How do I “break in” my new english saddle?

Love new tack.  It’s pretty, it’s an investment, people will stop you and ask about it, you know it can last forever if you take care of it.  It’s can also be slippery, stiff, and weirdly colored.  What to do?  


You have a few options here, and the best thing to do is find out from the manufacturer what they recommend in terms of lotions and potions to use.  Saddles these days can be made from some very exotic leathers that may have special cleaning instructions.  Don’t want to ruin your new croc seat or patent leather!


I would not suggest putting oil on the fabric piping or patent leather parts of this bad boy. 

The main things to remember when dealing with any type of leather is that you need to clean it, and then replace the natural oils and moisture that you took away when you cleaned the saddle.  With new tack, you can assume it’s pretty darn clean, but you will still need to moisturize it.  


You may notice that your new saddle has a white film covering the leather.  It’s called tallow, and it protects new leather from drying out.  You can rub it into the leather with a soft dry cloth.  Your bum in the tack also does this.   Some saddle manufacturers buff this layer in for you before the saddle ships. 


This white covering, called tallow, protects new leather and can be buffed or rubbed into your new tack.  It can also happen over time if you don't use your saddle too much. 


Small, dense brushes are great for buffing leather and smushing in conditioners, be careful if the leather is smooth. 


Now you can “attack” your saddle with some products to help it soften up.  Lederbalsams, leather creams, hydrophane, and neatsfoot oils are all readily available to help your saddle “break in” by conditioning it.  Neatsfoot oil and hydrophane are traditional oils that can darken leather as they soften.  This may be OK with you if your new english saddle is a funny shade orangeish-brown.  It can also stain your pants and disintegrate the stitching of your saddle.  I also suggest that you refrain from using oil on the knee rolls as the oils can damage the glue inside of the rolls.  If you can, avoid oil on the underside of the saddle that holds the flocking in.  When applying oil to a saddle, paint it on carefully and thinly.


Hydrophane leather oil will darken leather.


Lederbalsams and other creams are great for conditioning your new saddle and for creating a bit of stickiness.  They can also be used on a daily basis, an seem to soak much quicker than oils.  You may need to repeat this process of coating with a cream every few hours when you are at the barn.


You also have the option to get your new saddle wet.  This is a tried and true method for working leather.  It’s not so hard to do, either.  Step one and you are done: get your saddle wet.  Hose, dunk it in a trough, leave it in a steady rain.  Then ride in it.  The theory is that wet leather will mold to you as it dries.  You will still need to condition your new saddle as it’s drying out.  While this tradition has been around for many, many years, I still suggest following the manufacturer instructions.  


This "orangish" saddle will darken with time and a little oil. 


I have also heard that you can massage the new flaps to soften them up.  Folding and maneuvering the leather flats will certainly give you a workout and probably have a few eyebrows raised.  Or, you can just ride…


One thing to remember is that most new saddles off the shelf are not flocked and fitted to your horse.  It’s ideal to have a master saddle fitter help you with this.  After a few months of riding, you will probably need to have a flocking/fitting touch up as you continue to break in your new saddle.  This article has lots of ways to stay on top of correct saddle fit for your horse.   


New and nice and stiff.  


How do you break in a new english saddle?