I use my saddles very heavily, I probably deep clean them every 4-6 months. First I remove everything that comes off easily including stirrups. I clean the entire saddle as far up under the skirts as I can reach paying extra special attention to the "stress points" such as billets, lategos, etc. These are the things you DON'T want to have break due to an undetected tear, crack, dry rot, etc. This way, they get super clean and I get a really good look at how they're holding up. When I'm cleaning I usually use either fieblings saddle soap, murphy's oil soap, or lexol saddle soap for this (whatever I have on hand). A toothbrush works well for around stitching, tooling, or extra dirty parts. A good sponge works well for the rest. I use warm water and only as much soap as I need to get the grime off. I go over the whole thing with a clean, damp cloth when I'm done and get all the residual soap and grime off. Let it dry, usually just for the afternoon as long as I wasn't too liberal with the water. I just let it air dry in the house, don't put it in front of a heater or anything.
Once the saddle is totally dry then I use a clean cloth and apply oil. For some stuff, like the undersides of western stirrup fenders, inside my flank cinches, billets, and breastcollars I use 100% pure neatsfoot oil or Lexol conditioner. I'll be a little bit more liberal with this than the rest of the saddle also. These are the portions that contact the horse and thus gather the most sweat and grime (this makes them the most prone to rotting and breakage). The rest of the saddle I use either the non-darkening neatsfoot dressing from lexol or a product called Tanner's. I got tanners from a saddle-smith who uses it pretty much exclusively (hes also the one who taught me to use murphy's oil soap). It leaves a really nice sheen and seems to do a good job conditioning. It also won't bleed back onto your pants when you ride like neatsfoot oil can (esp if you are an english rider with white or light colored pants). There are plenty of other good choices on the market that other people have recommended also. Whatever you choose, just make sure to put the oil on a clean rag and then rub it in in small circular sections to keep everything even. I do this process for both my western and english saddles and headstalls.
Its much easier to add more oil than to take it off of a saddle that's been over oiled. Be a little stingy at first, give it a few hours to soak in and if it still seems dry then go ahead and add another light coat. You'll know when your saddle reaches that perfect oiled feel.
Usually once a week or so in between deep cleanings I just take a damp rag and wipe the dirt and sweat off after I ride. I've never had a problem over-oiling or having things crack and dry-rot even in our super dry climate (Tucson, AZ).
When I do my headstalls, I take them all the way apart and put the hardware and all the bits in a sink or bucket of hot water and dawn dish soap. I let them soak while I'm cleaning the headstalls just like the saddles. While the headstalls are drying, I rinse all the bits and hardware. You'd be amazed how quick the bits come clean with very minimal elbow grease after soaking for an hour or so! I then oil and reassemble everything.
Last edited by ashleyb134; 07-11-2012 at 06:02 PM.