From Endurance to Dressage
Despite having dyed my dressage saddle in 2018, by last summer, it looked worse than it had before. I decided to take a chance on Clyde's Leather Recoloring Balm, a product I had seen on Facebook. It was easy to do, and my saddle came out looking pretty good. You can read about the process here, here, and here. My plan was to do an annual touch up beginning this summer.
After my ride on Saturday morning, I put my saddle on a stand, gave it a good cleaning with a damp rag, and then gave it a light coat of Effax Leder-Balsam. That stuff is awesome by the way. It smells good, and it leaves tack clean and smooth without feeling oily. When I was satisfied that the saddle was clean and well-conditioned, I stepped back to have a look at it.
To my complete surprise, my saddle is as black as it was last summer. There has been zero fading. In fact, it looks better than it did last summer because the shiny Tan-Kote has nearly worn off. I will definitely NEVER use that stuff again. There are still parts that don't look so great, but those parts came from using a deglazer which stripped whatever finish the saddle still had. Besides the uneven shine caused by the Tan-Kote, the leather is uniformly black.
If you have a black saddle that has seen better days, I would definitely recommend Clyde's Recoloring Balm. And since my saddle is still evenly black, I am going to skip the touch up for now. I'll reevaluate at the end of the summer.
Isn't it great when a product does what it says it will?
I am a rule follower. Mostly. If the rule is stupid, I'll generally look for a way around it, but otherwise, I see the value in creating norms for society. Without rules, Chaos abounds, and frankly, I see too much of Chaos as it is. It was while thumbing through the August issue of the California Dressage Society's monthly newsletter, Dressage Letters, that I saw the new rules regarding bits.
The article was titled, "Mid Year Rules, More Rules." It took nearly two full pages to show the changes and additions. Dressage rules are not among those that I find stupid, so I took the time to read the fine print, and there was a lot of it. It wasn't until I got to the very bottom of the first page that I saw the first change in the rules that affected me: DR121 Saddlery and Equipment 4. "A snaffle bit [...] must be smooth and curved on all surfaces as in a lozenge-shaped link. It may not have the effect of a tongue plate. Dr. Bristol and French link bits are not allowed.
Guess what bit Speedy goes in?
Speedy's bit, the French link pictured above, will now be an illegal bit. The link in the middle is definitely a tongue plate, a tiny tongue plate, but tiny or not, it is now banned. Here are some examples of much larger tongue plates. The rules about bits continue in subsection 6. "The upper cheek of a hanging cheek (baucher) snaffle (measured from the top of the mouth piece to the top of the upper cheek) may not exceed five centimeters. Fortunately, Speedy's baucher meets the second requirement.
For the last year or so that we competed, I rode Speedy in the double bridle. Now that he is being ridden by "J," he is back in the baucher that I rode him in before showing at Third Level. They're aren't showing, so I have no problem keeping him in the bit that he finds most comfortable and familiar, but if we do take him to show, I'll have to consider which bit to use as his French link baucher will no longer be legal.
Changes to rule 121 subsections 4 and 6 are only just two of the many changes this year, so if you haven't looked at the rules lately, you might want to take a peek. The entire US Equestrian Rulebook can be found here, but the Dressage Division hasn't yet been updated to reflect the changes that the board approved at the 2022 USEF Mid-Year Board of Directors Meeting held on June 20 and 21.
And that's my Public Service Announcement for the summer.
I think my saddle is as black as it is going to get. Did it turn out as well as I was hoping? Yes and no, but that wasn't the fault of Clyde's Leather Recoloring Balm. In fact, that's the only part of this recoloring project that went well. If you are interested in dying your saddle, there's a link to my DIY post in Part 1. If you're interested in using Clyde's Recoloring Balm to recolor your saddle, read Parts 1 and 2. In the end, I would choose the recoloring balm over leather dye. It was a lot easier, especially now that I know which steps I would follow.
In a nutshell, the recoloring cream did what it was supposed to, and next year, I'll probably use it again. There are a few things that I will do differently though.
Before we left for Nashville, I decided to try the Tan-Kote one more time. I reapplied it only on the seat and small skirt, and then left my saddle indoors for nearly a week to cure. By the time we came back, the Tan-Kote was completely dry. The first time I rode in it though, the shine wore off under my seat and off the small skirt. While it is pretty ugly up close, it's really just cosmetic.
All of the faded areas of the saddle have remained black where I used the recoloring balm, which was my main concern in the first place. The leather feels soft and well conditioned; it just looks like it has old finger nail polish that hasn't yet been worn off or removed. I am hoping that over time, the Tan-Kote will get rubbed off completely which will ultimately make everything look better. Fortunately, the worst of the worn finish is under my seat and thighs, so anyone looking at it, like a judge or my trainer, won't see anything but a black dressage saddle. And again, over time, the unevenness of the shine should wear away.
Next summer, if I need to recolor my saddle again, these are the steps I will follow:
Overall, I am actually happy with how things look - except for the ugly spot right under my butt. All of the the leather is black again, and it feels soft and well-conditioned. I definitely wouldn't recommend doing this to a new saddle, but since this one has seen lots of wear, it didn't bother me to experiment with it. I would recommend Clyde's Leather Recoloring Balm and Conditioning Cream for a faded saddle, especially if it is black.
While my saddle is done, I just might try to "spot" treat that one area on the seat with more recoloring balm. I'll give the Tan-Kote more time to wear away first.
On Thursday evening, I tried to buff the finish one last time. I wasn't able to get rid of the stroke marks, so I gave it one more light application of Clyde's Conditioning Cream. On Friday morning, I tossed my saddle in the truck, prepared to ride in it after work.
As I saddled up, I was quite pleased with how it looked. All of the tackiness had disappeared, and even after rubbing it vigorously with a paper towel, no black came off. I wasn't able to smooth out the stroke marks, but all of that is under my butt and thighs anyway, so I truly didn't care. Having it all black was what mattered most.
I rode for just under an hour. When I dismounted, I was very disappointed to see that something was wrong with the finish under my seat bones and thighs. I couldn't figure out if the dye had rubbed off - I was wearing black tights, or if the finish had been removed. Once I unsaddled, I was able to get a closer look at it. I had used the deglazer which is intended to strip the finish which allows the dye to penetrate the leather. It clearly worked.
I went back to Clyde's website and read the detailed instructions again. According to the directions, the Leather Conditioning Balm should have been the last step. I put my saddle away and added another layer of balm, but the finish looked exactly the same the next morning. Since I had a lesson, I rode in it anyway, but then I brought it back home.
I pulled out my supplies from the first time I dyed the saddle back in 2018. Back then, I had purchased the black leather dye, Deglazer, Tan-Kote, and Resolene, all made by Fiebings. The Tan-Kote is a finishing product that adds shine to the leather. The Resolene is a glossy final finish that is durable and water repellant. The last time I dyed the saddle, I used the Resolene, but I wouldn't use it again as it made the finish too glossy.
I started out by wiping a tiny bit of the Tan-Kote on the seat just to see what it did. It did indeed make the leather shiny, so I coated the entire seat, saddle skirt, and both fenders. I let it dry and was very encouraged by the shine. After watching a video from Fiebings, I decided to apply a second coat of the Tan-Kote.
Later that afternoon, my saddle looked great. By the next morning, the Tan-Kote felt cured and dry, so I decided to ride. As it turns out, it wasn't quite dry enough.
On Sunday morning, after having sat for twelve hours on a warm day, the finish no longer felt tacky. As I warmed Izzy up, things felt pretty good. It wasn't until I started to do a rising trot that I knew the saddle hadn't yet dried. My butt came out of the saddle, but my breeches did not. Since Izzy was already saddled and we were moving, I decided to just see what happened. I rode for 30 minutes and then got off to check how much damage had been done. The loss of shine wasn't too bad, but I want to try and fix it.
In late June we're going on vacation which means if I apply anything to the saddle it will have nearly a week to dry and cure. I am going to continue riding over the month which will give me enough rides to see how much of the Tan-Kote and Recoloring Balm are worn away, if any. I am hoping that after today's ride things will look settled.
I'll keep you posted.
EDITED: I would skip the deglazer.
Four years ago, I dyed my used, but new-to-me dressage saddle. it was a scary process, but a fellow blogger had done it successfully, so I gave it a try. It ended up looking quite nice, and I was happy with the results. Lately, my saddle has once again had that grayish, sickly hue rather than being jet black.The most offensive areas of the saddle were the cantle and the front of the saddle's knee rolls. Those are the areas that see the most sunlight. My saddle is stored indoors under a cover, so the fading happens while tacking/untacking and riding.
I've been seeing ads on Facebook for Clyde's Leather Recoloring Balm. After watching some reviews on Youtube, I ordered the black recoloring balm as well as the conditioning cream. Their website was a tiny bit tricky to use because there are lots of deals, but they only work if you buy the right combination of products. Shipping is also free if you spend $40, which I did.
Shipping wasn't super fast, but I wasn't in any hurry either. Cleaning your saddle alone takes some planning and preparation. Recoloring it was something I really had to plan for. Since I was going to a show and needed to clean my saddle for that, I figured I could do the recoloring afterwards. And since it was super hot this week - several days of over 100, the timing worked out perfectly because I wasn't going to ride anyway.
I brought my saddle home on Monday afternoon and cleaned up the little bit of dust that had accumulated over the weekend. I had done a good cleaning job a few days before, so it didn't need much work. Like the first time I dyed the saddle, I used a deglazer to remove as much of the Resolene from the saddle that I could - although most of that had long since worn away. I also stripped off my leathers and gathered my supplies. Clyde's sent a mini brush, a small sponge, and a pair of disposable gloves. Use the gloves; this stuff is inky black.
The recoloring balm feels a bit like boot black cream. I started by dabbing off the product that was stuck to the seal underneath the lid and applied it carefully to the saddle's skirt thinking that if it looked horrible, at least it wouldn't show too much. Once I could tell that it was going to be fine, I moved to the saddle's cantle. I found that the balm worked a bit like a stain - spread too thinly and it didn't cover enough. Instead, I found that dabbing it on covered the gray the most effectively. Once it was covered, I used a circular motion to smooth it out.
I spent less than 20 minutes applying the recoloring balm. What I quickly discovered, and liked, was that I didn't have to apply it everywhere. I focused on the grayest areas first and was then able to blend it into the areas of the saddle that were still black. Different parts of the saddle absorbed the recoloring cream more easily than others. The butt of the saddle (the rear part of the panels) and the leather under the panels absorbed the cream much more smoothly. Those parts of my saddle have a dimpling pattern in the leather rather being super smooth.
I also liked that it was a cream rather than a liquid. When I used the black dye the first time, I had to be really careful not to spill the bottle or splash the dye as I applied it. With the cream, I could hold the container in one hand and dip the sponge in as needed without worrying about it spilling.
I tried to apply the cream in a circular fashion as recommended. As I was working, I could tell that I was going to need to buff out the stroke marks once it had a chance to cure. The direction sheet recommends 24 - 36 hours for curing. Since I applied the recoloring cream on a warm day, I let the saddle sit for an hour or two and then went to check on it. It was completely dry. I tried buffing out the application marks, but a little black came off on my microfiber rag, so I decided to let it sit until the next day. Instead of buffing, I applied a light coating of the conditioning cream and rubbed it in gently.
So far, I am more than satisfied with the color. While it might look a bit "splotchy" with stroke marks, once it is being used, it won't bother me a bit. I am also not finished with it yet, so it may buff out better once it has cured. Even the stroke marks don't smooth out, it still looks so much better that I don't care. It was also a very, very quick DIY project that was much less scary than using actual saddle dye.
Stay tuned; I'll share the final results on Monday.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: