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My neighbor walked into my barn carrying a saddle and said, “My daughter’s saddle is in desperate need of care. Can you help me?” I offered him some advice about maintaining it to last longer and discussed using oil on saddles.
Leather saddles lose moisture over time. This is what causes them to crack and break down with age. One way to prevent this from happening is by oiling the leather regularly. The oil will help keep moisture in, which will make your saddle last longer and look nicer for many years to come.
If you’re a horseback rider, you know the importance of having a good saddle. A saddle that is properly cared for can last for years. But, should you oil it? In this blog post, we discuss the best ways to care for your saddle and whether or not you should oil it.
This guide answers all the questions you may have about conditioning your leather tack -especially saddles.
- Should you oil your saddle?
- What kind of oil is best for conditioning leather tack like saddles?
- Best oil conditioners for saddles
- And more…
Let us get straight to it.
Should You Oil Your Saddle?
Saddles are an essential piece of equipment for any horse rider. They can be expensive, so it is vital to take care of them properly to prolong their lives. One question that often comes up is whether or not you should oil your saddle.
You should oil your leather saddle from time to time. Oiling can reduce its dryness and replenish lost moisture and fats. Your saddle can get dry, hard, and worn out without oiling. This could reduce its life and make it very uncomfortable for you and your horse.
However, there are also some potential downsides to oiling your saddle. Too much oil can actually damage the leather and make it brittle. It can also attract dirt and dust, which can be challenging to clean off. Additionally, if you don’t do it correctly, you could end up with a greasy mess on your hands (and on your saddle).
What Kind of Oil is Best for Oiling Saddles?
There are different kinds of oils and conditioners you can use to safely and effectively oil your saddles:
- Neatsfoot Oil
Neatsfoot oil is one of the best kinds to use on leather tack. This oil is obtained by boiling slaughtered cattle’s lower legs (other than hooves). It yields a yellow oil that is 100% natural and has all the properties that animals need for withstanding harsh environments.
Neatsfoot oil has the following benefits for leather tack:
- Naturally replaces lost oils and conditions the saddle – Neatsfoot oil replenishes natural oils lost from leather saddles due to evaporation. Saddles undergo a lot of wear and tear. They get exposed to wind, sun, rain, and snow. This can wear the saddle out over time. Neatsfoot oil conditions and protects saddles and also makes them weather-resistant for future use.
- Is 100% natural – Neatsfoot oil is 100% natural and remains liquid at room temperature. It won’t damage delicate leather and is 100% safe for use on your genuine leather tack.
- Olive Oil
Olive oil is another popular option for oiling leather saddles. It has the following benefits:
- Easily penetrates the hardened leather saddle – Virgin olive oil easily and quickly penetrates the dry and brittle saddle to moisturize it and replenish the lost fats.
- Improves the look and feel of tack – Oiling with olive oil also makes your leather saddle look clean, bright, and as good as new. It also makes the dry saddle soft and supple. Some horse owners also soak their tack in olive oil for a few days. It darkens the leather considerably and makes it look and feel good.
A Word of Caution When Using Olive Oil for Oiling Leather Saddles
There is a downside to using olive oil for oiling saddles. It is very expensive, and you’d probably need to use a lot of oil -especially if you want to soak the saddle thoroughly.
Moreover, the smell of the oiled tack could attract rodents and rats. Oil also attracts flies and dust, which can get deeply ingrained in the tack and make it harder to clean.
- Mink Oil
Unlike the name suggests, Mink oil is not made from mink secretions. In fact, it is made of beef tallow. It is available in cream or liquid form. It has the following features:
- Mink oil leaves leather tack soft and supple but may not make it water-proof. If you use mink oil, you need to use wax if you want to add water resistance to the tack.
- Sometimes, mink oil leaves a reddish tinge on the tack.
- It could also soften your leather tack a bit too much.
Which Oil is The Best for Saddles?
I firmly believe horse owners should always use what is recommended when it comes to protecting expensive leather saddles. In this case, it is Neatsfoot oil.
Neatsfoot oil is natural, does the job, and doesn’t attract dust, flies, or rodents. You could use virgin olive oil, but that can end up being more expensive. Some horse owners also use vegetable oils, but I strongly advise against that. Vegetable oil will not only stink, but it could also attract pests dust and, worse, go rancid in a few days.
That is why I always go back to neatsfoot oil for conditioning my leather tack. Neatsfoot oil softens, lubricates, restores, preserves, and protects. It is also 100% natural and safe and won’t damage the expensive leather saddles.
4 Best Oil and Conditioners for Saddles
These days, there are many great products available for oiling and conditioning leather saddles. Here are my top 4 picks:
As mentioned, Neatsfoot oil is my go-to choice for oiling saddles, and it has been so for hundreds of thousands of equestrians as well.
Fiebing’s 100% Neatsfoot oil is made in the USA. It is 100% natural and conditions and preserves leather tack safely.
I have restored many tack items that had become dull and lifeless using this restorative oil.
- Fiebing brand’s signature oil
- Made in the USA
- 100% natural
- Restores and protects – replenishes oils lost through evaporation
- Ideal for oiling all kinds of leather tack and products exposed to the harsh elements
- Used by saddle makers for over a century
- Water-resistant – keeps snow/rain off the tack
- Needs tons of elbow grease to see results
- Smells like lard or frying grease.
If your saddle is stiff and damaged, use the following steps to really see results:
- Wear gloves
- Take a bit of the product on a soft cloth
- Slather it all over the saddle.
- Really massage it in – pay attention to the creases and joints. Use a brush to get into hard-to-reach areas.
- Let the oiled saddle sit overnight
- Repeat the process for three more days – (I told you you need elbow grease!)
- By the fourth treatment, your saddle will look new and feel incredibly soft and supple.
How it compares
Neatsfoot oil is the safest way to condition your leather saddle. Its price is under $15. The downside is its smell, but it goes away after a few days. If you don’t mind putting in some hard work, this oil can really leave your tack shinier and as good as new.
#2. Best Overall: Leather Honey Powerful Leather Conditioner
Leather Honey is another excellent product for conditioning leather tack, and millions of horse owners will agree. I have used it on my car interiors, leather furniture, apparel, and shoes with some fantastic results.
I find it impressive that Leather Honey is made by a small family-owned company that has been making this conditioner for more than five decades. To them, customer satisfaction is paramount, so they will be more than happy to refund your money if you are not 100% satisfied.
- Free from silicone, solvents, and animal products
- American-made leather conditioner by a family-owned company
- Can be used at room temperature or warmed slightly before use
- Versatile – can be used on car interiors, leather apparel, leather tack, leather couches, etc.
- Restores all types/colors of leather
- Guarantees 6 months of protection for new and old leather tack
- Revitalizes and preserves; restores and softens
- Easy to use
- Leaves tack water-resistant
- Long-lasting; little goes a long way
- Use with caution – it permanently darkens the leather.
- Do not go overboard with it. Test the product on a small area first and use it in very small amounts. Buff well to spread it thoroughly..
How it compares
If you are concerned about how neatsfoot oil is made, then the Leather Honey conditioner can be a gentle, animal-friendly alternative.
It is non-toxic, made in the USA, and can restore and protect your leather saddle and tack. Plus, it’s been made by a family-owned company since 1968. Its price is also attractive – you only need a small quantity, and the results last for months. The downside is that it could darken the leather significantly.
#3. Best for Light-Colored Leather – Bick 4 Leather Conditioner – Will Not Darken Leather
My friend owns a light-colored saddle and didn’t want to risk using Leather Honey because he was worried it would darken it. He used this Bick 4 Leather Conditioner, and it delivered what it promised.
It kept his saddle looking brand new without changing its color.
- Time-tested formula since 1882 – contains a blend of emulsifiers, leather conditioners, and moisturizers
- Free from silicone
- Made in the USA
- Versatile – can be used on leather apparel, car interiors, horse tack, etc.
- Can even be used on white leather
- Makes your tack shinier and richer-looking
- Simple one-step application
- Has a great scent
- Does not leave an oily residue
- It may not make the treated items water-resistant.
- Apply two coats. Allow the leather to soak it up properly.
How it compares
Bick4 Leather Conditioner will surely bring your old leather tack to life. It is easy to use, smells great, and does not darken leather. You can even use it on light or white-colored tack. The price of around $10 is also super affordable.
#4. Best Saddle Butter: Ray Holes Saddle Butter
Saddle butter is an excellent alternative for saddle oil, especially if you are worried about the oily conditioners getting on your clothes. We used this Ray Holes Saddle Butter on my daughter’s tack, and she was surprised how shiny her saddle looked without that greasy feeling of oils.
- Made using beeswax, Brazilian carnauba wax tallow, and pure neatsfoot oil
- Free from chemicals and synthetic mineral oils
- Made in the USA with locally-sourced ingredients
- Replaces the natural oils in leather lost through evaporation
- Conditions, repairs, restores, and protects
- Easy to use
- Long-lasting; little goes a long way
- Could leave a light residue on your tack – especially if you use it in excess.
- Really work the product in with your hands to see results!
How it compares
Saddle butter is ideal for people who dislike the oily, slippery feel on their tack. Ray Holes Saddle butter works as intended. It is slightly pricier than the other entries here but lasts a while. Avoid using it in large quantities and massage it very well to get the product deep inside the leather.
How to Oil and Condition an Old Saddle?
Here are the steps to use to oil and condition saddles:
- Clean the saddle
Make sure to remove any dirt before oiling the saddle. Dry it completely before oiling if you’ve recently ridden in the rain or snow and your saddle is wet.
- Warm the oil
If you use neatsfoot oil or olive oil, warm it slightly before applying. If you are using any other product, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Test a small area first
Apply a small quantity of the oil or butter to a small area. Ensure that the oil does not discolor or darken the saddle.
- Use a circular motion for application
Use a sponge or soft cloth to dab the oil in a gentle circular motion. This will help spread the oil evenly.
- Allow some standing time
Once the entire saddle is oiled thoroughly, let it sit in a cool, dry area away from direct heat and light. This will help the oil deeply penetrate the leather.
- Repeat application
Some old leather saddles will benefit from 2-3 oil applications.
- Wipe off and buff
Wipe off the oil to remove any residue. Also, use a rag to buff the saddle. You can now use it or condition it as given in the next step.
- Condition after oiling
Leather conditioners prevent the tack from drying and create a protective layer over the oil. You can skip this step if the product you use already has a conditioner in it.
When & How to Oil Your New Saddle
There’s nothing worse than getting a new dressage saddle and not knowing how to take care of it. In this section, we’ll walk you through the basics of when and how to oil your new saddle. By following these simple steps, you’ll ensure that your saddle lasts for years to come.
Many saddle manufacturers offer to oil your new saddle for you at an extra cost. If they haven’t already, follow the steps below to know when to oil a brand new saddle:
Read the manufacturer’s instructions before oiling the new saddle. They will recommend the right oil for the kind of leather they’ve used in making the saddle.
Some saddle manufacturers also make oils and conditioners and may recommend their own products for the initial oiling.
Your new saddle has very soft leather, which can get scratched with sharp nails. So, either wear gloves or trim your fingernails if you plan to massage the saddle with your bare hands.
Gather your supplies
Use a clean new sponge and a brush to apply the oil deep into the crevices. Do not use old sponges and brushes as they could carry dirt that can damage or scratch the soft saddle.
Apply the oil/conditioner in a circular motion
This will give better coverage. Continue massaging for at least 5-10 minutes until you cover the entire saddle with the oil.
Allow it to dry
Leave the saddle to dry overnight. You can apply a second coat after it is dry.
Repeat oiling once a week for the first month
Repeat the oiling/conditioning treatment once a week for your new saddle. This will soften it up and also protect it. Make sure you clean the saddle before treating it.
Below is a helpful YouTube video on how to oil and condition your saddle.
FAQs on Should You Oil Your Saddle?
Do you oil the seat of a saddle?
Some saddle seats are natural leather and should be oiled regularly; others are constructed with synthetic material and don’t need oil. If you’re not sure whether or how often to oil your saddle seat, check with the saddle maker.
Can you use neatsfoot oil on saddles?
Neatsfoot oil is the best oil for conditioning saddles. It is all-natural and has a protective and restorative action.
What kind of oil do you use on a leather saddle?
Neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or olive oil are excellent choices for oiling a saddle. Always follow your manufacturer’s instructions about oiling, especially for a new saddle. This is because they may have specific oil recommendations for the leathers used in making the saddle.
How much should you oil a saddle?
Use only a small quantity of oil to oil your saddle. In the first month of a new saddle, oil it once a week as the saddle wears; you can decrease the oil application to once every 2 to 6 months.
Does saddle oil darken leather?
Some oils could darken leather, but it is usually temporary. You also need to buff the leather properly while oiling, so it gets an even, all-over darkening effect.
Conclusion – Should You Oil your Saddle?
It is essential to oil your saddle from time to time; this applies to both English and Western saddles. Using oil regularly on your saddle will condition and soften it. Saddle leather hardens with time, and oiling can help restore and replenish its moisture to make it more supple.
Oiling can also protect the leather and make it more resistant to the elements. I recommend Fiebing’s 100% Neatsfoot oil for oiling your saddle. It is made in the USA, 100% natural, and known to condition, protect, replenish, and preserve leather tack.