How to Oil a New Saddle

Our test saddle after the initial oiling process is complete.

BY CORI MCGRAW

So you’ve just purchased a brand new saddle or have been fortunate enough to receive one as a gift (you lucky duck, you!). Now what?  While some manufacturers will pre-oil a saddle for you (often at an extra cost), where do you start if that job is yours to do?

(Our model, here a brand new Butet Practice Saddle. Fun fact: At the time of production in 2018, Butet tells us this that this particular saddle in the photograph is the only Butet practice saddle in the US in the darker Cachou color with the “L” deep seat option. I thought it would be fun to choose a very exclusive saddle for our article subject to up the ante!)

After spending thousands on a saddle, it can often be a little intimidating to think about oiling a brand new saddle, as we may feel afraid to make a wrong move. We want to make sure our saddle is well-prepped so it will give us many years of reliable service. Let’s break it down step-by-step:

  • Step 1: Check manufacturer’s recommendations for products for the initial oiling

Back in the old days, the rule of thumb was to slather a coat of neatsfoot oil on any new piece of tack prior to use. However, today manufacturers use more types of leather than every before, and thus may have specific recommendation for products that will be as gentle as possible on the type of leather that you have.  While they may often recommend their own products (and a skeptic could certainly argue that there’s an element of self-promotion in those recommendation) I’d personally rather be safe than sorry and go with the manufacturer’s recommended product for the initial oiling just to be on the safe side. In our “model” saddle, a Butet practice saddle, we have the manufacturer’s recommended Akene oil for the initial oiling. When you check, please be sure you are checking for the intial oiling which may be a different product recommendation than for everyday conditioning. For example, Butet makes two type conditioning products, the Akene Oil, and Akene Conditioner. They recommend the Akene Oil for the initial oiling and/or deep conditioning, with the Akene Conditioner for everyday conditioning.

  • Step 2: Trim your fingernails

Your fingertips will work closely against the leather in many cases. Since you won’t want to inadvertently scratch your brand new saddle, I recommend trimming your nails before you get started.

  • Step 3: Assemble your supplies

Get your manufacturer’s suggested product (here the Akene oil for our Butet practice saddle) as well as a clean sponge and a new paintbrush (the type sold in the hardware store as opposed to an art store will be just fine.) Make sure the sponge is clean, because you don’t want to wipe any accumulated gunk from an old sponge onto the brand new saddle.  Don’t cheap out — spring for the new sponge. The need for a paintbrush may be less obvious, but you’ll need it for applying the treatment into nooks and crannies.

  • Step 4: Set aside time where you won’t be interrupted

I recommend doing the initial oiling at home rather than the barn so you can apply the initial treatment free of dust, shavings, etc. Close the door behind you to keep well-meaning pets and spouses (who might want to distract you!) out of the way. We want you to be able to finish the entire first coat of treatment without interruption so you don’t end up with uneven places on your saddle. Setting a timer can be helpful as a way to remind yourself that for the next 20 minutes (or however many minutes you think you will need), you are unavailable to the world and won’t be answering the phone, responding to texts, or attending to other tasks. Think of it as a mini-meditation as you take a break from the outside world for a moment and focus just on your saddle for this block of time.

  • Step 5: Apply the product in a circular motion
Applying the oil in a circular motion helps create the most even distribution and even color.

Apply the product with a sponge in a circular motion.  If you are nervous, I recommend starting with an inconspicuous place like the underside of the flap so you can get the hang of it. Don’t be intimidated if the color of the leather changes to a darker shade, this is a normal part of the process. The circular motion will help blend everything to an even distribution. Use your paintbrush to apply product into nooks and crannies like up under the stirrup bar and around the D-rings. Be sure to apply the treatment to both sides of each leather surface, i.e. front and back of billets, front and back side of flaps, front and back side of billet guards.

Use your fresh paintbrush to get oil up into the hard-to-reach crevices of the leather.
  • Step 6: Allow to dry overnight
  • Step 7: Repeat a Second Coat

To be sure you’ve really allowed the leather to absorb as much of the product as possible, it’s best to do a second coat with the same procedure as the first. 

  • Step 8: Allow to dry overnight again as before

Allowing to try overnight after the application of any oil or moisturizing treatment will help minimize grease stains on your breeches.

Our test saddle after the initial oiling process is complete.
  • Step 9: For the first month

You could use an everyday conditioner, but I like to use the initial oiling product once a week for the first month just because it’s typically the deepest conditioner in a given product line. Be sure to clean your saddle after each use BEFORE applying the oil product so that you are applying it to clean leather.

Ready to ride! My mare Penny Lane models the freshly oiled Butet Practice Saddle.

I hope these tips help you to be confident in preparing your brand new saddle for use.  (As a side note, these tips also work for you other favorite leather tack items as well.)

Cori McGraw is the founder of High-End Used Saddles, which specializes in matching riders with the right saddle for their needs at a fraction of the price new. She can be reached at [email protected] or visit website HighEndUsedSaddles.com for more information.