along…..
Saddle leather often comes from a cow – not always but most off the peg saddles are cow related.
Different parts of the cow are used.  The ‘cheaper’ leather comes from the belly of the beast – it more easily stretches (as said bovine beastie gets bigger and fatter).

The leather has 2 sides – the grain and the flesh side.  For those not in the know… The grain is the outer bit and has fur/hair attached on the living beastie.

Flesh (Old Saddle)
Grain (Old Leather)

Most of the time the grain is the outside of the saddle (Photos to attach)
Sometimes the bottom flap (under the girth straps) can be grain in against horse or flesh against horse.

There is a point to this exercise…….

The rule of thumb is – Well tanned, good quality leathers have a good slurp factor.  This is how you can tell the quality of the leather on your new (expensive) saddle.  Dab your finger in your leather conditioner and poke it on the grain of the saddle….  The longer it takes to absorb the less quality the leather.

Obviously it depends on what the leather condition is!  Is it cardboard stuff or buttery soft or greasy saturated leaving hands greasy

Flesh (New Saddle)
Grain (New Leather)

I’ve got a European saddle here (brand retails new around $3-4k) and the dab is still lurking after a week!  This is not good!

Anyway, totally digressed from the point of this first post….



People often ask me what I like to use on saddles….

Here are my favourites – Different products for different reasons, different costs. Although, I’m sure there are other superb products out there,  I’m happy with what I use so have not really deviated from them,

From Left to Right:
Oakwood Leather Conditioner, Effax Lederbalsam (Front), Stubben Hamanol, Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner, Effax LederCombi (new bottle), Effax LederCombi (old bottle)

Cleaning Saddle – (news flash – Saddle Soap isn’t a cleaning product)

Product Cost – FREE

Damp cloth (Water, doesn’t need to be bottled, sparkling or anything special)
-Super cheap and can be found anywhere
-Damp that cloth and slither those reins through in super quick time…  Great for last minute touch ups at shows.

-Maybe you get disillusioned and feel the need to spend $$$ for that feeling your are taking incredibly good care of your saddle

Product cost – around $20

Effax Leder Combi – recently changed bottle shape.
-Makes you feel like a responsible parent/expert saddle caretaker.

-Costs money
-You really need to condition the leather after this as it can leave the surface dry feeling (and no one likes dry)

Conditioning Leather

I’ve moved away from oils –  because it darkens leather and is easy to over saturate (especially if you soak the leather) it also can dissolve stitching.

My favs are:

Effax Leder Balsam
This wee gem has natural beeswax, avocado oil and lanolin etc in it.  (though someone disillusioned me and said it had petrochemicals as well).  However, this has been my go to for years and still features as the first product I reach for.

When Effax was hard to find a while back I tried….
Oakwoods Leather Conditioner (Australian made)
Again – Like the product and is good value for money.

If your leather is a bit of a therapy case – try these products (they have leather tanning ingredients in them)

Stubben Hamanol – hard to get in Australia unfortunately, if anyone knows a source please let me know!  I’m about to run out…..

Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner – around $60 473ml Expensive and if you need it you probably need to revisit your care regime but this stuff does what it says….  Its a good one to revitalise those leather halters that have laid half buried in the paddock for months….

How to treat your Saddle

Clean it first!
Then Conditioning – that comes in Part 2. Slightly more complicated to work out what goes where, when and how often to feed your saddles drinking habit.

Note: You do not have to agree with the products I use or the way I use them. Therefore you can make up your own mind how you want to love your gear. If you can control a horse you can control your decisions on cleaning and conditioning the gear.
The difference between good quality leather and cruddy leather isn’t always price so check yourself!!! (but good quality leather will look fab for ages and last a lifetime)