Many people know that the frame that a saddle is built on is called a “saddle tree,” but they are usually vague on exactly what a saddle tree consists of. In this post I will discuss the components that come together to make up a saddle tree. Continue reading →
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.
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!
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.
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
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 to 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…
“I need to use an Olin Young on this horse because it fits him better.” “I can’t ride a wade on this horse because his withers are too tall.” “You need to be riding a Low TM on that horse because he is too round backed for that Association.”
These are common thoughts about different styles of trees and what fits certain horses better. The truth of the matter is that the tree style doesn’t decide how a tree fits on a horse. The tree style (TM, OY, Association, Wade, Buster Welch, etc) is nothing more than the style of the front, or swells, that the tree has. Now some of these styles have a certain cantle or horn that is common to use with it, but these can be changed to the customers specs. Continue reading →
A common problem among people is “saddle slides back on my horse.” Many times this is with competition ropers and/or ranch cowboys who rope quite a bit in the pasture. Almost every single time I see this issue, it is more of human error than saddle fitting issues.
When I am checking on this problem for someone, I have them saddle the horse just as they would any other time. This is when I know if we actually have a serious issue or just a simple human error. Usually, the customer will put the saddle way up on the withers right on top of the shoulder blades. At this point I run my hand under the saddle and pads and find the tip of the shoulder blade which is usually right under the center of the front bar pad. THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT SPOT FOR THE SADDLE TO SET.
Now I don’t care how old you are or how long you have been a cowboy. I don’t even care if your dad, old grampy, your uncle, or John Wayne told you to set the saddle up high on the withers, I am telling you now, THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT SPOT FOR THE SADDLE TO SET. Continue reading →
Well it’s upon us again. Seems like we just finished the Christmas season, and here we are set up at the George Strait Team roping Classic in San Antonio, TX.
This is our third year attending this event and we are looking forward to seeing our friends and making new ones. Like every year in the past, we try to start early and have two or three custom saddles made for this show. Again this year we were only able to bring one. With our growing order list and the demand our saddles have at home, we were only able to escape Brazos county with one.
This is the first time in our three years here that the weather has been bad. It’s currently raining and cold, so the ropers will have to contend with cold fingers if they want a chance at the money, truck and trailer.
Good luck to all the contestants! And to all the spectators, set back and enjoy some of the best team roping action on the planet!
I get this question a lot both at the shop and when we are out at events and trade shows. The most common time this question is asked is when a customer brings in a saddle for repair and the repair needed is so extensive due to the amount of dry rot. Here the customer will usually say, “I would of oiled it but I didn’t know what kind of oil to use.” To this I always answer, “Even the wrong oil would have helped more than what you did… which was nothing.”
I know, oiling your saddle and gear is not the most exciting thing to do on your weekends off, but neither is writing large checks for saddle repairs or worse yet visiting the ground suddenly when something finally breaks.
There are hundreds of saddle conditioners, cleaners, lubricators, creams, savs, liquids, and the like that make choosing the best product for your gear a tuff choice. Again, ALL of these will, in some way, help your leather retain its life better than nothing at all. And if you still don’t feel comfortable making a decision then there is always a shop like ours that would be happy to handle this for you.
For oil, we use Olive Oil. We buy it from a local grocery supply company by the case and use it on both new and used leather items. I have heard of many people using canola, peanut, vegetable, and other food oils and they seem to work fine. My only issue with the other oils is that it seems to me that they would attract rats worse than the olive oil. Neatsfoot oil is the old standby and is still widely used. There is nothing wrong with this but it seems to me that olive oil seems to oil more evenly than neatsfoot and the main reason that we use it in the shop.
When it comes to conditioners, I recommend Skidmore’s Leather Cream above all else. This cream is great for lubricating the fibers in the leather and restoring life to dry stiff leather. This product is made of all natural ingredients including vegetable oils and beeswax and will also water proof the leather. A little bit of this cream goes a long way so don’t over do it, multiple light coats is always better than one heavy coat. This product is also amazing on boots and hunting gear.
The one thing to remember with conditioning your saddles and tack is that putting oil and conditioners on top of dirty leather can damage the leather. In doing this over time, you create multiple layers of dirt and oil which becomes a thick film that is almost impossible to remove. I always recomend washing leather with a mild dish soap like Dawn, Ivory, or even Murphy’s Oil Soap and rinsing thoroughly. Scrub the saddle with a medium bristle brush to lift the dirt and grime out of the leather. I don’t recommend saddle soap because it is suppose to be left on the saddle to dry and then the dirt stays on the leather. If you want to lather the saddle up with saddle soap after its cleaned, then that’s okay.
Always let your saddle dry completely (could take a day or two) before oiling and conditioning. If you oil too soon, you could get a real bad case of mold. I will talk more about mold and controlling it in a later post.
I know its hard to remember to oil your saddle and tack, but here is my suggestion on a system that may not make it such a big deal. Every time you worm your horses give all your tack and saddles a good look over and wipe them down with a light coat of oil. And when it comes to doing a complete washing and oiling, I recommend this once a year. This could be every time your coggins is due or at the end of your show season. And if you don’t want to go through the trouble of doing it yourself you can always drop it off at the saddle shop and we will do it for you.