How to Soften Saddle Leather

By Heather Beach

Leather saddles and other leather horse equipment like bridles, martingales and saddlebags need proper care and maintenance to remain in top condition for many years. With proper conditioning, stiff new leather will become soft and supple, making it more resistant to cracking and more comfortable to use. Use the proper products to supple your new leather and you will preserve and soften it while avoiding damage to the stitching and flocking. Clean and condition your new saddle frequently and most importantly, use it frequently. Manipulating leather through everyday use will supple the protein bonds in the leather, resulting in a soft and malleable saddle that will last for years to come.

Things you will need

  • Small container of water
  • Glycerin based saddle soap
  • Leather conditioner or oil
  • Sponges and towels
  • Soft bristled brush, such as a toothbrush
  • Silver polish for hardware and buckles

Prepare Your Saddle

Place your saddle on a saddle rack at a comfortable height. Remove any buckles or fastenings and take the stirrup leathers off to clean and treat them separately. Use a damp towel over every surface of the saddle to remove any surface debris.

Apply Saddle Soap

Using a glycerin based saddle soap or other suitable leather cleaner, thoroughly lather and work the product into the leather covering all areas with small circular motions. Apply the product to both sides of the leather and to all girth fittings. Let the product sit on the leather for 5 to 10 minutes then wipe the excess soap with a damp towel. Take care to remove all excess soap so that it doesn't trap dirt and grime in crevices of your saddle. An old toothbrush with soft bristles can be used to work the soap into and out of the crevices of the saddle.

Apply a Conditioner

Finally, carefully apply a leather conditioner or oil to all surfaces of your saddle according to label instructions. Do not overapply oil, as it may seep through the leather into the flocking of your saddle, causing damage. Certain oils, such as neatsfoot oil, may darken leather so use caution if your saddle is a light color. Check with your saddle manufacturer for product recommendations if you are unsure which products to purchase.

Polish Metal Fittings

If your saddle has silver trim or metal fittings, cleaning and polishing these elements will put the final touches on your newly cleaned saddle. Be sure to wipe any excess cleaner or polisher from the metal and take care not to spill these products on the leather.