Cleaning and Conditioning Some Saddles

First, my rides. Last Sunday it was BEAUTIFUL, it was relatively cool, it was not very humid, the sun was shining through gorgeous white fluffy clouds, and I was so glad that I got to ride Cider! Not that Cider is any happier with my riding, she still points out how my balance is just too horrible to expect any straightness from her, so I have to concentrate on my side-to-side balance. Before I bought my Pegasus Butterfly saddle my side-to-side balance was just as horrible, it is just with saddles with a normal saddle tree I did not realize how bad my balance was. My bad balance has affected all my rides on Cider from the start, it explains a lot of her “pretzeling” and total refusal to straighten herself under me and I am sure it has irritated her to no end. At least, with my new saddle pointing out just how atrocious my balance is when I ride, I have been able to stop the constant “pretzeling” so I have some hope of centering myself in my saddle. It is really simple to Cider, if I improve my balance enough she will stop moving in such a way that throws my balance off even worse. Maybe someday I will become a good enough rider so that she willingly keeps herself straight, isn't it nice to have a dream?

Bingo was his usual uncooperative self during my lesson. Debbie had to go back to the barn after she got me up on Bingo, and when Bingo saw her go through the gate he was “hey, the lesson is OVER!” Since his back was so tense I kept up in two-point for the first ten minutes of my ride. Eventually his back started “swinging” but all the while he was exclaiming to me that “the lesson is OVER!” Every step away from the gate was reluctant, and the further away he got from the gate the slower he crept over the ground, only to perk up when we headed in the direction of the gate. Debbie came back but to Bingo that did NOT mean that it was lesson time, to him lesson time is OVER when the riding teacher disappears through the gate and it does not matter at all that she comes back to the ring. Since Bingo was so insistent that his lesson time was over all during my ride I made sure to work him a few minutes more than I normally do.

So the next day I was sitting in my bed looking at my six saddles on their racks, and I remembered that it was way past time for me to clean and condition my newest saddle, the Pegasus Butterfly Claudia jumping saddle. Just recently I have had enough energy to soap my bridles once a week, so I decided to go for it with my new saddle. I got out my old-fashioned Fiebing's saddle soap in the tin and my tub of lard, and I got to work. First I used a wet paper towel to get all the surface dust off the saddle, then I soaped the whole saddle and my new Millbrook stirrup leathers. When I checked the length of my stirrup leathers I noticed that my left one was longer so it was definitely time to switch the leathers! After I soaped the saddle I started working the lard into the leather. I find that lard is a WONDERFUL conditioner for leather, IF I avoid it touching any metal on the saddle and if I keep it away from any rubbery type substance. I worked the lard into the leather, noticing that the leather still felt new and sort of stiff. This saddle is made in Germany, and while Germans use good leather in their saddles it tends to stay stiff for longer than English leather. This is one reason why German saddles seem to last forever (for instance my Stubben Siegfried is 47 years old.) Since my saddle has the “covered” leather on the flaps the saddle is not quite as stiff as my Stubben was in its first year of use, and because the front of the saddle tree is so mobile I had not noticed that the leather of the flap where I put my lower leg is still stiff.

The next day I was looking at my saddle rack, and I decided to work on my precious, precious Crosby saddles, my 39 year old Crosby “Wide Front” (Prix de Nations) and my much newer Crosby Prix de World saddle (medium width). I just ADORE my Crosby saddles. They are made in England, of the wonderful English leather that drinks up the conditioners, and the 17” Crosby saddles I have fit me like a glove. I LOVE riding in these saddles! Unfortunately neither of these Crosby saddles really fits the horses I ride right now, though I can usually get away with using them if I use my Corrector pad under them. Even so, the rigidity of the front of the saddle tree means that the horses are not quite as bold in reaching forward with their front legs. Before I bought my Pegasus Butterfly saddle I thought that this limitation of the forward reach of the front legs was just something I had to sacrifice for the security of riding in a treed saddle. But nowadays I just dream of finally being presented with a horse whose back is perfect for my Crosby saddles! I swear, for all the decades I've owned my Crosby Wide Front it has been my favorite saddle to ride in, it fits me like a glove, the superior English saddle leather quickly molds to my legs and I feel much more secure than when I ride in other saddles.

I love working with good English leather! The smell is simply marvelous and it always puts me in a good mood. The leather drinks up the lard quickly and becomes supple enough to form itself to my body. Cleaning and conditioning saddles made from English leather is a joy since the leather is so superior to all others (which can be good leathers too.) Yesterday I gave both my Crosby saddles a good larding, and today I can feel just a little bit of the lard on the top of the leather. On the other hand, with my Pegasus Butterfly saddle made with German leather, larded up the day before, I can still feel a thin film of the lard on the surface of the leather. This makes a BIG difference in the comfort of a saddle, German saddles have, throughout my lifetime, been notorious for taking a very, very long time to break in properly, at least two to three times as long as a saddle made with the English tanned saddle leather. I remember it took FOREVER to make my Stubben Siegfried's leather feel soft and supple, as opposed to just a few months of regular soaping and conditioning with my Crosby Wide Front saddle, and after decades of use my Stubben Siegfried's leather is still noticeably stiffer than the leather of my Crosby saddles. I REALLY wish that the Crosby saddles were still made, but they were made for the Miller's Saddlery, which, alas, went out of business many years ago. Unfortunately most were made when Thoroughbreds were the preferred hunter-jumper horse, so they are not really made for the modern, wider backed horses.

Since the Crosby saddles are no longer made I just cannot bring myself to sell mine. To me the Crosby jumping saddles are simply beautiful, clean lines, well balanced, plenty of room for my seat, AND they fit my long thigh without having to special order a more forward saddle flap. Another thing I really like about them is that they have plain leather over the knee rolls instead of that icky suede that is padded. The Crosby saddlers molded the flap leather over the knee rolls, just another beauty of these wonderful saddles. Every time I look for a saddle I compare it to my Crosby saddles, and when I ordered my Pegasus Butterfly saddle I specified that I wanted one that would feel and ride like my Crosby's. Fortunately Ron, the Pegasus Butterfly saddler, is quite familiar with the Crosby saddles and he immediately knew what I was talking about, a “bare bones” jumping saddle, no fancy big knee, thigh or leg rolls, with decent leather that breaks in easily. I am quite happy with my new Pegasus Butterfly saddle once I got it stable on the horses' backs. It fits me as well as the Crosby saddles do, the horses have MUCH more freedom for the tops of their shoulder blades and I can get my seat much more forward in the saddle than with the Crosby saddles, so in many ways my newest saddle is superior to my ancient Crosby Wide Front saddle.

I just wish it was made with that marvelous English saddle leather!

I still have three more saddles to clean and condition, my Stubben Siegfried jumping saddle, my Kloster Schonthal German dressage saddle, and my American A-fork Western saddle. I look at them knowing that there is no way that I will enjoy cleaning and conditioning them as much as the Crosby's!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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