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Your Horse:
Selection Of The Horse
Conformation Of Horses
Disposition Of Horses
Saddlery And Equipment For Horses
Care Of Saddlery And Leather
Feeds And Bedding For Horses
Horse Stables
Horse Pastures
The Veterinarian
Care Of Horse Feet And Shoeing
In Or Out Of The Stable
Transporting Horses
Basic Physiology Of Horses
Genetic Considerations Of Horses

Care Of Saddlery And Leather

( Originally Published 1954 )

Keeping the leather in shape is one of the most time consuming and least pleasant of the many chores that confront the horse owner. Proper equipment and systematic methods will, however, lighten the burden to a considerable ex-tent. The following must be assembled:

1. A well placed saddle rack or bench.

2. A hook upon which to hang bridles. It may be suspended from the ceiling or from a wall. All saddle shops sell a large double hooked article which serves admirably, although any large, blunt, heavy hook will suffice.

3. A large, fairly stiff hand brush.

4. Several rough wash cloths or squares of discarded turkish towels.

5. A medium sized tack sponge of good quality.

6. Soft polishing cloths.

7. Neat's foot oil compound. Pure neat's foot oil is ex-pensive, hard to find and so penetrating that it is difficult to handle.

8. Dubbin, obtainable in cans of various sizes. Much of the best is imported. Dubbins are mixtures of beef or mutton tallow, prime neat's foot oil, and usually small amounts of glycerin, beeswax and resins. They are used for replacing the oil in dry or stiff leather and find their greatest use in those locations which come into contact with the rider's clothes, boots, and gloves.

9. Saddle soap. This comes in two types, the soft variety which is sold in tin containers, and the glycerin saddle soap which is in hard bars not unlike castile soap. After trying them both for a number of seasons I have come to the conclusion that the glycerin variety is infinitely superior in nearly all respects. This is particularly true at the present time, since many of both the imported and domestic soaps are below standard in quality and often contain chemical caustics and other impurities. Glycerin soap is a little less efficient in acting as an oiling agent, but that is easily remedied by the proper use of dubbin. It is easier to handle and finishes the leather with a clean surface and a rich color. Saddles so treated pick up much less dirt and dust, and since using glycerin soap exclusively I have found that my bills for the cleaning of breeches are cut in half.

10. Metal polish of any of the better known brands. This need not be used frequently, but should be available for the final touch when things are to be at their best.

New leather when it comes from the show room is usually stiff and free of oil. It should never be used a single time without proper conditioning. Soak a small piece of discarded sponge, or a bit of soft wool cloth, in a bowl partly filled with neat's foot oil compound and go over every inch of the new saddle, bridle, or other item made of leather. The outer surface of the saddle should have a light treatment but the underside should have a much heavier dose. Pay particular attention to the billet straps. Put a little extra around buckles on the bridles or at spots where there is a sharp bend, such as where the reins are stitched to the bits. Folded leather girths should be oiled on the outside and then opened up and heavily treated on the inside. This will keep the oil coming in through the leather to protect it without having the outside unpleasantly greasy.

Allow the oiled articles to stand for a day or two and then prepare a good wet lather with glycerin saddle soap. This will remove the excess of oil from the surface and give it a smooth soft feeling. Lastly work up a heavy dry lather with the soap and rub it well into the leather and finish with a soft cloth or a sponge which is practically dry. Put the equipment into ordinary use and care for a few weeks. At the end of that time it may be desirable to repeat the oiling of the under side of the saddle panels, skirts, and billets. It is best to avoid further oiling of the seat and the outside of the flaps and skirts. Bridles, halters, martingales and other similar items usually require a second oiling.

Since no saddle is comfortable until it has been broken in to the conformation of the rider, the quicker this is accomplished the better. Before using the saddle the first time go over the seat, skirts and flaps with a copious and wet soapy lather until the leather is quite moist and pliable. Mount at once, preferably in a pair of old breeches, and ride until the saddle is quite dry and the leather has started to mold into its eventual pattern. If this is repeated three or four times the saddle will soon become comfortable and will lose much of the slippery feeling that makes a new one unpleasant.

The oil reserve of all leather should be renewed two to four times a year, depending upon the amount of use and the loss occasioned by rain, sweat and cleaning. Neat's foot oil compound is still the best for the under surfaces, but dubbin is to be preferred for reins, saddle exterior and other exposed parts. Have the dubbin slightly warm. Place a small bit between the hands, rub until nearly liquid, and massage well into the leather until it has nearly disappeared. The excess on the surface is removed the following day with glycerin soap.

If possible clean all tack after each using—the sooner the better. If the use has been light nothing will be required but to rub up a good glycerin soap lather and remove the dirt and sweat. This is followed by a heavier lather which is worked into the leather until dry.

Following a hard wet or muddy ride the treatment is more extensive and one should proceed as follows:

1. Brush the caked mud from the girth, stirrups and leathers with a brush.

2. Remove the dirt and saliva from the bits and curb chain with a wet brush and a moistened rough rag.

3. Wet a wash cloth and work up a soapy lather. Scrub all muddy and caked spots until the leather is clean. Wring out and clean the rag frequently so that mud and dirt will not be scrubbed into the leather. Grease spots on the skirts are frequently caused by the boots or the rubbing of the stirrup leather. They are also readily removed by the rough toweling. If one uses a soft sponge for the preliminary cleaning, the time and effort will be much greater, and excessive rubbing in by the sponge will do as much damage as the very mild abrasive quality of the cloth. After all mud and sweat is removed go over the second time with a fairly moist lather worked up in the sponge. By this time the leather should be entirely clean and ready for a final rubdown with a heavy lather which is worked in until it disappears. Next day if the leather is stiff and otherwise shows evidence of excessive oil loss, a light going over with dubbin will put it in order again.

Ordinarily I try to avoid proprietary products since they are expensive and I do not know just what they contain. I have found one, however, which is quite useful and it was recommended to me by a saddle maker in Virginia about two years ago. This is a liquid sold under the proprietary name of Lexol. It is apparently a watery solution containing waxes and some cleaning elements. It can be applied with a sponge or a piece of cloth and it is most effective in removing grease spots and dirt from the leather. It also penetrates and sup-plies a certain amount of oiling and softening. It can be used on bridles, saddles, and gloves and is best if applied after they have been soaked in the rain so that it will work its way in as the water dries out. After it is dried the leather may be polished either by a dry cloth or with, as I prefer, a fairly dry glycerine lather. This product does not supply oiling as freely and economically as dubbin but it is very nice to use when a little replacement is needed. It does not cause an appreciable darkening of leather.

Properly cared for leather will mellow and become richer and better with use. The undesirable new look will be lost and a rich deep brown will take its place. Excessive and careless oiling will result in black and soggy leather which will collect dirt readily and will lose its strength almost as badly as leather which is too lightly oiled. Stains can be re-moved by various leather cleaners most of which contain ammonia, oxalic acid or wood alcohol. Normally it is best to let the stains alone and let them blend into the eventual color of the entire piece rather than risk damage to the leather by such drastic methods.

Keeping leather right has some compensations. It pays big dividends in durability, security, and the pride of being properly turned out. But it takes time and grease—mostly elbow grease!


The acquisition of a truly first class complement of tack takes time, care and money. Except for the absolutely essential items it is best to build slowly and seek quality rather than an amplitude of junk which will eventually require replacement by articles of lasting quality.

In a former age the local saddle shop was part of every town and village. That day is gone forever and many of us must obtain our needs from distant cities.

If there is a harness shop in your vicinity by all means patronize it if possible. We want these little establishments for immediate needs and for the multitude of little repairs and alterations that periodically require attention. Many of these little shops have connections with the major outlets and can supply many things on short notice.

This chapter is concluded with a short list of major firms. It is not all inclusive and many excellent shops are not on the list. I include one or two in each geographic area. I have personally visited them and investigated their facilities, prices, and stocks. I have used their goods with satisfaction.

Saddle shops fall into three general classifications. The first is the small, ultra high class house with the impressive address. Most of these carry only the finest of stocks but they have an overhead which makes their prices a bit on the high side. If one doesn't mind the last factor it is a pleasure to visit them and to buy.

The second group are to be found as sub-departments in large department or supply stores. As a general rule they are staffed by clerks who are not horsemen or saddle experts at heart and one is apt to miss the friendly and competent advice available only from those who have given their lives to the trade. In addition, repair work is rarely done on the premises but must be farmed out. Stocks are variable and not always wisely selected.

The third class consists of the large saddle shops who do a volume business that justifies a complete sock and the service that goes with it. Generally speaking, the firms listed below fall into this last category.

E. J. Keller Company. Northwest Sixth and Davis, Port-land, Oregon. The largest in the Northwest and probably the most complete stock west of Chicago. English, domestic, and Western saddlery. Standard brands and makes in utility and fine grades. Careful and thorough repair work. Mail orders.

Meurisse and Company. 30 North Michigan Blvd., Chicago. Stocks are high class but not as extensive as they were in the day of the late founder of the business. Still tops for all polo equipment, much of which is made in their own shops. Most tack limited to the finer and more expensive grades.

Sickles Saddlery. 2034 Chestnut Street, St. Louis, Missouri. Good general stock of saddlery and stable supplies in standard makes and grades. Mail orders.

W. H. Stombock and Son. 3278 M. Street N. W., Washing-ton 7, D. C. Very nice selection with particular emphasis on items for hunting. Repair department and mail order service.

Miller Harness Company, Inc. 123 East 24th Street, New York 10, N. Y. In my experience this is the largest and most complete shop to be found in the United States. Standard makes, as well as importations of their own specifications. The finest grades as well as the medium priced articles. A large selection of reconditioned used saddles. Complete re-pair shop ready to stitch a custom made bridle to your specifications or rebuild a saddle from the tree up. Very extensive mail order department.

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