Leather is an important team player in the sports world. Its extreme durability makes it an ideal material for a wide range of uses, from shoes and balls to punch bags, boxing gloves and gymnastics equipment.

Leather balls

Leather balls have existed for hundreds of years and are used across the world for a variety of sports, including football, baseball and cricket.  

In America’s National Football League (NFL), the official balls must be made from real leather. The lower leagues often use rubber or plastic balls as they are much cheaper. During the NFL Super Bowl, each team receives 108 leather balls – 54 for training and 54 for the games. Before the game, the balls are checked for authenticity. NFL footballs are all manufactured from machine-cut leather in the US by Wilson. The company produces approximately 4,000 footballs each day.

                Leather cricket ball   Leather football ball   NFL leather football ball

Leather saddles

There are many different types of saddles made from leather, including the horse-riding variety, as well as bicycle seats and old deluxe seats. The term ‘saddle leather’ is applied to all the different types of leather used to make saddles. Usually it is solid cowhide which is robust and hard wearing.

Horse riding leather saddles

There are various types of saddles depending on the tradition and usage. For instance, show jumping saddles are different to horse racing ones. The differences mainly relate to the shape, size and weight; the basic structure, however, has been used for centuries and is very similar in all riding saddles. 

Saddles usually have a rigid base made out of wood or glass fibre, called the saddle tree. This base is then covered in leather or leatherette in the case of more inexpensive saddles. In the old days, only vegetable-tanned leather was used. The shape and width of the saddle tree has to fit the individual horse, because the saddle tree is rigid and cannot be re-shaped.

                                 Western leather horse riding saddle     Brazilian leather horse riding saddle

Bicycle leather saddles & Motorcycle seats

Leather bicycle seats are usually made of thick solid core leather as this is more stable and robust.

Motorcycles saddles used to be just like bicycle saddles. Today they are now called motorcycle seats and are rarely made of real leather. Synthetic leather, which is weatherproof, has become the preferred option.

                                 Brooks leather bike saddle     Motorcycle leatherette seat

Leather saddle care

The maintenance requirements for a riding saddle vary depending on the intensity of its use. Saddles are put under a lot of stress as well as the effects on the leather of sweat, skin oils and general soiling. A saddle should be lightly wiped with a damp (not wet) cloth after each ride. It should be more thoroughly cleaned on a weekly basis with a special saddle soap and a moisturiser for the leather. Unkempt saddle leather not only looks bad, but also tends to dry out and crack. Specially in the case of the bridles, it can be dangerous if the leather becomes fragile and tears!

The ideal storage conditions for saddles is a dry area slightly lower than room temperature, especially when saddles are used for riding in the rain and have become damp. To avoid mould, the humidity should not be too high, but it is equally important to refrain from drying wet saddle leather with a hair dryer or on a heater, as this will shrink the leather. It is best to let the saddle dry on its own.

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Top tips!

  • Leather used in sports is frequently subject to a lot of moisture either from the pitch in the case of balls, or sweat and rain for equipment. It is always best to wipe any wet leather items to avoid mould.