The best advice I was ever given about caring for a saddle is to recognise that leather is a skin and should be treated like you would treat your own skin. We expect a lot from our saddles, exposing them to the elements, locking them away in a cold damp tack room and expecting years of service from them. The good news is that if we care for them in the right way, they will give many years of pleasure. I always think that a good leather saddle that has been well cared for improves with age, there are not many things we can say that of!!
A new saddle needs to be treated with a good leather treatment designed to waterproof the leather, traditionally Neatsfoot Oil was used and many people still prefer to oil all of their new tack. A word of caution though, pure Neatsfoot oil is hard to find, please check the labels carefully. Alternative treatments are available and we recommend a treatment manufactured by J & E Sedgewick & Co Ltd. Sedgewicks are a tannery that have been producing leather for the saddlery trade for over 100 years. Their leather care treatment is manufactured using only natural materials including tallow, oils and beeswax.
Your saddle should be cleaned after every ride ride using a good quality glycerine based saddle soap. I know time is precious but this is a good discipline to follow and your saddle will certainly benefit from the care. It is particularly important if your saddle has got wet or muddy but please allow a wet saddle to dry out naturally, putting it in front of a heat source will certainly dry out the leather and make it brittle. Regular use of a good lanolin based conditioner will feed the leather and help to keep your saddle supple. This in turn will reduce rubs from your stirrup leathers, boots etc. Most of the visible damage on saddles is due to lack of care causing the leather to dry out and become stiff and brittle.
Another point to consider is the clothes you ride in. Jeans with studded back pockets are an obvious one to avoid but perhaps more of a problem are rubber wellies. Wellies will cause rubs on your saddle wherever they come into contact.
Next month I will talk about some of the more difficult to fit horses and ponies.