Tack & Equipment

Have a squeaky leather saddle? Don’t put baby powder on it!

Imagine going to mount your horse and as soon as you put your foot in the stirrup, the saddle gives a great big squeak. You settle into the saddle, thinking, “Phew! Glad that’s done!” and pick up your reins. But as soon as your horse takes a step, that bloody squeaky noise is back! And every step after that first one is accompanied by the infernal noise.

I’ve even had a saddle that was so bad, that I couldn’t go out for a hack and have a chat with the person riding next to me. The skirts and stirrup leathers made an awful racket. It was like riding a squeaky door! The horses also hated that saddle and got irritable whenever it was in use. So, I got some advice from a trainer, who said to put baby powder around the squeaky bits.

I tried that and at first, it was great. I used a generic baby powder I found at the supermarket and used an old make-up blush brush to spread the powder out evenly. With enough of a dusting of baby powder, the squeak disappeared instantly, and I could finally chat with others while riding again. My horse was a lot calmer and much more willing to get tacked up and head out. We were all less annoyed.

It was a new saddle, so I figured maybe the squeaking was just part and parcel of new tack. Kind of like a new car smell, or having to wear in new shoes. And with the baby powder doing its trick, I was happy enough. When a squeak came back again — which it often would after a thorough clean — I’d simply dust it with some more baby powder.

However, eventually I started to have some issues — after all, I had baby powdered the heck out of my original problem, the squeaking. But as the baby powder started to gather up in places from where it was hard to remove it, such as the nooks and crannies between flaps, it started to bunch together. Humid weather also caused the baby powder to start clumping, which made an unsightly mess on both the saddle and my jodhpurs!

Now, the squeaking is usually an issue if you’ve got a newer saddle that’s on the cheaper side, or an old one that hasn’t been in use very often. I’m not saying that saddles made on a “factory line” are automatically bad quality, there are some wonderful brands out there dedicated to making good quality saddles that are good for both horse and rider.

But the bottom line is that the tack industry is a billion dollar industry, and wherever there’s profit to be made, you’re going to have people looking to make a bigger margin by making a poorer quality product. That doesn’t even mean that these poorer quality saddles are going to be cheap, as they can easily cost as much as a good quality second-hand saddle.

So, to my point as to why this is relevant; cheaper saddles can often come off the factory line without ever being oiled at any stage of the manufacturing process. That’s why you can often find that these saddles have very dry leather. And dry leather squeaks. This is why even a good saddle that has been stored and not cared for very well, can also develop this same problem.

Why to not use baby powder on a squeaky saddle.

If you think about baby powder, what it’s designed to do, is to absorb moisture and remove moisture from whatever surface it’s applied to. You apply it to baby skin to prevent rashes by pulling the moisture off the skin. When you apply baby powder to a leather product, it’s going to do the same; start absorbing the moisture, and the last thing you want to do is to dry out the leather of your saddle.

Baby powder might be a solution to the squeaking at first, but as the powder absorbs moisture — heat and sweat from the horse, heat trapped between rider and saddle — it begins to clump. These clumps are held together by moisture and will start to goop up in places where they’re pushed into with the friction of riding.

And cleaning out this, what will eventually become, gunk is a nightmare. Because it really does get into all the crevices, cakes into flaps, the grain of the leather, the seams and the stitching (which can have a detrimental effect on the thread itself, compromising the structure of the saddle).

Instead of putting baby powder on a squeaky saddle, give it a good oiling. Because well oiled leather is softer and will make less noise when rubbing up against other leather pieces.

Where does the advice of baby powdering a squeaky saddle come from?

I got a bit curious about where this piece of advice originated from, and I think I’ve found some kind of an answer. The trainer that originally tipped me off about the baby powder, was into western riding and roping. After a little digging, I found out that ropers use powder on their ropes.

A common practise in roping when there’s a lot of humidity in the air, is to sprinkle some baby powder on the ropes to keep them from absorbing all that moisture. If a rope absorbs too much moisture, it won’t feel right and wont’ behave as expected.

Obviously, a good roper needs a good rope. And a good rope is dry. Ropers also use powder on the gloves. Usually, you’ll see them riding into the arena with a pile of powder on the horse’s back. That’s because juggling the reins and the rope is enough without having a bottle of powder to boot, so ropers just pile the powder on the back of the horse where it’s in easy reach.

So, we understand why ropers use baby powder, but it’s not a good solution for a dry, squeaky saddle, so don’t do it. Instead, give it a good oiling, repeat several times if needed, until the leather is nice and supple. And if the squeaking still persists, you may just have to consider buying a new saddle (and keeping your ears peeled this time so you don’t end up with the same problem again).

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