PMU Owner asked:
I finally found an extra wide dressage saddle for my moose horse but it is so slippery. I haven’t had a new saddle in years and can’t remember how to break them in.
Dressage Girl asked:
I want to get a good dressage horse, and I am thinking of a German Warmblood, like a Hanoverian. Anybody have some other good breeds for upper-level dressage?
If you own your own saddle, it is very important to keep it clean. This is what keeps the leather in good condition and maximizes the longevity of your saddle.
A saddle should be lightly cleaned at least once a week, and thoroughly cleaned at least once a month. The more often you ride, the more often you should clean it. Even if you have not been riding, a saddle in storage benefits from a once-monthly cleaning and oiling. If well cared for a saddle can last 50 or more years. If left alone, it will become damaged and will quickly lose value.
To begin, you will need a small bucket of warm water, a bar of saddle soap, a jug of saddle oil or conditioner, and two sponges. You may find a soft toothbrush useful for getting grit out of the holes, or tooling.
Place your saddle on a secure stand. This can easily be made out of wood, or you can purchase a saddle stand at your tack shop.
Moisten your first sponge and lather it with soap. Starting on the seat, gently scrub your saddle with the soapy sponge. You do not want to make your saddle wet, so be sure to wring most of the water out of your sponge. Rinse it regularly, and add fresh soap.
You will need to clean every surface of the leather. This means both the finished surface, and the underside of each part of your saddle. After scrubbing each section with soap, rinse the sponge and wipe any excess soap off the leather. Use the toothbrush to remove any soap caught in the billet holes or in fancy tooling.
Some parts of your saddle are removable. Take off the stirrups and stirrup leathers, being sure to remember both what holes you had been using, and how they go onto your saddle. If you have metal stirrups, take out the rubber treads and soak both the metal and rubber parts in your water. Do not soak the leathers – clean them with saddle soap, the same way you cleaned the rest of the saddle.
Be careful not to forget to clean the underside of your saddle. This can be one of the dirtiest parts of your saddle, particularly if your horse sweats a lot. Sweat can really damage leather, so it is very important to clean it off.
Once the saddle is clean, moisten the second sponge so that it is soft and pliable. Squeeze out any excess water. Now moisten the sponge with your leather conditioner. Without making a thick layer of oil on the leather, wipe the entire surface of your saddle with leather conditioner. It should all absorb into the leather. Any excess should quickly be wiped up as it can discolor the leather. Be sure to oil the stirrup leathers and any other pieces you may have removed.
Finally, take the stirrups out of the water and scrub off any remaining dirt with the toothbrush. You do not need soap or oil on the stirrups, unless you have leather stirrups (which you would not have dunked in water in the first place).
Put your saddle back together, making sure any parts you removed are replaced properly.
You can find quick fix products for cleaning your tack. While these are ok for situations where you just want to tidy things up, or after every ride, they are not suitable for a thorough cleaning. Many leave residue that can gunk up in the long run.
When selecting a type of oil, be aware that some oils, like Neatsfoot Oil, will darken the leather. Others, such as Lexol, will not. Some oils may leave residue on the seat, and could stain your breeches. Talk to your local tack shop if you are in doubt about the best product for your needs.
With proper care, quality western saddles will last a lifetime. There are, however, a number of saddle parts that will have a shorter lifespan than the base saddle, or that may be replaced for personal preference reasons. The following are the ten most common western saddle replacement parts.
1. Cinches (Front and Flank). In addition to being cleaned regularly, cinches need to be inspected for wear and replaced when necessary. The front cinch, especially, is a crucial part that’s failure could cause a serious wreck.
2. Latigos (aka cinch straps). These straps take a lot of wear and can get worn relatively quickly with heavy use. You DO NOT want to be on a ride when your latigo breaks. Inspect and replace these relatively inexpensive straps regularly. A good way to test a leather strap is to try to tear it. If it tears, the leather is spent and should be tossed out.
3. Off billet. The off billet attaches the cinch to the saddle on the off (right) side. Like the latigo, it receives a lot of wear and needs to be inspected and replaced regularly for safety reasons.
4. Cinch Connecting Strap. This strap connects the front and flank cinches, holding the flank cinch in place. While it doesn’t receive a lot of wear, failure can cause the flank cinch to slip back and spook the horse. It’s a cheap part. Inspect it regularly and replace it when necessary. If you ride with a flank cinch, DO NOT ride without a cinch connecting strap in place.
5. Stirrup Leathers. Leathers receive a lot of wear and can wear out before the base saddle. Look for wear around the holes or where the hardware rubs against the leathers. Also try the “tear test” mentioned earlier.
6. Stirrup Hobbles. These straps hold together the fender extensions and the stirrup leathers so that the rider doesn’t catch his foot in between and get hung up. They are much more important than most riders realize. DO NOT ride without hobbles in place. Since hobbles are small and often removed to adjust stirrup length (although this isn’t necessary), they tend to “disappear” more than they wear out. Hobbles are another cheap part. Buy extras and have them on hand.
7. Saddle Strings. Additional saddle strings can be added to any saddle dees or rings. You can never have too many saddle strings to tie your gear on with.
8. Horn Wrap. If you’re a regular roper, you’ll need to replace your horn wrap often. Non-ropers will find that one will last the life of their saddle. Horn wraps come in a variety of leather and rubber materials and choice depends on personal preference.
9. Rope Strap. Like Horn Wraps, replacement of the rope strap will depend on use.
10. Stirrups Stirrups don’t tend to wear out. Most will last as long as the saddle. However, most riders have very specific preferences about their stirrups, so they are a very common replacement part. There are a wide variety of stirrups available in prices ranging from cheap to very pricey.
Whether due to wear or personal preference, there are a number of parts on a western saddle that you’ll probably replace at some point during its life. Most of these parts are relatively cheap and easy to replace. Make sure the key parts are inspected and replaced when necessary.
When you’re looking for a quality western saddle, a used saddle can be a smart choice. The best saddles will last a lifetime with proper care. So, like luxury cars, a quality used saddle can be more aptly described as previously-owned. You can buy a lot more saddle for your money in the used category.
But buying used requires close inspection of the saddle prior to buying. A used saddle is bound to have some wear and some scuffs and scrapes. That’s to be expected. What you’re really looking for are structural problems. The following are the top 7 used saddle inspection tips.
1. Saddle Tree. The saddle tree is the foundation of a saddle, so if it’s not solid nothing else matters. To test the tree, set the saddle on its fork, nose down. Press down hard on the cantle and twist, looking for bending which is an indication of a broken tree. A broken tree is a deal breaker. DO NOT purchase a saddle with a broken tree.
2. Leather Quality. High quality leather will be thick, soft, and supple. It has a much longer life, especially if well cared for. Low quality leather will be thin, often cracked, and will not keep its shape. Avoid buying used saddles with low quality leather. There’s no bargain there.
3. Leather Condition. Check whether the jockeys and skirts lie flat or curl up. Curling is a sign of either poor quality leather or leather that is used-up. It’s pretty much impossible to get curled leather to lie flat again. If the leather looks to be of good quality (thick, doesn’t curl), but looks dried out, a good cleaning and conditioning can do wonders and bring back a lot of its luster.
4. Underside Fleece. Expect to find a good amount of wear and dirt here, but excessive wear may require having the fleece replaced which isn’t cheap. Also, uneven wear can be a sign of a badly designed saddle that doesn’t fit well and should be avoided.
5. Stitching. Check the stitching to make sure it’s intact. Minor problems can be repaired, but a saddle with a lot of rotting and missing stitching should be avoided.
6. Surface. While a quality saddle can last a long time, the care it receives will impact its lifespan and its appearance. Saddles are made to be used and passing on a quality used saddle because of some scratches and scuff marks is a mistake. But, you’ll have to determine what you can live with.
7. Parts Inventory. Do a check to see which parts might be missing. Most parts (stirrups, stirrup hobbles, billets, cinches) can be easily replaced (and many will prefer their own choices anyway), but missing parts should factor into the price.
Buying a used saddle can be a very smart choice, IF you carefully inspect the saddle prior to purchase.
I just bought a new, inexpensive saddle with fake silver on the corners and conchos. One person recommended that I put clear nail polish on the silver to keep it looking nice. What are your thoughts on this? Do any of you have other ideas for keeping the saddle silver shiny?
I clean tack(etc.) at my stable and it takes a LONG time to do a bridle! Any hints on this or other horse work jobs(ie; cleaning dirty bedding out of stalls)????? Much appreaciated! I’m cleaning the enitre bridles. ALSO how do i clean a GRand Prix bridle? thanks!
Is there a huge difference between leather conditioner and leather oils? Obviously the tack isn’t being ridden or worn it just needs to looks nice for showing(display) purposes.