Texas Wildlife Ranch Saddle

In 2023, I had the idea to build a Texas Wildlife Ranch Saddle that showcased my favorite native Texas Wildlife. The overall saddle design and style was not clear to me at the time, but a list of wildlife animals began. My focus was not animals exclusively found in Texas, but more of the critters that seemed to be synonymous with landscapes and the environment of Texas… in my opinion.

Starting out with my list, I began to research and sketch these animals in various settings and compositions that I thought might work once incorporated on different parts of a saddle. Before long I began thinking about the type of saddle that would be best for this project. I eventually settled on building my vision of a Texas Ranch Saddle.

Texas ranching heritage runs deep, and there are many different styles and genres in the state depending on what area you are in. From South Texas to the Panhandle, cowboy culture can vary greatly as too can their saddles, gear, and ranching practices.

I did my best to build a saddle style that could be appreciated by cowboys no matter what region of Texas they may call home. The saddle tree is an Olin Young that I modified to make the swells wider and thicker. The Swells are 14″ wide and 7.25″ tall for a low profile front set. The seat length I chose was a 15.5″ which seems to be a more common ranch style size.

Once the overall design and style of the saddle came to life I began to decide on the proper locations for all of my sketchings of the animals from my list. This was somewhat of a challenge due to the size and composition options of both the animals and their selected area. Some locations were chosen by the animals based on their real life natural habitat… The Mexican Free Tail Bat was one of these.

With over roughly 200+ hrs of construction, tooling and finish work, the saddle was completed in April of 2023 just in time for the World Leather Debut in Sheridan, WY that May.

The World Leather Debut is a judged competition for leather artists and craftsman that happens every year in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show. The trade show and debut are held in Sheridan, WY and put on by Leather Crafters Journal. The trade show and debut are both one of the most popular leather craft events in the country. Craftsmen and artist from all over the world come to this event to learn, purchase supplies, and spend time with fellow leather craft artists. And some of these folks enter their best work in the World Leather Debut for the opportunity to be judges by their peers in their particular area of focus… as well as to show off a little bit with their skills.

There are many categories in the Debut, from art pieces to saddles. I entered this Wildlife Saddle into the “Saddles – Carved” category in 2023. The entries in this category are always some of the best work in the custom saddle industry. To pull together a saddle for this category requires not only attractive design and style aspects, precision construction practices and execution, but also top level artistry and floral carving skills.

Putting a saddle in this showcase category can be intimidating, but having the oppurtunity to have a piece put up against the other amazing top shelf craftsmanship is well worth it. Being judged by two selected judges based on different areas of focus and providing feedback and critiques is where the real value lies with this competition. The information gained from the judges, as well as other makers who attend the debut, is a very valuable aspect that helps a maker improve in areas of his process.

This Texas Wildlife Saddle was one of my favorite pieces to design and build. The saddle won 2nd place in the World Leather Debut that year. I was honored to have one of my saddles in the Debut. Being in a category with such a collection of high level saddles and placing 2nd was amazing. The work put in by all the craftsmen in that room is second to none and being a judge in any of the categories has to be one of the hardest things to do in our industry.

The saddle has been on display in our shop since the Debut in 2023 and many have come by the shop to see it in person. One of my favorite things to do when folks come by is to see if they can find all the animals that are on it. Many of the animals are very easy to find and none of them are necessarily “hidden” but some of them are in more subtle locations.

In total, there are 16 different animals on the saddle. All of these are native to Texas. I chose them because they interest me or they are of particular interest to the state of Texas. I have compiled a collection of photos here that show each of these animals on the saddle. This can be used as a “cheat sheet” next time you see the saddle in person.

The Texas Wildlife Saddle was a fun project and one of the most fulfilling saddles I have made to date. I have done a variety of “themed” saddles in my career, but this one has been my favorite. Although this saddle may never see a horse’s back or be run through the paces of a long hard day of work, it was built with the same attention to function as all of my saddles.

The saddle is available for purchase for anyone that would like to own a creative representation of Texas Ranching and Wildlife Heritage. If you are interested in adding this piece to your collection, contact us at the shop or come by to see it in person.