What are your tips and tricks for cleaning saddles?
Get the surface dirt and stuff gone.
A stiff brush is good for getting grit out of your stirrup pads.
Cleaning saddles - either you like it or you don't. I'll also add the answer to the question you are thinking: YES, you should do it after each and every ride. Taking care of your tack ensures it will take care of you. You will keep the leather in top condition, and you can spot repairs that need to be made long before your stirrup leather fails during the lesson with BNT.
I always try and follow the manufacturer's directions on saddle cleaning, if you have them. If you don't, a quick call to the closest tack store or saddle company representative can help you. A quick internet search will also give you an answer as to how to clean your particular brand of saddle. This is because of the many different types of leather that are out there today, from calf to buffalo and even ostrich. If you have no idea what to use as far as products go, you likely can't go wrong with a generic glycerin soap. Many choices are outlined here!
The small sea sponge is great for cleaning tack.
I like to start cleaning my saddle by just wiping it down with a lightly damp rag to get the dust, sweat, and hair off. Lift all flaps and get under there, too! You will notice that the seams are often the first place that hair and goop like to collect. A stiff nylon brush can get into the nooks and crannies to remove horse hairs that want to live there. This works for saddles with tons of texture, you may not want to risk scratches.
This is a great time to also check all of the stitching and the overall health of the saddle. I once had a girth billet break while I was riding (yikes). It's dangerous, and embarrassing that I had not noticed the stitching was giving out before I threw my leg over.
After the wipe down with a damp towel, proceed with whatever cleaner is suggested. I use a glycerine/conditioner blend for my saddles that is suggested by the manufacturer. Applied with a sea sponge, this process takes seconds. For my very old and very slippery jump saddle, I use more of a conditioning paste to add a little tacky so I don't slide off after I use. Very important!! For my textured and specialty leather dressage saddle, I use a super short bristled brush and some paste conditioner to get into every nook and cranny. This creates that tacky finish and the bristles from the applicator brush get all of the hair and dirt from the seams.
You can also make your own saddle cleaner/conditioner in your very own kitchen. Adding great smelling oils to this concotion (recipe here) is easy, too.
This finishing brush is handy for working your favorite saddle cleaner into the hard to reach places!
Some folks like to use oils to soften or darken a new saddle. This is great on occassion - and please be warned that some saddle flocking can be disrupted and damaged by oils on the underside on the saddle, so use caution or avoid that area all together when oiling.
I like to use a toothbrush to get into those areas that my fingers won't - like around the stirrup bars. You can also wrap a cloth around the non-bristled end to apply oil or conditioner into those hard to reach areas, too.
Don't forget to inspect the stirrup leathers where the stirrup rests.
What do you use to clean your saddle?