Taking off where I left off last week, to build a saddle you need various types of leather and materials. Most quality saddles are made from a wood tree covered in rawhide. Some makers make their own trees and others, like me, buy our trees from reputable makers.
I make many on what is called a foam tree, now a days. It is some form of man made material that is foam injected into a mold. The advantage of them is that the ground set is already in them and most have a cable rigging, which is 40,000 pound plastic covered aircraft aluminum cable. They are formed into the tree and impossible to break. The tree is guaranteed for the life of the owner, under normal use. Moisture or lack of, doesn’t effect them as can happen with a wood and rawhide tree. You can make a barebones or skeleton saddle with one, which has very little leather on it so it is lighter weight. Most people don’t know that most of the leather that goes onto a saddle was intended to protect the rawhide that gives the wooden trees strength. With the foam trees that is not a concern.
I still make a few on the traditional tree, but they take longer and tend to weigh more. All the saddles we ride and use are made of the foam trees. We have been using them for over 25 years. But some people want a traditional saddle so I will make them.
It is a rule of thumb that it takes two large hides of skirting leather and a half a side of latigo leather to make a western saddle. Depending on the size of the skirts, it can vary. Most custom saddle makers like me, use only the very best leather we can get. Which of course keeps going up in price. Hermann Oak has been the favorite for many many years. It is all I use.
The saddle has a huge piece cut from the very best piece in the middle of the hide for the seat piece, two large pieces for the skirts, and sweat fenders that hang down and cover the stirrup leathers. The stirrup leather are cut from the back of the hide and are 3 inches wide and the full length of the hide after it has been squared up. Very little of the flanky leather can be used. There are two good sized pieces cut out for the rear jockey’s, a piece for the rear of the cantle, a large piece for the fork cover and a smaller piece for the gullet and the saddle horn. And a long strip from the canoe binding.
Plus you need a good sized wool side for under the skirts. Incidentally, the wool is not for cushioning but to help hold the saddle blanket from slipping. Tho’ I have found on the barebones saddles, they don’t slip even tho’ the bars of the saddle are not covered. At one time they didn’t use wool, but wool felt to line the skirts.
Hope your getting an idea of what goes into the making of a saddle. I will continue next week. Hope we get rained on before next I write!