If you own your own saddle, it is very important to keep it clean. This is what keeps the leather in good condition and maximizes the longevity of your saddle.
A saddle should be lightly cleaned at least once a week, and thoroughly cleaned at least once a month. The more often you ride, the more often you should clean it. Even if you have not been riding, a saddle in storage benefits from a once-monthly cleaning and oiling. If well cared for a saddle can last 50 or more years. If left alone, it will become damaged and will quickly lose value.
To begin, you will need a small bucket of warm water, a bar of saddle soap, a jug of saddle oil or conditioner, and two sponges. You may find a soft toothbrush useful for getting grit out of the holes, or tooling.
Place your saddle on a secure stand. This can easily be made out of wood, or you can purchase a saddle stand at your tack shop.
Moisten your first sponge and lather it with soap. Starting on the seat, gently scrub your saddle with the soapy sponge. You do not want to make your saddle wet, so be sure to wring most of the water out of your sponge. Rinse it regularly, and add fresh soap.
You will need to clean every surface of the leather. This means both the finished surface, and the underside of each part of your saddle. After scrubbing each section with soap, rinse the sponge and wipe any excess soap off the leather. Use the toothbrush to remove any soap caught in the billet holes or in fancy tooling.
Some parts of your saddle are removable. Take off the stirrups and stirrup leathers, being sure to remember both what holes you had been using, and how they go onto your saddle. If you have metal stirrups, take out the rubber treads and soak both the metal and rubber parts in your water. Do not soak the leathers – clean them with saddle soap, the same way you cleaned the rest of the saddle.
Be careful not to forget to clean the underside of your saddle. This can be one of the dirtiest parts of your saddle, particularly if your horse sweats a lot. Sweat can really damage leather, so it is very important to clean it off.
Once the saddle is clean, moisten the second sponge so that it is soft and pliable. Squeeze out any excess water. Now moisten the sponge with your leather conditioner. Without making a thick layer of oil on the leather, wipe the entire surface of your saddle with leather conditioner. It should all absorb into the leather. Any excess should quickly be wiped up as it can discolor the leather. Be sure to oil the stirrup leathers and any other pieces you may have removed.
Finally, take the stirrups out of the water and scrub off any remaining dirt with the toothbrush. You do not need soap or oil on the stirrups, unless you have leather stirrups (which you would not have dunked in water in the first place).
Put your saddle back together, making sure any parts you removed are replaced properly.
You can find quick fix products for cleaning your tack. While these are ok for situations where you just want to tidy things up, or after every ride, they are not suitable for a thorough cleaning. Many leave residue that can gunk up in the long run.
When selecting a type of oil, be aware that some oils, like Neatsfoot Oil, will darken the leather. Others, such as Lexol, will not. Some oils may leave residue on the seat, and could stain your breeches. Talk to your local tack shop if you are in doubt about the best product for your needs.