Padded Seat vs. Hard Seat

Everyone has an opinion on what feels comfortable to them in a saddle seat.  Some folks like a plush cushy padded seat to make their ride more pleasurable.  Some prefer the other end of the extreme and want nothing between their tushy and the ground seat but a piece of skirting leather.

I believe the latter is the way to go.  As a craftsman, I spend quite a bit of time applying pieces of leather and sculpting/skiving each piece to insure the best possible balance and feel in each and every one of our saddle.  The last thing I want to do is cover up my hard work with a thick layer of synthetic foam that will completely change the way the saddle rides.

For the most part, consumers have grown accustomed to seeing saddles of all style with padded seats.  This has become the norm and because of that many folks judge the quality of the ride by the type of padding used instead of the quality of the ground seat the saddle has… in fact, many consumers have a limited understanding of what a ground seat even is much less what a properly crafted ground seat feels like.

If the ground seat is so important then why do so many manufacturers cover them up with padded seats?  The answer has two parts.  First of all, many manufactured saddles’ ground seats don’t get much attention in the build process.  Sometimes there isn’t even any kind of leather ground seat installed at all and the balance and feel of the saddle seat is left up solely to the tree maker… This seldom creates a seat that is properly fit for the rider.  With that, the padded seat is used to cover up poor craftsmanship in the ground seat and hopefully create a feel that is good enough to get the saddle from the sales rack into your tack room before the padding breaks down and you’re left with a poorly seated saddle.

The second reason so many saddles have padded seats is due to the more economical way manufacturers cut and install the final seat in their saddles.  The seat of a saddle is the biggest piece of leather that is cut in the entire saddle build and therefore the most expensive.  In order to cut cost some, the majority of manufacturers cut and install what is called a “three piece” or “split” seat.  Basically, instead of one big piece they cut two seat jockeys (left and right) that they skive and sew together in the middle of the saddle seat and then sew the padded seat over the top of the junction giving the finished product the appearance of a full seat.  Again, the padding they use covers the overlap and any bumps where the two jockeys come together… at least until the padding breaks down.

Padded seats definitely have a place in certain types of saddles and many manufacturers have a great seat in their saddles despite the three piece seat.  We often install padded seats in our saddles (no three piece seats allowed in our shop though) if the customer request it.  My only issue with them is the fact that the seat will change some over time due to the padding breaking down and also its something else to wear out and need replacing.  Since I work so hard to insure the quality of the ground seat in my saddles, I use a very thin foam that limits the change initially in my ground seat.

Many folks think the more padding the seat has the more comfortable it will be on longer rides.  This is not true at all.  A thick amount of padding lifts the rider out of the saddle to a position of being on top of the saddle instead of “in” the saddle allowing for a more balanced ride.  If the ground seat is done correctly, a hard seated saddle is much more comfortable and allows consistency over the life of the saddle.

If you want some proof of my opinion, look at the saddles that full time cowboys ride on big ranches where they ride from morning till night… you won’t see padded seats in many of those saddles.  Cowboys who are in a saddle all day seven days a week swear by hard seats.

Broken saddle tree?

So your tree is broke, what do you do with your saddle now? Personally I say throw it away. Most saddles out there are not worth replacing the tree in. You would never pay someone to replace the frame in your pickup after a wreck, saddles are the same.

Replacing the tree in a saddle is labor intensive and after its over you still have the same old saddle. The better option is to get a good used saddle that is in as good a shape and many times you can do this cheaper than replacing the tree.

If the saddle is something that seems impossible to replace then its worth using the broken tree as a model and getting a custom saddle built as close to it as possible. Most custom shops like us have the ability to reproduce even the most specialized trees. If that seems like too much of an investment then its not worth replacing the tree.

Most true custom saddles come with at least a ten year tree warranty if not a lifetime warranty like ours. In this case the saddle from the start is worth the trouble of tree replacement and should be of no cost to you.

When deciding what to do with that saddle with a broken tree, compare what is TRUELY worth to what it will cost to repair. Most of the time it isn’t worth the money… But it may make a great bar stool!

Killing mold on leather!

If you live in the south where humidity is high, you will run across mold on some of your gear from time to time.  This usually happens when you take a break from the horse world for a bit and keep your gear stored in a dark saddle house or in the tack compartment of your trailer when temperature and humidity are at their worst.

In my opinion, mold is a good sign that your leather goods are healthy enough to support the life that is mold.  By this I mean that you have done a great job of keeping your tack and saddles oiled up.  Mold will not grow on saddles or leather that is dry rot and dead…  nothing available for the mold spores to live on.

*SIDE NOTE:  Letting your leather starve from a lack of oil is not a good mold prevention game plan.

Since seeing mold on your stuff after a period of storage is a good thing what’s the problem?  Mold isn’t something you can just not worry about.  After time, mold will stain the leather and deprive the leather of much needed oils and nutrients that are important to insure that your tack stays soft and comfortable not to mention safe.

The thing that I recommend for killing mold is simply vinegar and sunlight.  Mix a spray bottle with half vinegar (white vinegar is fine) and half water, then spray the infected piece with this solution and set out on a sunny day to dry.  If your saddle is covered in mold it won’t hurt to spray the entire saddle down with this and set outside in the sun.  You don’t have to soak the leather, a little will do.  Once sprayed down, wipe the mold away with a cloth.  The vinegar should kill the spores which can remain in the leather for years waiting for another chance to grow.

A dehumidifier in your saddle house will cut down on the mold for those saddles stored for longer periods without use.  When it comes to your tack compartment on your trailer, if your done for an extended period of time take your gear out and store in your saddle house.  The absolute best place to store all your tack and saddles is in your house where its climate controlled.  Unfortunately, most women don’t take too kindly to tripping over bridles, breast collars and saddles when their walking through their home… but give it a shot anyway and let us know how that turns out.

Don’t freak out over a little mold… grab that bottle of magic mold killer you mixed up (and labeled so your not spraying your horses for flies with vinegar) and fight back!

Hard to reach spots?

Having trouble getting to the tight areas when oiling that saddle in your tack room? Here’s a trick I have learned!
Pam makes a spray olive oil that, although maybe a little pricey, works great for those spots a big fat hand won’t fit! Since we oil all our leather products with good clean olive oil, this oil in a spray can is a great complement in our shop and takes a lot of pressure and worry from the hard to reach!
Try this out and let us know what you think!

2013 Big Loop Big Money Tour Finals

This is our fourth year to build the trophy saddles for the Big Loop Big Money Tour Finals put on by Philipp Ranch and we are so excited!

Held at the Brazos County Expo Center in Bryan, TX, the weekend includes team ropings from an Open division down to a #8, kids dummy roping competition and Philipp Ranch Production Horse sale! Starting Friday July 19- Sunday July 21st dont miss this great event!


For more information on this event and the production sale visit Philipp Ranch!

What is up with all the skulls?

Over the last few years the leather industry has been over taken by an unlikely trend in the artwork that adorns our saddles and tack.  The days of the traditional oak leaf and acorn floral, the simple basket stamping, or the intricate Sheridan style tooling being the three main options for our selection of artwork available to us are gone.  Even though these are still the favorite for most western folks who want personalized custom leather goods, today we notice artists in the leather industry breaking out of the mold a bit and designing beautiful pieces with everything from game animals to Japanese coy fish with full color.  But in the mix of all the new art being mixed into the traditional floral, the skull has probably received the most attention… like it or not.

Custom tooling being my specialty and being the bulk of what we do in our shop, we get many folks who want to take the artwork on their custom projects to a nontraditional place. IMG_0420

We have made belts with wildlife scenes, angel wings, mermaids, bar maids, hog dogs, bull frogs, cactus, swords, naked ladies and the list goes on and on and on.  But the most popular thing we see people wanting is skulls.

We do many different kinds of skulls, from sweet happy sugar skulls to demon looking zombie skulls.  I was never really into the skull thing until we started doing more and more of them and now I really enjoy drawing them.  A belt is that small accessory item that is becoming an extension of ones individuality and personality almost like a tattoo.  For those too fearful of the pain of the needle, a belt is a good second choice and isn’t permanent!

The skull theme stuff has made its way into some of our saddles as well.  We have completed three skull themed saddles to date and they were all three the most popular of all the saddles we have built.  Not all of the feedback was good, some people have strong opinions when it comes to skulls and that’s cool. closeupsaddle

The main thing is the person who ordered it was completely satisfied with it.  As a custom shop, we have to build and design to the specs of the consumer and that has a big effect on the artwork that we do.  I really never thought that I would be tooling a topless she-devil with horns and a tail sitting atop a pile of bone chilling skulls for the artwork on a fender for a custom team roping saddle, but that’s what we did.IMG_0655

These days it seems that even the most conservative folks want a little edge in their lives.  We see skulls and the like on clothes, truck decals, belts, wallets, caps, and many other consumer products.  I don’t believe the skull trend has anything to do with death or devil worship by any means… it’s simply a fashion statement now that works for anybody who likes them.  The sugar skulls are very popular with their happy expressions and bright colors, while the more bold evil skulls say “Hi I’m Tom, glad to meet you… by the way I’m a potential bad ass!”  Whatever the statement or style one is trying to portray, the skull can be used to accent that and stay in style with the fashion sense of the masses… for whatever that’s worth.

I am eager to see what I will have to learn how to tool into leather in another 5 years just to keep up with what’s hot… feel free to comment on this blog to give me a heads up if you know what that might be!!!

Putting a binder on.

We are putting a cantle binder on first thing this morning. The binder has been skived where needed and glue applied, after which we will soak the binder in water so that it will be pliable to shape during installation. The binder will need the better part of the day to dry before hand sewing so we want to put them on in the morning first thing or last part of the day so we don’t waist time in the shop on it drying.


Big Loop Ground Seats

Here is a quick run down of what projects are in process within the custom saddle department of our shop (this department consisting of Jim and I, ha ha): we have four customers’ orders from our list, each different and uniquely complex, two ranch saddles for the All Around Performance Horse crew (due in two weeks), and all fourteen of the Big Loop saddles.  This is all happening at the same time that the rest of the shop is busy on multiple belts, wallets, scabbards, holsters, saddle repairs and handling customers on a daily basis.  The oppurtunity for chaos is so great that it makes for an exciting work week this time of year.

My goal this week was to finish all the ground seats for the Big Loop saddles and get horns started.  Some of the saddles

saddle tree and ground seat

Working hard on the Big Loop saddles

had been started already, some ground seats were done and I wanted to get them all done completely so that Jim could focus on getting the All Around saddles to a point where I could get to tooling fronts or swells (my favorite… not).  Starting Monday with that goal in mind, I made progress and got all the ground seats completed by the end of the week.  Since this is usually the part that Jim takes care of, I was sure to check with him off and on to insure that I was putting the ground seats in the way he had been doing them.  It took me a couple times and a bit of Jim giving me hell, but in the end I got them all in.

Even though Jim and I both build saddles, we each do things a little different and consistency is what we want especially with this project.  For the last couple years, our partnership on saddle making has been him building and me tooling/designing all the artwork.  He is much faster than me at building and I am much faster than him at tooling, so this arrangement works well.  Since these are all rough out, and there is fourteen of them, I have custom saddle seatsto help him with a lot of the building and keeping up with changes he has made all year is something I have to be mindful of.  Even though my name is on the sign and stamp, Jim has the lead on this project… And I think he takes a little pleasure in bossing me around.

As the week went along uneventful and productively, it didn’t start off that great.  By Monday afternoon we were met with 85 degree temperatures in the shop.  Our air conditioner was froze up and not cooling at all.  Thinking back on the last few weeks, we realized that the filters hadn’t been changed and they really needed it.  In a shop like ours the dust can get pretty bad due to the sanding from the finisher so we have to change filters every two weeks or so.  It wasn’t till Tuesday afternoon late when our AC repair guys got us back up and running… till then we just tried not to drip sweat on the leather.

As we set now: ground seats are done, all the horns are cut out and skived, no major mistakes as of yet, a few shop pranks (involving an air horn) were conducted and the new guys haven’t quit yet.  It’s still early with lots left to do…


What we like to call, “The Big Loop Project”

So here we are again, our third year making the saddles for the Big Loop Big Money Tour put on by the Phillip Ranch.  This is by far the biggest project that my team and I orchestrate during the year… other than getting ready for the USTRC Finals in Oklahoma City.   The product list isn’t all that complicated, 14 solid rough out saddles with 14.5″ seats.  That doesn’t sound too difficult… because you don’t work in our shop.

My team of craftsmen (and craftswoman… sorry jodi) is by far the best group of talent in any shop… the problem is there aren’t very many of us.  Not to mention our lack of space that is needed to perform such a job… cramped quarters.  All of this combined with only having one sewing machine, only three draw down stands, two head knifes, no clicker, no band knife, and only two people who actually can build a saddle from start to finish.  Every year we build these saddles within a short time frame.

The thing to remember here is that our shop is a true custom shop that produces on average 4-5 saddles a month, each completely different in design and artwork.  We work in a manner that allows us to focus on the specifics that the customer requested and do the best possible job that we can.  Then what makes us want to take on such an endeavor and how do we shift gears to get the product completed at the same quality level and deliver on time?


When we first took the job on, we knew that it would be challenging to say the least.  What we didn’t realize is that in complicating things a bit and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we gain very valuable skills and techniques that allow us to become more efficient throughout the rest of the year while increasing the quality.

The first year was very stressful, constant worry and running close to the deadline… but quality was maintained.  The second year we finished with time to spare and quality increased a little.  This year we started earlier, working the saddles in with our customers orders, and feel more confident than last year.  That is not to say that we are not conscious of the task before us or too comfortable and wasting time.  We still have a lot to learn about the art of project planning and execution, but we do have a couple years behind us now and feel like every year has benefited us not only on this project but on all our projects year round.

So as we have already begun the “Big Loops” this year, I thought it would be fun to give an inside look at how we handle them and the chaos that could possibly insue within our little shop in Bryan, TX.  I will do my best to not only post about the triumphs, but also post on the screw ups and mishaps (hopefully we don’t have too many of those).  I have no idea how many post there will be or if it will be worth reading at all, but I will do my best.  I’m not going to lead you on, there usually isn’t ever a ton of shop drama, fist fights, crying, or firing of employees… but this is a new year so you never know!

We want to thank the Phillip Ranch for giving us this opportunity and all the ropers that spend their hard earned money and time traveling every month trying to win one of our saddles.  We will make sure that this year’s saddles are everything that has come to be expected from the Big Loop Big Money Tour Finals!