Back to the making of a saddle.
I start by cutting the stirrup leathers out of the back of one hide. It has the length and strength needed for that piece. The first piece I will put on the tree is under the gullet. That is one place where some flanker type of leather can be used. If it is a traditional rawhide or wood tree, then comes a metal strainer plate over the bars. I put a piece of leather under it , usually chap leather. There is also a piece of leather on each bar that covers the top of the bar, where I have mostly cut out the piece I will eventually remove where the stirrup leathers will go. Then several layers of leather go on the strainer plate, shaping as I place them. They are all glued down, rough side up. I have special tools that have sharp rounded blades in them called heel shaves. With those I can gouge and cut out any leather that needs removed. On the man made trees I don’t need to do any of this, tho I will remove some material where the legs drop over the seat of the saddle to make more room for my pin bones.
Next comes the rigging. There are quite a few different kinds but most are formed of leather with metal riveted into the leather to carry the latigos, both front and back. Most I build are a flat plate which hangs lower and give the rider free’er movement under the leg. Again, on the man made trees with the cable rigging, I don’t have to do this as it is already embedded in the tree. And gives less bulk and more strength than the traditional ways of putting on the rigging on a wood and rawhide tree.
About this time I will cut out two large pieces of leather, wet them thoroughly and form them to the tree, leaving them to dry on the tree for up to at least a few days or longer. This is when it is nice to have more than one saddle to build at a time as I can be doing work on a different saddle while this is drying. I can also cut out and work on the sweat fenders, piece for the back of the cantle and the rear jockeys.
Once all of those are shaped and fitted, they can be carved and or stamped for the decoration. No one knows why anyone originally decided to put the decorations on a saddle by carving or stamping, other than for decoration, tho’ there is a good argument to be made that when stamping you compress the leather making it stronger, in essence. Also, strategic stamping and or carving can give a better purchase on the leather for the rider.
The fork cover goes on next, then the seat piece. All are fitted to each tree, tho I will usually start with some sort of template I have drawn up.
Once the seat is shaped and in place I can sew on the cantle binding and the horn cap. Then I put the strings on, which help hold all the leather in place. They are tied on with what is called a blood knot. Some modern roping saddle and saddle sold off the rack don’t put any strings on. I have never had a saddle that I didn’t want or need saddle string to tie on my slicker, my mecate or some such. I understand in the fast paced world of roping in an arena for a fast time, they have stripped down anything that might catch the rope or cause it to foul.
There are many different kinds and shapes of western saddles. Lots of saddle makers. I feel we each do our best to fit the horse and the rider and help them make choices that will help them in the style of riding they are doing, whether on the ranch, arena or just trail riding. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Hope you all learned something about the making of a saddle. This was a quick over view and there are sure many more things that could be talked about. Until next week, hope and pray for rain!