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Leather / Saddle Cleaning Advice
#1
I just purchased a used, somewhat vintage saddle. Other than glycerin saddle soap, what other treatment does it need? I went to the store to pick up a leather conditioner and was completely overwhelmed. It is black, so a conditioner that affects the color is probably not much of an issue, although it does have white buckstitching. I have not cleaned tack in probably 25 years and don't remember the pros and cons of the various oils. Any recommendations? Thanks in advance.

"Topic edited hook by to clarify content"
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#2
Is the buckstitching plastic or leather? If it's leather some conditioners will darken it. Back when buckstitching was all the rage at horse shows, I had a set of reins with leather buckstitching. The oil I was using darkened them where you couldn't hardly tell the buckstitching from the reins. So, I bought some white shoe polish and painted the buckstitching with an artist's paint brush. The only problem was I had to do it before almost every show [xx(].

Does your saddle seem really stiff and dry to the touch? Unlike some of the newer saddles, older ones need to be oiled once or twice a year. Both my western saddles are around 20 years old and I use Lexol. If you aren't worried about darkening the leather, I'd go with neatsfoot oil. Be sure not to get the neatsfoot oil compound type. It usually contains oil much like motor oil. Neatsfoot oil comes from cows just like leather does, and so it's much better for your leather to make it soft and supple.

Be sure to get whatever conditioner you decide to go with onto the untreated sides of the leather(the rough side [Wink]). This is the side that will absorb the oil best right into the leather. If it's really dry, try bending the leather so the treated side is on the inside of the bend and the rough side is on the outside. This will open up the "pores" and allow the oil to soak into the leather better.

I usually keep a container with a snap-on lid to put my oil/conditioner in. That way I have room to dip my hand into the oil and get it into the tighter areas... like up under the seat and the skirts. Don't be concerned if your saddle doesn't absorb the oil over night. Sometimes it takes a few days before it will drink it all in and won't have that tacky feel to it. If after 2 or 3 days, it still feels sticky, I'd take a clean rag and wipe it off real good.

Don't be surprised if others will come on here saying something totally different (fire when ready, folks [Big Grin]), but this is the way I've conditioned my saddles for years, and I've had the two I'm using now for 15 years or better & they are still in tip-top shape.

Remember, people, this advice is for older saddles and not the newer ones of the past 5 years or so [Smile].



"God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses"
--Robert Browning
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#3
In addition to RH's instructions, do not put oil on a suede seat. A good brushing will probably do the trick. Best of luck with your new saddle.

"You never know til you know for sure and even then its hard to tell."
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#4
Ah yes, Neatsfoot oil - I do remember using that as a kid, to dye my Breyer tack!
The leather is not really dried or stiff at all, in fact its in remarkably good shape. It was just very dusty. The saddle is pretty heavily tooled. After removing the dust, I noticed that in the tooling, there was lots of dust and soap residue way down in some of the crevices of the tooling. I did soap the saddle and buff it and it looks a whole lot better. If I could get these gray areas out, it would look really WOW. Whats the best way to go about this, is there a special gadget or would an old toothbrush work just fine, and what is best for lifting up the old soap residue? More soap and elbow grease?
I suspect the buckstitching is plastic although I can't say for sure. It is not discolored, but you can see some residue from years of conditioners has deposited in the corners. The buckstitching looks too clean and white to be leather. But I've been wrong before.
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#5
thanks Sharon, fortunately for me the seat is leather - it is padded though and compared to the slick seat I had been riding in I can only call it "luxurious"!! Fits the horse the same but fits me a whole lot better.
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#6
quote:
Originally posted by elizNY

Ah yes, Neatsfoot oil - I do remember using that as a kid, to dye my Breyer tack!
The leather is not really dried or stiff at all, in fact its in remarkably good shape. It was just very dusty. The saddle is pretty heavily tooled. After removing the dust, I noticed that in the tooling, there was lots of dust and soap residue way down in some of the crevices of the tooling. I did soap the saddle and buff it and it looks a whole lot better. If I could get these gray areas out, it would look really WOW. Whats the best way to go about this, is there a special gadget or would an old toothbrush work just fine, and what is best for lifting up the old soap residue? More soap and elbow grease?
I suspect the buckstitching is plastic although I can't say for sure. It is not discolored, but you can see some residue from years of conditioners has deposited in the corners. The buckstitching looks too clean and white to be leather. But I've been wrong before.




I usually just use a toothbrush for little crevices in the tooling and hard to reach places. I like Horseman's One Step for regular cleaning, but that's just my personal choice [Smile].



"God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses"
--Robert Browning
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#7
The first step is blowing the dust off the saddle with compressed air or wiping with a damp rag. Then wipe the saddle down with a weak soap and water solution (lightly) and rinse with clear water. If your saddle has tooling or basket weave you will get a white wax residue in the crevices if you use saddle soap. An old saddlemakers trick is to use 100% virgin olive oil. You put a small amount in the microwave and heat it until it is warm not hot. Use your middle finger, put a drop or two of the warm oil on the finger tip. Start on any part of the saddle and with a circular motion rub the oil into a small area of the leather. It should take a couple of hours to complete the whole saddle and will bring a shine to the leather. You need to take your time and rub the oil until the light shine appears. If your saddle is NOT tooled or stamped now is the time to use glycerin saddle soap.

For those that are wood workers Oxalic acid in a weak solution is used to remove marks from leather in much the same manner as it lightens wood. It should only be used by professionals. I mention it only because I have seen some hobbyists use Oxalic acid and ruin the looks of parts of saddles and then want me to repair the damage.

Older saddles should be thoroughly inspected before use. I would have the seat lifted and the rigging exposed and check. How many nails and screws hold the rigging? Are the skirt attachments still tight or are they loose and deteriorating. Do the saddle strings protrude thru the worn sheepskin (under the skirts) causing a lump that could sore the horse? The rawhide wrapped tree should be checked to see if the seams are beginning to part and let moisture into the wood of the tree. The sewing should all be checked to see what if anything is coming apart.

Take your time and use common sense and you will be all right. A little trivia, the leather of your saddle was probably dyed blue before the final black dye was applied if it was done right. It gives and even, more luxurious look and appears more professional.
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#8
Interesting trivia leathersmith! It is heavily tooled and there is lots of wax buildup, in some places. What is the best way to lift it?
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#9
NY,
I use Fiebing's "Dye Prep". Find a very soft tooth brush and allow plenty of time. Read the label and apply to a small area of the tooling. Use a SOFT tooth brush and GENTLY brush then wipe clean with a cloth. On older saddles it is very easy to damage the leather if you use abrasive's.

You should do this after you have cleaned the dust and dirt from the saddle, be thorough. After the stamping is cleaned the olive oil is then applied as mentioned above. I use Fiebings "Bag Coat" after the olive oil and then polish to a high luster with a SOFT cloth.

Make sure you check the rigging. Your life depends on how well the rigging is attached so lift up that front seat jockey and make sure it is correctly attached. If you have a question consult a professional, it is that important. I have examined saddles from the 50's and 60's with front "D" rigging held on by nails only with no screws. I could go on and on but I think you understand my concern.
Take your time, be thorough and I think you will very happy with the results. Steve
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#10
I'll toss in a recommendation that my farrier made. He's not "just" a farrier, he custom makes saddles and active reining trainer/shower/doer, etc. (Doesn't make xerox copies, sell tupperware or provide instant passport photos though, LOL.) Kidding aside, his saddles are pretty high end.

He looked at an old saddle of mine and said after it's cleaned (soft brush, etc. as above), to get something called "Miracle Juice." It's apparently an incredible leather conditioner. I couldn't find it ANYWHERE on the web, it's made and sold by Caldwell Saddlery somewhere in the Carolinas I believe. Apparently some super neat stuff, that!

Not to disagree with Leathersmith at all, but Farrier said he does not use vegetable, olive or other edible oil if you are going to keep your saddle in an outbuilding. It's an attractive scent to little furry critter friends.

I'm very curious about the "Miracle Juice" but they only sell it in 1/2 gallon minimum order, and... well, sheeesh, how much of that stuff could a person go through!
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