saddle shop

Spacing holes quickly!

When it comes to punching holes for headstalls, tie straps, billets, or any other strap good you may be making, how do you layout your hole spacing?  Most people get the tap measure out and measure and mark each hole so they will be perfectly placed appropriately.  This is a fine way to do it if complete accuracy is mandatory.  If you are more focused on productive use of your time than perfection of hole spacing, try this method for both time and accuracy!

For the first hole use three fingers as your spacing from the tip to place your first hole.  On tie straps, I usually do a full hand width.

After making the first hole, I will use one finger width as my spacing for the rest of the holes.

Place your finger just past the first hole and use your finger as a guide for placement of the next hole.  Continue this for for each hole after.  On tie straps I use four fingers as my spacing.

This is a great time saver and unless you loose a finger in the middle of this,  your holes should be perfectly spaced.

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 kind of oil should I use?

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.

Continue reading

All Around Performance Horse Ranch Rodeo Challenge 2012

It’s here again!  The world’s biggest ranch rodeo featuring some of the countries greatest cowboys and cowgirls competing for $50,000 and prizes from some of the greatest craftsmen and artist our western heritage has to offer.  We are talking about the All Around Performance Horse Ranch Rodeo Challenge!

We have worked with All Around Performance Horse since they started this ranch rodeo and this year is no different.  This year we are adding the Top Hand award to our saddle build sheet as part of our sponsorship.  The Top Horse and Top Hand saddles will be the awards that these athletes will be competing for second only to the cash.

As we begin designing and building these saddles we will update with video and photos so that the competitors and fans of this event can see the great craftsmanship that goes into building a custom Don Gonzales saddle.  If you are looking for more up to date information on this event and the creation of these awards along with other projects DGSaddlery is creating daily, visit our website at where you can stay connected through facebook and twitter.

Also be sure to check out our friends at for event dates, their blog, and other great All Around Performance Horse info.


Beware of Import Saddles

These days many items are made overseas, bringing with that lower cost and bigger selections for American consumers. No matter your opinion of this issue, continued import of overseas manufactured items is here to stay and for the most part accepted by consumers. Even the saddle industry is experiencing this and when it comes to some items the quality is reasonable for the cost. When it comes to saddles, consumers should really be cautious.
For years Americans have purchased saddles that have been imported from Mexico for an inexpensive alternative to the American made counterparts. With a few exceptions, these saddles have been marked with the stigma of low quality and at times structurally unsafe. No matter the stigma, many people trying to save a buck purchase these saddles anyway and deal with frequent repairs and saddle fitting issues. With any luck they aren’t injured due to the saddles less than adequate structural integrity.
The newest addition to this “value based” saddle market is saddles imported from countries like India. In the saddle shop we have run across these on a semi frequent basis and the quality is worse than usual. Many folks are buying these saddles on the internet and eBay and although they may look decent in the photos, when they arrive it is immediately seen that they are less than functional. I have seen these saddles with no rigging dees at all, making them impossible to actually use on a horse. We have seen them with synthetic leather and trees, plastic rigging dees and a number of other issues that make these saddles dangerous to use.
The most recent experience that we have had the pleasure to work on in the repair shop was a true gem of the import saddle industry. The saddle came in for an offside front rigging dee replacement. This is a job that is very common and not very expensive to fix. When the saddle was broken down in the repair room, the repair man confronted me with an issue. He told me that the rigging couldn’t be fixed and that I should look at the tree with him. Looking at the tree bar at first I didn’t understand what the problem was. It was a fiberglass tree bar with holes in it where the original rigging screws use to be, this was nothing out of the ordinary. The saddle really didn’t appear to be a bad built saddle. It was a training saddle with rawhide mounted dees on the corners of the skirts for driving lines, rawhide trimmed horn, padded seat and good color. I asked my repair man what the issue was and he proceeded to show me the problem.
He took a screw and stuck it in one of the existing screw holes and then moved it at different angles from side to side. Yes, that’s right! The entire tree bar was a hollow fiberglass shell. It looked like a wooden bar covered with fiberglass, but in reality it was an empty fiberglass bar… no wood at all. Think of it as an empty egg! The entire saddle was like this, both bars and swells even the cantle. This was unbelievable! I have never seen anything like this before and couldn’t believe that someone had been riding this saddle and they weren’t hurt.
With further inspection we also discovered that all the rawhide holding the accessory dees on and the binding around the horn wasn’t rawhide at all. The dees were mounted with nylon webbing and masking tape was stuck over the top. The horn binding was just masking tape. Unbelievable!
At that point we called the customer and told them that we would not fix the saddle and warned them of the danger involved in using the saddle. All I can say is that I hope everyone keeps their eyes open for these types of saddles. It’s one thing to by a cheap pair of “Oakeys” or “Raye Bans”, but putting your life on the line with this inferior garbage being imported into the states from countries that have no knowledge of what these saddles go through in our country is extremely dangerous. Remember that a custom saddle has at least $1000.00 in material in it, so when you’re looking online and you find a new saddle on eBay for $300, beware.

Merry Christmas!

Driving to work this saturday morning, thinking to myself about the list of “have toos” and “if i cans” for the day, it struck me with a bit of excitement and fear. Fear, because i only have two weeks left to finish the gifts that have been ordered, and excitement because we are completing our seventh year in business. Unbelievable!

Seven years ago i was a 24 year old rookie saddle maker putting Vet school on hold to pursue an oppurtunity. My entire life up until this point had been focused on vet school and all of a sudden I had made the decision to give this oppurtunity a whirl. Thinking about it now, I should have been a bit more worried. But as with most of the things that i do, i made the decision and figured all the details would work themselves out.

I have absolutely no regrets in my decision to start DGSaddlery and have enjoyed every minute… Even the scary ones! As a group, we have been truely blessed and so grateful for the friendships that we have made. As we enter the christmas season again here in 2011 and prepare to begin our 8th year in business, we would like to thank all those customers who have supported us and who enjoy our work. Getting better every year is our main focus and we hope that this coming year will be no different. The thing that makes our products stand out is our customers’ imaginations and thanks to them, and our talented artists and craftsmen, we have had the oppurtunity to create some great products.

We hope that everyone has a wonderful christmas and we look forward to 2012 and putting your dreams in leather!

What seat size should you ride?

The most common question we get among customers in our shop is about what seat size they should ride. In our experience most people are confused about this issue and many times they are riding too big a seat.

The most common size ridden is a 15 1/2″. This, in my opinion, is do to the used saddle market being flooded with trophy saddles and making them readily available with minimal investment. When clubs and organizations purchase saddles to give away as awards at their events, 15 1/2″ seats are a normal size to go with because they will work for most people. This does not mean that most people should ride this size, it simply means it will work. Continue reading

USTRC Finals 2011 is here!

Well it’s that time again… Almost! We are desperately trying to finish our products for our booth at the USTRC Finals in Oklahoma City. We have a little under two weeks and lots to do still.

As with every show we attempt to plan ahead and have a jump on our inventory, but with the orders we already have it always seems to create a crunch. We aren’t complaining! We love that we have a long list of customers that have ordered from us and they have priority.

Have no fear, we will finish and have plenty to look at and purchase at the show this year! We have five saddles that we intend to finish and many small items to help with those Christmas gift ideas.

As always, Jim and I will be prepared to take custom orders on any items or saddles to get you exactly what your looking for. Be sure and come by our booth in barn three and visit. We are really hoping you like our new bigger booth and look forward to seeing all our friends and make new ones as well.