Care of a Western Saddle
Western saddles are mostly made of vegetable-tanned leather, incredibly durable, eco-friendly, and beautiful leather that improves with age and must be cared for. It is the oldest form of leather tanning in the world, and recipes and skills have been handed down from generation to generation; the basic principles have not changed since 6000 BCE.
Using the natural tannins found in various barks and woods, raw leather is left in baths for upwards of a month or longer. Over this time, it develops a rich natural tone as it tans. The process is incredibly environmentally friendly, resulting in a full-grain piece of leather that can last for a century or longer with proper care. Due to the extra time, veg-tanned leather is usually more expensive than chrome-tanned leather. Thanks to the all-natural process of tanning this leather, it is very environmentally friendly and safe as well.
Over time, and with proper care, this leather becomes more robust and softer and acquires a beautiful rich patina. With sunlight and everyday use exposure, the leather will darken in colour and deepen in tone into a beautiful patina that cannot be replicated any other way.
We have become so used to heavily engineered and coated leather that a saddle made from raw, natural leather looks unfinished. Our vegetable-tanned leather is not covered with synthetic coatings to hide the leather defects. The hide is effectively naked and will age and darken with the sun, just like your skin. All colours will do this, but lighter colours will be much more noticeable.
Our leather cowhide is sourced in North America in cooler climates, away from fleas and ticks in hotter areas.
The first thing to know is that you can’t and shouldn’t try to prevent the ageing process of vegetable-tanned leather; the ability to age is a mark of quality.
Your saddle will be unique right from the start. As mentioned above, our hides are natural, so each one will differ. Just think of it like your own skin! Every veg-tanned piece has scratches, stretch marks, blemishes and uneven colour patches. The more you use the piece, the faster it’ll darken. The sun will quicken this up, as will rubbing in a leather conditioner or neatsfoot oil. High-use areas will also dull quickly because of the natural oils in your hands.
Here are some tips on how to care for your leather product:
Conditioning Leather – If you notice the shine that was once there is wearing off and looking dry, take some time to care for your product. If your product is not exposed to the outdoors very much, care for it once or twice a year; if your product is exposed to the sun most of the time it is used, we recommend that you care for it 3-4 times a year. Many leather conditioners are available; you can use any commercially-available conditioner designed for vegetable-tanned leather. Simple oils such as mineral oil, neatsfoot oil (we like this) or olive oil also work well. Rub in a light coat evenly, then buff it with a clean, dry rag. You can repeat these steps as often as you like, but remember that conditioning leather usually darkens it slightly (this is normal). We want to seal in the oil with a coat of Beeswax-based leather conditioner; we like Canadian products from Beeseal, but many others are out there.
Saddle Soap cleans leather and lubricates the fibres to prevent brittleness while maintaining suppleness and strength.