Saddle conditioner that won’t darken leather

I have a really lovely Wade tree ranch saddle that I bought a few years ago. This saddle was custom made for someone else but the rider had aged out of riding shortly after receiving the saddle, so it only had a few rides on it when I bought it. In the past few years I have ridden almost exclusively in my dressage saddles, so have kept this saddle in my house (I live in the humid and hot SE).

Saddle needs some softening and conditioning. It is not dry or damaged, but it is a saddle that is made with very thick leather and I would like a more supple feel, if that is possible. The fenders are turned (thank God) so it’s comfortable to ride in, but I feel like the leather could use some work. This saddle is honey colored, and I would like to keep it that way. Any suggestions for a good heavy duty conditioner that will not darken my saddle?

Passier Ledersbalm?

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I just bought “saddle butter” from Phil Harris, who said it was great for softening and conditioning

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Lexol makes a “non-darkening” one, but I have not tried it.

Mine is honey-color, too, but I assume darkening is part of the program. My saddle maker recommended Black Rock – which I have used on other leather and it didn’t darken, but haven’t tried it on the saddle.

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Bicks works well to condition without darkening leather, I used it on my light oil show saddle for years.

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I’ve had the best luck with Effax Leder-Balsam. Doesn’t darken, goes in quickly and doesn’t leave a residue if you buff out like you’re supposed to.

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I think Bick 4 is a standard, but we came from the Hunter world and have used Effax lederbalsam and cream cleaner, as well as Passier lederbalsam, without darkening my daughter’s saddle. FWIW we called Continental when she received her new saddle to ask what to clean and condition with, and they said whatever products you already use and like, no need to baby it. (I love this company lol.)

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I used the Passier on my light-ish brown english tack and I agree it didn’t darken it at all.

A general disclaimer: the type of leather and how it was treated will impact whether a conditioner darkens it or not. You may want to find out what type of leather your saddle is before picking a product.

Thinner leathers and more fragile leathers will darken faster: calfskin, deerskin, lambskin, thinner grains sewed to the front of more durable leather. Roughout, full grain, pigskin and buffalo leather tend to take more conditioner to darken.

Then the type of treatment will affect how it absorbs conditioner, which does affect how dark it gets. Aniline and semi-aniline will show the most patina over time. Significantly dyed leather or pigmented leathers may not.

A very general statement is high quality leather is more likely to become darkened by routine and appropriate leather care. What you are seeing is the skin fibers darken with residual grease. It is a natural process of leather care.

I like Effax and Passier as conditioners but a disclaimer; they have darkened my high quality leather. I can snap some pictures to compare tonight, I have a browband that came off of a bridle that is about three shades darker than its headstall. I was using Passier Lederbalsam. I’m not too fussed about it but definitely something to keep in mind with leather care routines. Depending on the variations in leather you may have to apply more conditioner to one part of the saddle versus another if they are configured with different types of leather. This is fairly common where the flap and seat are more durable leathers while the skirt and other parts are roughout.

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