Cleaning and Caring for Leather Saddles and Bridles


My horse’s tack always seems to be filthy and greasy after it has been used. I am worried about over cleaning it and ruining the leather, have you got any tips on cleaning and maintaining tack?

Answer: The Society of Master Saddlers replies:

When maintaining a used bridle clean your bridle regularly according to how often it is used. It is much better to give it a quick clean every time it is used but, if you don’t have time, a thorough clean once a week for a bridle in daily use should be sufficient.

A good way to keep your bridle in good condition is to wipe it off after use using a cloth such as an old flannel or dishcloth dipped in a small bucket of warm water and thoroughly squeezed out.

After cleaning the dirt and grease from the bridle, apply a coat of saddle soap. The soap should be applied with a dry sponge. You can dip the soap bar into the water to wet it a little but don’t allow it to lather as it will then leave a white coating on the leather which may go hard. Alternatively, use one of the liquid soaps.

If the bridle is very greasy or otherwise heavily soiled you will find that a small handful of washing soda crystals added to the water will help enormously, and will not affect the suppleness of the leather.

Should you get caught out in the rain whilst riding, immediate action is required! Dismantle the bridle as soon as possible and clean it in the usual way – then allow it to dry out very slowly. Do not be tempted to place it near a heater or a sunny window to speed up the drying process as this will make the leather go very hard – and you may not be able to revive it. After drying, apply a coat of leather dressing or oil followed by saddle soap.

Do not oil your bridle too often: restrict oiling to when the bridle is new, when it gets very wet, or if it has been unused for a while and has dried out.

If you have just bought a new bridle, always check that it fits your horse before treating it with any kind of oil or leather dressing, as the saddler will not give a refund or exchange an oiled bridle.

Once this is done, apply a liberal coat of good quality leather dressing to both sides. Leather dressings are available in oil and paste forms: ask your Saddler for his recommendation.

Before applying the dressing, dismantle the bridle and place it on some newspaper. If you are using a liquid dressing, the best way to do it is to pour a little into an old saucer and paint it onto the bridle with a clean dry paint brush.

Allow the dressing to soak in and then, if the leather still seems to be quite dry, apply another coat. When the dressing is finally absorbed, apply a coat of saddle soap or balm using an almost dry sponge (if the sponge is very dry, it’s a good tip to dip the soap, not the sponge, in water). You can then reassemble the bridle and it is now ready for use.


For saddles use the same method as for bridles except that it is best to apply the leather dressing or oil only to the flesh side (underneath or rough side) as it soaks in better from this side, and the oil or dressing should not come off on your clothing, also some saddle leathers have a coating that will not allow oil to soak in from the grain side (top side).

Use only soaps or balms on your saddle which are recommended by your Saddler as some have been known to cause colour fade to certain saddles. Some manufacturers have their own brand of soap or dressing, in this case it may be better to follow the maker’s recommendations, but you should not do any harm to any leather saddle or bridlework using these recommendations.

Another important tip is to store your saddle and bridle on a purpose-made rack where a fairly even temperature is maintained. This will help avoid any damage to your saddle and bridle, and if possible keep it under a fabric saddle cover.

To find out more information on The Society of Master Saddlers and to find your nearest member visit or contact on 01449 711642.

Author: Features Editor

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