How to Break In a New English Saddle

New saddles, while clean, can be uncomfortable for you and your horse during the break-in period. This method of breaking in the saddle works with a little patience. Just to mention this, the saddle in all the pictures is western and the person's equitation is horrible so don't use it as an example for riding.


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    Make sure your girth fits. A well fitting girth on a new saddle will be slightly longer than when the saddle is broken in as the billets stretch. You need to use a girth that fastens with the girth buckles just below the appropriate position during the break in period (one or two holes below the middle billet hole on both near and far side).
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    It is best to break in a saddle with an older set of well maintained stirrup leathers. New leathers are rough on saddle flaps that are not yet broken in to accommodate them.
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    Do not ride in your saddle the day you bring it home. Wait for a day of steady rain. Not a downpour, and light mist won't do the trick. It's best to buy your saddle in the summer when the temperatures are such that you will be able to completely break in the saddle with one ride.
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    Tack up your horse being very careful to have your girth adjusted and the buckle of your stirrup leathers pulled up to the stirrup bar. Do not wear a raincoat that covers any portion of the saddle.
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    Ride as usual for at least an hour. During this ride, pay very close attention to your equitation, in particular your leg position and seat. It is helpful to have a friend who watches you and corrects ANY deviation. Start with your stirrups adjusted into the position you most commonly ride in. Shorten or lengthen your stirrups into the other lengths you use once your saddle is thoroughly saturated. Ride equal time in all positions after the saddle is softened by the rain.
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    CHECK YOUR GIRTH FREQUENTLY! The billets stretch most during the first ride.
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    When you have completed the ride. Seal the exposed leather with a coat of glycerin. Dip a bar of glycerin into water and use a dry cloth to pick up a patch of it. There should be NO bubbles! Coat the top of the saddle fairly thickly and turn over. BE SURE THAT YOU ARE USING PURE GLYCERIN. Many soaps contain basic (high pH) additives that will damage the leather; leather is naturally slightly acidic due to the tanning process.
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    Lightly treat the underside of the saddle as above. Use warm neatsfoot oil on the lower flaps (those in contact with the horse), taking care not to oil the side in contact with the horse. Do not oil any stitching. Oil in extremely thin coats, using a soft cloth or sponge. Repeat until the oil does not soak into the leather, then wipe off any excess and allow to set for at least 24 hours. Oil will soak into the leather over time, and may accept more oil after setting. DO NOT OVER OIL THE LEATHER. If it is over-oiled, it will become too soft and delicate, which will decrease the life of the leather. It is not recommended to oil soft leather at any point, including, in some cases, the knee rolls, blocks, and often the seat of the saddle. It is possible, if desired, to lightly oil the smooth side of hard leather on the skirt and upper flaps. Oiling the smooth side takes far longer, but it makes it easier to control the evenness and amount of oil used.
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    You can work the billets with a glycerin wash. Knead the glycerin in until they become more pliable. Alternatively, it is possible to lightly oil the billets, following the same instructions as those for the saddle flaps and skirt.
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    Buff the top leather with a soft flannel cloth. The leather should be darker, softer and shinier than when new.
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    Allow the saddle to sit for 2 to 3 days before putting into use. Continue to closely monitor your leg placement during the first few weeks of service. Check your girth very frequently and use a shorter one when billets stretch and the buckles get too high on them.


  • If your saddle is uneven in color you did not ride long enough in the rain.
  • In order to check whether your saddle is made with vegetable-tanned leather, check the saddle maker's website and inspect any tags or papers that came with the saddle. Generally, vegetable-tanned leather will stain; chrome-tanned leather won't stain as easily.
  • Vegetable-dyed leather is not colorfast; it will stain all light-colored clothing, and may lose some color over time. Take extra care with black vegetable-tanned leather, as the black color is often created by saturating the leather with a colored dye; when cleaning, use the smallest amount of mild soap (designed specifically for leather) possible.
  • To keep your saddle in top condition, wipe down with a damp cloth after each use and lightly coat with glycerin or another light wax-based conditioner to seal. Buff polish after coating. This removes excess and prevents build up. Oil when the saddle seems excessively dry, otherwise condition no more than once monthly, or when the leather seems slightly dry.
  • Do not use soaps or oils of any kind on the inside of your girth.
  • Most all saddles are vegetable tanned leather. This has no effect on whether the dye will bleed, nor does it have any effect on the colorfastness of the leather. Certain types of dyes are used on leather: there are water based and spirit based dyes, and most saddle makers use spirit dyes or obtain the color of the saddle by simply oiling it. They are then sealed using some sort of top coat.


  • DO NOT dry your saddle near any source of heat. Place it in a cool, dry area away from sunlight and allow it to dry naturally, taking care to condition the leather. Failing to condition the leather, or drying it in direct sunlight or near warm moving air may dry and crack the leather. Cracked leather is extremely difficult, and often impossible to repair.
  • If you don't seal the leather before it dries it will become very dry!
  • Wear pants that can be ruined as the rain may cause the leather dye to stain them.
  • It is possible that excessive exposure to water, even with proper conditioning, may degrade the leather unduly. However, it is a valid way to break in the saddle. Steps 1-7 should be performed at your discretion.
  • Do not ride when lightning or other hazardous conditions exist.

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Categories: Tack (Saddles and Bridles)