DIY: Dyeing a Saddle – an article brought to you by The $900 Facebook Pony

DIY: Dyeing a saddle

Here’s a great read from Amanda over at The $900 Facebook Pony!

While I love my new-to-me Childeric dressage saddle, I was not thrilled with it’s appearance. The seat had faded to a sickly looking shade of green, with splotches of uneven color complete with old mold spots. The flaps were in better shape but the front of the knee roll area on both sides was starting to look green and scratched as well. A very thorough conditioning helped a lot, but the faded greenish pallor persisted.

DIY: Dyeing a saddle

I had read a lot online about dyeing saddles, and since I dyed a pair of tall boots a while back I’m a little less scared of the process in general. So I scoured the internet for tips, ordered my supplies on Amazon, and bolstered my bravery. Oh yeah, and I had a hard cider before I started. Liquid courage helps. Several of you asked me to share the process and results here, so… here ya go. I’m not saying this is the best or the only way to do it, but this is what I did. I know it looks like a lot of writing, but that’s only because I tried to be as specific as possible. It really isn’t hard at all, don’t be deterred by my rambling.

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
top: before, bottom: after

First up: Supplies. I went with all Fiebing’s products because a) that’s what I used on the tall boots, b) that’s what most of the online folks were recommending.

  • Deglazer (which I think is just acetone but I wasn’t taking any chances with getting the wrong thing)
  • Leather Dye
  • Tan-Kote
  • Resolene
  • Brushes (I used foam, but microfiber or regular paint brush would work too)
  • Rags (tons – the microfiber ones from the dollar store work great)
  • Latex gloves
  • toothbrush
  • your adult beverage of choice

I bought all the Fiebing’s products and foam brushes from Amazon for $35 with free shipping, and the rest I already had lying around. Not a bad investment.

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
adult beverage missing from photo because it was already consumed

First I cleaned the saddle thoroughly, then went at it with deglazer and a rag. I wet the rag with deglazer and started rubbing in circles. This removes the clear top coat from the leather. Without this step the dye won’t penetrate the leather very well, so while scary to rub what is essentially fingernail polish remover all over your saddle, it’s important. Just take another chug of your adult beverage, you’ll be fine.

DIY: Dyeing a saddle

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
the gross seat

Once you’ve removed the top coat (you should be able to tell once it’s gone, the saddle will look very matte and thirsty all over), let it dry thoroughly. Take a few more chugs of that adult beverage, pull on your gloves, grab your brushes, and start applying the dye. It was a little bit of trial and error for me to figure out which method I liked the most, but by the third and final coat I decided that I preferred to get some dye on the brush (not much, you don’t want it running all over the place), paint it onto the saddle, and then rub it in with a rag. That made the color very even and it absorbed into the leather well. I did one area of the saddle at a time – the seat, then the back and panels, then each skirt, then each flap. To make sure I got into all the little cracks and crevices I used a toothbrush. By applying the dye in sections, it helped keep everything “under control” a bit better. You don’t really need a lot of a dye to get the job done – I used less than half of a 4oz bottle with three light coats.

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
first coat of dye

Between each coat I let the saddle dry for about an hour, and after all 3 coats were applied I left it to dry overnight. The next day I took a clean rag and rubbed (in circles, circles are your friend throughout this entire process) all over the saddle to help lift off excess dye.

Then I got out my Tan-Kote, poured some onto a rag, and started putting on a top finish. Some people only use Tan-Kote, some people only use Resolene… the results that I found online that I liked the most used both, so I used both as well (it’s also good to note that Resolene is water resistant and Tan-Kote is not, so Tan-Kote is more of a finish and Resolene is more of a sealant). Tan-Kote is resin based and feels sticky as you’re applying it. Don’t worry, just keep rubbing it on in a thin, even layer. As it dries the stickiness will go away.

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
DIY: Dyeing a saddle

Once the Tan-Kote dried, I again buffed the saddle with a clean rag. At this point very little dye was leeching onto the rag, but there was still a bit of color transfer. Time for the Resolene. I applied this stuff the same way, although it was very runny and watery compared to the Tan-Kote. When you first rub the Resolene onto the leather it leaves a white-ish blue film that is semi alarming, but it quickly turns to clear. For me this was the trickiest step, because if you didn’t get the Resolene fairly even, you could tell as it dried. It wasn’t difficult, you just had to pay attention and not glob it all over the place. For that reason I opted to do three very thin layers, allowing it to dry between each one. I also recommend doing it in an area where you have really good light (direct sunlight is best).

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
Post-resolene

Once it was dry I buffed it again, put on a light coat of lederbalsam, and voila -all done!

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
DIY: Dyeing a saddle
DIY: Dyeing a saddle

When I first mentioned this project, lots of you were concerned about the dye leeching out onto your breeches. Here’s a dry paper towel (left) and a wet paper towel (right) that I rubbed on the seat as hard as I could for 20 seconds:

DIY: Dyeing a saddle
no dye

When properly sealed, dye leech shouldn’t be an issue. The Resolene is what provides this barrier. Important to note – once you seal the leather with Resolene, the pores will no longer take oil. If you want to still be able to oil the saddle, stick with the Tan-Kote. That said, without the Resolene you would get some dye leech. Just something to be aware of while weighing the pros and cons of each type of finish – it really comes down to personal preference. Once you’ve sealed it with Resolene, you’re really only going to be able to condition with lederbalsam type products (which is typical of any kind of sealed leather, such as Sedgwick).

Considering that it cost only $35 and a little bit of elbow grease over the course of two days, I would definitely call this one a worthwhile DIY. For value I’d give it 5 out of 5. I think the saddle looks so much better, and with minimal investment. For difficulty I’d say 2 out of 5. Dyeing a saddle is definitely not rocket science, it just requires a little bit of patience and common sense.

A little bit about Amanda:
I’ve evented, done the hunters, done the jumpers, catch ridden some random horses here and there, and even learned a little bit of reining when I got burned out from showing. Over the years I’ve taken a few breaks but they never seem to last for long… my life has revolved around horses for so long, I really am lost without them.
Now I’m back in the world of eventing and hopefully here to stay. And although they’ve all been really important in their own ways, I’ve never fallen in love with any of my horses enough to keep them long term (except for my homebred mare, but I’ll talk about her another day)… maybe Henry is “the one”? Time will tell. He is very quickly working his way up toward being my favorite horse ever, that’s for sure.

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