Author Archives: Don Gonzales

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!

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!

Pick Guard


My brother, Ben Schane, brought his Martin guitar in the shop on a Saturday and after a song and a beer or two we did what anyone would do. We tore the pick guard off and made one out of thin Herman Oak leather. It was a lot of fun and turned out kinda cool.

Which tree style would fit my horse better?

“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

Saddle Slides Back on my Horse

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