I get this question a lot both at the shop and when we are out at events and trade shows. The most common time this question is asked is when a customer brings in a saddle for repair and the repair needed is so extensive due to the amount of dry rot. Here the customer will usually say, “I would of oiled it but I didn’t know what kind of oil to use.” To this I always answer, “Even the wrong oil would have helped more than what you did… which was nothing.”
I know, oiling your saddle and gear is not the most exciting thing to do on your weekends off, but neither is writing large checks for saddle repairs or worse yet visiting the ground suddenly when something finally breaks.
There are hundreds of saddle conditioners, cleaners, lubricators, creams, savs, liquids, and the like that make choosing the best product for your gear a tuff choice. Again, ALL of these will, in some way, help your leather retain its life better than nothing at all. And if you still don’t feel comfortable making a decision then there is always a shop like ours that would be happy to handle this for you.
For oil, we use Olive Oil. We buy it from a local grocery supply company by the case and use it on both new and used leather items. I have heard of many people using canola, peanut, vegetable, and other food oils and they seem to work fine. My only issue with the other oils is that it seems to me that they would attract rats worse than the olive oil. Neatsfoot oil is the old standby and is still widely used. There is nothing wrong with this but it seems to me that olive oil seems to oil more evenly than neatsfoot and the main reason that we use it in the shop.
When it comes to conditioners, I recommend Skidmore’s Leather Cream above all else. This cream is great for lubricating the fibers in the leather and restoring life to dry stiff leather. This product is made of all natural ingredients including vegetable oils and beeswax and will also water proof the leather. A little bit of this cream goes a long way so don’t over do it, multiple light coats is always better than one heavy coat. This product is also amazing on boots and hunting gear.
The one thing to remember with conditioning your saddles and tack is that putting oil and conditioners on top of dirty leather can damage the leather. In doing this over time, you create multiple layers of dirt and oil which becomes a thick film that is almost impossible to remove. I always recomend washing leather with a mild dish soap like Dawn, Ivory, or even Murphy’s Oil Soap and rinsing thoroughly. Scrub the saddle with a medium bristle brush to lift the dirt and grime out of the leather. I don’t recommend saddle soap because it is suppose to be left on the saddle to dry and then the dirt stays on the leather. If you want to lather the saddle up with saddle soap after its cleaned, then that’s okay.
Always let your saddle dry completely (could take a day or two) before oiling and conditioning. If you oil too soon, you could get a real bad case of mold. I will talk more about mold and controlling it in a later post.
I know its hard to remember to oil your saddle and tack, but here is my suggestion on a system that may not make it such a big deal. Every time you worm your horses give all your tack and saddles a good look over and wipe them down with a light coat of oil. And when it comes to doing a complete washing and oiling, I recommend this once a year. This could be every time your coggins is due or at the end of your show season. And if you don’t want to go through the trouble of doing it yourself you can always drop it off at the saddle shop and we will do it for you.