How To Break In Your New Western Saddle
Sooner or later, most riders need to buy a new saddle. Sometimes, it occurs simultaneously with the purchase of a horse; while other times, a new riding discipline may necessitate a specialty saddle. That is both good and bad news. It’s good news because who doesn’t love the look, feel and even smell of a new saddle? But the bad news? Your new western saddle will probably need breaking in. Just like a new pair of cowboy boots, your saddle’s virgin leather will more than likely be a bit stiff and unforgiving, which can make for some uncomfortable riding. There are also the sound effects. Who knew that leather could make such a variety of creaking and squeaking noises?
Condition the Leather
The first thing you’ll want to do when breaking in your new western saddle is to soften and lubricate the leather with a conditioner. During the manufacturing process, a saddle’s leather loses a lot of its natural oils. By replenishing this lost moisture with a conditioner, you should be able to silence a lot of your saddle’s noisy squeaks and make the leather more pliable — which will, in turn, help it better conform to your shape.
There are a number of products that you can use to condition your saddle. Some riders, for example, will use extra-virgin olive oil, while others prefer neatsfoot oil. However, it’s probably best to stick to emollient products that have been specifically designed for conditioning saddle leather. No matter what product you decide to use, make sure to try a small amount in an inconspicuous area first. Unfortunately, some conditioners can permanently darken leather. It’s especially important to avoid getting these products on the suede or rough-out portions of your saddle.
To apply the conditioner, use a soft cloth. For saddles with detailed tooling, you’ll also want to use a toothbrush so that you can work the conditioner deep into the intricate design.
Some western riders believe the best method for breaking in new western saddle leather is the one used by cowboys. In this method, a saddle would be thrown into a water trough and then the cowboy would ride in it until it dried and molded to the shape of his body. Of course, not everyone has a trough available to them today, so you can always use a water hose to thoroughly soak your saddle That is the method preferred by professional barrel racer, Danyelle Campbell.
How to Break in New Saddle Stirrups
The stirrups on a new western saddle usually are set parallel to the horse, which can make riding uncomfortable. Breaking in your new western saddle fenders is very important. The best way to train your stirrups, according to Campbell, is to …
• Soak the saddle thoroughly with water, especially the fenders.
• Next, condition the fenders with an oil or other emollient.
• Turn the fender, starting near the top. Give the fender a second twist toward the bottom.
• Thread a broomstick through the first stirrup.
• Repeat the twisting on the second side. Then thread the broomstick through the second stirrup to hold it in place.
• Leave for at least 24 hours.
Break It In by Saddling Up
In the end, the best way to break in a stiff saddle is by logging lots of hours riding in it. With time, the leather will start to mold to your shape, giving you an almost custom fit.
One last tip: If you’re still hearing too many squeaks for your liking, consider applying a little baby powder into your saddle “joints,” such as where the fender and stirrup leather are rubbing against each other.
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