A good leather saddle is an investment. Properly cared for, it can last more than a lifetime. Often, an old but quality leather saddle isn't cared for once the owner stops riding -- or rides off into the sunset for the last time -- and ends up dirty, cracked and dry. That's actually not a worst-case scenario. If the leather is moldy, it's more difficult, if not impossible, to restore.
Restoring such a saddle takes time, and isn't always worth the effort if you intend to use it again. Some parts of worn leather saddles are replaceable, but crucial parts are integral to the structure and, if badly damaged, aren't safe to use for riding. Of course, you can still restore a saddle for decorative purposes. The best products for restoring old leather saddles are well-known in the equestrian world.
Before putting any products on your saddle, clean the worst of the dirt off with a dust cloth or vacuum the debris away. Use a brush to get dirt out of tight, difficult spaces.
Leather Therapy manufactures a full complement of products for leather maintenance and restoration. Start by carefully cleaning the saddle with Leather Wash. Unlike traditional saddle soaps and other leather cleaning products, this does not require rinsing off the suds. For very grimy saddles, spray Leather Wash directly on the item rather than applying it with a damp sponge.
Leather Restorer and Conditioner
Place a thin coat of Leather Therapy Wash Restorer/Conditioner on your saddle. Not only does it help lubricate leather and restore a proper pH balance to the saddle -- remember, leather is tanned skin -- but it can aid saddles with minor mold issues.
Let the restorer/conditioner do its job. Once it has penetrated the leather and the saddle is dry, apply Leather Therapy Finish. This product protects the leather while adding luster.
Formerly sold under the name Harness Honey, Leather Honey conditioner is made without animal products, and doesn't contain solvents or toxins. Because it's an exceptionally deep-penetrating product, Leather Honey doesn't require frequent application. It hydrates "the individual fibers from the inside out," according to its website. Along with the conditioner, Leather Honey also markets a leather cleaner.
Restoring Wet Leather
If the saddle has been saturated, quick action is required or the item may be ruined. Belvoir Leather Balsam, manufactured by the British firm Carr and Day and Martin and sold worldwide, contains beeswax and lanolin. Apply a light application to a wet saddle and gently rub it in. Let the balsam set in for 10 minutes, then buff the saddle with a dry, soft cloth. Allow the saddle to dry naturally.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.