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What is your preferred method of taking care of your saddle and other tack to prolong its useful life?

I've come across all sorts of contradictory advice and don't really know what is best. To clean or at least wipe down after every ride or not to, to oil or not to, etc. All sorts of different products, too!

Also, does the leather type make a difference? For example, my saddle is an older Courbette made of German cowhide (I'm pretty sure). It's extremely durable leather that is nice and pliable, but is a completely different animal than the butter soft French leather I see on a lot of saddles. Does this leather require different products than softer French leather, for example? Or is leather pretty much leather when it comes to care?

What about English vs. Western? I've always heard that neatsfoot is okay for Western, and mixed responses about whether it was okay or not for English. Do these different types of tack require different products or a different routine?

I'm a little nervous about oiling tack (I've been using a Lederbalsam instead with good results) because I've heard so many horror stories about neatsfoot rotting stitching and people over-oiling stuff, etc. I even had a saddle fitter (for both English and Western) tell me she's seen leather disintegrate with neatsfoot oil. I used to oil Western tack with neatsfoot with no issue, but never tried it on English tack. I know there are other oils out there too, like Hydrophane, Saddle Oil, etc. What are the differences and best uses for these? Also, what is the difference between regular neatsfoot and a neatsfoot compound?

What is your favorite method for breaking in new tack? I've heard of people talking about "rolling" leather in their hands as they're oiling or conditioning it. Is that like bending it and massaging the product into it?

Sorry for so many questions, I just want to hear about all of the different methods and products and find out what is best for preserving tack.
 

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Effax lederbalsam. Lots of it.

Effax makes brilliant leather care products. I don't like oils.

I will use saddle soap if my tack is dirty, but other than that it's lederbalsam all the way.
 
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I have only ever used saddle soap or glycerine bar on my saddles to clean for dirt removal or clean to give the leather some nourishment properties.
Hottest water your hands can tolerate no matter what product of choice you use cuts through grime and I find allows the leather hide to absorb the nutrients of the cleanser provided and the leather needs.

I only use pure Neatsfoot oil on my saddles very sparingly and occasionally...never soak the leather as it rots stitching, damage the leather and can actually make the leather just disgusting to touch.
After applying pure Neatsfoot oil to the saddle I give it a few minutes to soak in, then use a cloth to remove excess and buff with a soft clean towel to a beautiful shine and patina only quality leather ever achieves.

Your having a older Courbette saddle would have me using a product like Fiebings brand saddle soap..
It will clean and nourish the leather fibers, helping to hold the correct moisture levels in and help prevent drying that can ruin your saddle.
A clean saddle, one that the leather is nourished on is soft to the touch, not rough feeling and has almost a silky feel...do not confuse silky though with greasy hence stay away from the oils and oiling.
Using good products that nourish the leather while cleaning not strip it....well, I very seldom ever oil my saddle, like maybe once every year but I do regularly clean my saddles, and do a deep clean when they look dirty/punky...
I do "dust-off" and wipe down my tack after each use giving a quick once over to make sure no damage to stitches, tears of leather itself of just anything is out of whack keeps me safer when astride or for that matter handling from the ground any horse using leather equipment.

Some elbow grease, saddle soap or glycerine bar, hot hot water and several soft towels for using at appropriate times will keep your saddle in good, safe daily riding condition for years.
My English saddle is 30+ years old.
Except that it is out of fad in looks with no split "knee-roll" appearing saddle flap my saddle is in as good a condition or better than saddles today just a few months old....seriously.
Take good care of a older saddle it will last a lifetime...
Today's new saddles are made from inferior hides because cows are not as aged when they go to market affects the thickness and quality of hides available to make leather products from...hence shoes don't last as long nor do other "leather" goods of any kind. :|

Whether cleaning a English or western saddle, leather is leather and needs proper care and attention to saddle details.
With the exception of do not clean rough-out with soaps or oils...use a nap brush to remove dirt and raise the nap carefully so you not destroy the natural look and wear to that...
One of the reasons today many saddles are no longer rough-out or suede but finished leather is people do not know how to clean and take care of a "unfinished" leather or use inappropriate cleansers and ruin the leather.
Know what the different parts of your saddle are finished with and clean accordingly.
:runninghorse2:...
jmo...
 

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My go to conditioner and cleaner is Kali Leather Life by Kalico Products. It's a protein lotion that cleans, strengthens, softens etc. all in one product. And, it doesn't leave an oily residue. It was the only thing that saved my western saddles after we were flooded by a hurricane.
 

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I mostly use Hydrolan in place of soap and Hydrophane Leather Dressing in place of Neatsfoot. The latter used to rot linen stitching because it was quite acidic, but modern versions are usually synthetic blends (no nasty smell) which isn't, and modern stitching usually synthetic which doesn't rot, so no issues there.

Soft leathers don't need the same amount of oiling as those with more substance because it'll allow them to stretch more, weakening the fibre structure. But these leathers won't last as long as the thicker stuff, either, because you can't have everything.

HLG has put everything pretty succinctly.
 

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Effax lederbalsam. Lots of it.

Effax makes brilliant leather care products. I don't like oils.

I will use saddle soap if my tack is dirty, but other than that it's lederbalsam all the way.
Same here. When possible I clean my saddle on a really warm day, lederbalsam really soaks into warm leather beautifully.
 

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Same here. When possible I clean my saddle on a really warm day, lederbalsam really soaks into warm leather beautifully.
Lederbalsam has breathed new life back into my older Kieffer. Bought secondhand, a bit neglected prior to my ownership (just dry and needing attention) and a couple of coats of lederbalsam has softened the leather right up and made it gorgeously grippy.
 

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I'm also a Lederbalsam fan. I use it on all kinds of leather, saddles and bridles. My other favorite for even heavier conditioning (really dry leather) is Stubben Hamanol. Both of these products will do miraculous things like remove dry wear marks and discoloration from flaps and seats.

I've bought several used saddles now that people seemed to think were past looking well cosmetically, but they really were just poorly conditioned and dry. After several months of riding and using conditioner, the saddles began to look newer and the leather got more supple.

All I do is wipe down saddles with plain water on a damp cloth after several rides when they begin to look dirty or else begin to show dry areas. Either of these conditioners will stay protective even after being wiped down several times. When the conditioner no longer makes the leather look nice again after being wiped down, I'll reapply either Lederbalsam or Hamanol.
 

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It's important to remember that different tack is made of different types of leather and may need different care. For instance, soaking bridle leather or fine saddle leather in neatsfoot oil is overkill and may not give you the results you were looking for. Heavily oiling harness leather, however, renders it nearly impervious to water and sweat and it will last decades. The heavy leather on a quality western saddle is really not comparable to the leather on a dressage saddle. Additionally, cheap leather or cheap stitching can be destroyed by oiling, while quality leather and quality stitching will not. A saddlemaker told me once that you can clean and oil good leather with nearly anything, and it will work. Poor leather gets ruined by everything. He has a point.

I use saddle soap if my western saddles get really dirt, but otherwise just wipe off dirt and dust occasionally with a soft cloth, and oil with pure neatsfoot once or twice a year. I usually reserve a cold, rainy fall day for this, drag everything inside, take it all apart, and clean and oil everything all at once. I put enough oil on that it soaks in-- if there's anything left after a few hours, I wipe that off. If anything is still looking dry, it gets more. It's important to use PURE neatsfoot, not neatsfoot compound or something that says "Pure Neatsfoot Oil" in big letters and 'and other ingredients' underneath in tiny letters. Skidmores also makes a nice set of products for heavy leather working tack. This protocol has worked for generations so I don't see any need to change it. Most of my western tack is 20-30 years old or more and still in great condition, so it works for me.

My English tack gets cleaned more frequently and conditioned every few months, usually with something like Lederbalsam. The fine bridle leather used on English tack, and the thick oil-tanned harness leather used on western tack are not the same, thus get different treatment.

Most of the draft horse guys around here take their leather harnesses every autumn to one gentleman who restores carriages and harness who has a dip tank full of neatsfoot oil with a bit of lanolin. The harnesses get cleaned and dunked overnight, then drip off for a day, then are wiped down 2-3 days in a row, and sent home. Collars are not dunked so the stuffing doesn't get saturated, but are cleaned and oiled carefully as well. The treatment makes the harnesses waterproof and supple for the winter, and last time I was there, most of the harnesses he was doing were 20 years old or more and used on work teams year-round. Good leather really isn't that picky or hard to take care of. Get the dirt off, put some oil on it that won't go rancid, and you're going to get decent results.

Something I will not use is Lexol. That stuff is sticky and attracts bugs, and dirt clings to it. No thanks.
 
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