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!

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!

Saddle making

Well, we survived. The Rally, that is! Luckily I didn’t have to go to Sturgis so didn’t have to fight traffic. Hope you enjoyed it!

The boss man of the paper I write short stories for, suggested that I write some articles on saddle making. So here is my attempt and I well post them on here also.

The western style saddle as we now know it, has been developing since the time that Spaniards first came over here to Mexico. It was their war saddle they rode and as they and their followers moved north into California and Texas it was adapted over time into what we see today.

The first thing they figured out was that if they put a saddle horn in front it was pretty handy to hang things on. And then some dang fool figured out you could tie a rope to it and move things. Can you imagine the first person on his little horse to rope a big bull and what happened when the rope came tight! Wow! I bet Dobbin wasn’t quite prepared for that!

The western saddles you see now have been refined into two basic categories. Slick forks and swell forks. The first type of saddle that came north with the cattle drives out of Texas, had a saddle horn on top of a fork with no bulges. Just kind of widened out and sloped down to the bars of the saddle tree. At some point, I am thinking the late 1800’s from what I can find out, somebody decided to add swelling at the bottom part of the  fork of the tree, so they could use those bulges to keep a better purchase in the seat. Before that, they would tie a slicker or something similar to up there to lean into and help them ride when a horse objected to them being on their back.

Again, there were many attempts to improve  that fork, both in slick forks and swell forks. To this day you can get a good argument going as to which is better, slick or swelled, at any gathering of cowboys, ranchers or buckaroos. Both have advantages and both have disadvantages. I have riden both, quite a few miles and have my preference. For those who don’t know me and know my particular leanings, you can go to my Facebook page and see the latest photo of my latest saddle I built and get a pretty good idea.

I started building saddles many years ago because I wanted to try a different style and seeing as I already had bought a custom made swellfork style saddle from the late Jerry Croft, my wife objected to me spending the money for another saddle. As she said, if I recall, “Heck, you can only ride one at a time, why do you need two?!!!” That is the typical female logic that keeps many cowboys from owning more than one! And I tell you, that don’t help my saddle making business very much!

So I found a used one similar to what I wanted and swapped an older saddle I had for it. Then I went to carving , adding and cutting off different parts of the saddle to get what I wanted. I can guarantee it would have been much cheaper in the long run to have just ordered another saddle of the type I wanted, as after you get to building something, you start wanting more of the specialized tools that are used to build saddles. So, the jokes on her, as we would have much more money now, if she had just let me get the saddle like I wanted!

Next week I will delve into this subject deeper and try and explain some of what goes into making one. 

Have a good week and go kill some grasshoppers!!!!


We got a good rain this past week! Wonderful stuff! Washes the dust off and makes everything look better. Cooled the temps down for a bit.

Here it is August already. How did that happen? Seems like it was the first of June just a few days ago. Days of 76 is over. Cheyenne is over. Now it’s Rally time.

I heard someone predicted we might get a million visitors for the Rally this year! Doesn’t hardly seem possible, but it could happen. Lots of people come to this area this time of year.

I have devised a plan that would be great for our part of the country. We all all need to catch Grasshoppers. Put them in air tight containers and then get everybody who comes to visit to take them home with them. Heck, our local governments could even mandate it. 

Just think of how they would clean this country out of a pest! We could even call it Hoppers for Harley’s or some such! Let the bikers know it is for a good cause.. maybe mark one hopper and make it worth a thousand bucks or something and many would buy them. Like a lottery ticket. They would even catch their own or pay somebody to catch them for them. Lots of jobs for the kids before they head back to school!

Looks like some of our forward thinking local politicians would get behind it. Must be some way to tax it and use the money for a good cause. We could have prizes for the largest hopper. The smallest. The prettiest, the ugliest! Shoot.. just need some promoter types to think about it and get behind it. Maybe some fish farm would pay for all the hoppers when we are done with them for fish food.

I have been trying to teach my cows to catch and eat them, but so far no luck. I don’t know if the cows are lazy or the hoppers just don’t taste good. I know people in other countries eat them. I seen in Lonesome Dove where the cook cooked some up for the crew.

There has got to be some way we can utilize all these dang hoppers we been raising. We just need smart people to work on it. I suppose we could get a government grant to pay researchers to do it. Of course by the time they got it all set up and figured anything out we would be out of hoppers. But we could be all prepared for the next time they get thick.

There are no problems, just opportunities, some old guy said once. Maybe it was Jim Thompson…or Mick Harrison!

Have a hopping week, fine folks!

Seems like it is supposed to get warmer. Many people are pretty put out that it is going to get up into the 90’s!

I guess I am old. Seems like most of my life when July comes around we always expected it to get hot! Since when is it supposed to be cool in July?

Reminds me of the people who talk about Climate Change. Hasn’t the climate always changed around these parts? On our ranch, we have dinosaur bones and lots of evidence of the time when this country was covered in water and was either an inland ocean or a swamp. So… when did that change? East of here across the Missouri river  they talk of the glaciers that came down from the north and formed the land. So when did that change?

As I child I remember when winter started around the first of November and seemed to last into the end of April or maybe first part of May. As a young adult I remember similar years. Anyone remember the winters in the late 70’s? Man, we had snowdrifts as high as the eves on the barn!

And I also remember winters when people complained because there was no snow for Christmas. Cold and brown.

I remember summers that were miserably hot all summer long. And Summers that were wet and cool. Ones that were dry and hot. They don’t call this the Land of Infinite Variety for no reason! Or as has been often quoted.. “if you don’t like the weather right now, stick around for a little while.”

Normal. 

What in the world is normal for this country around here? Hot and dry and wet and cold. I have seen it all. I saw my father shiver at a rodeo in Faith in the first part of August. He remembered when it snowed on the 4th of July!

So, I guess if you don’t like it hot or cold, wet or dry.. and most of the time windy, this probably isn’t a good place for you to live. Because that is normal around here. I guess its because of Climate Change!

Not much new news around here. Still dry. Rains seem to mostly pass us by. And with that, also the hail, some have been getting. Which is a blessing. What little graze we have would sure be missed if it were hailed off!

One year quite a few years ago, we had a dry year and it hailed, mostly on the south side of the ranch. I thought, “Well, at least we got a good rain out of it and it will grow some grass.” Boy was I wrong! I am not sure if the hail froze the ground or just beat it up so bad, but it barely got green again until the next spring. 

We have had hail storms that also sent a lot of rain, fast, and it ran water. Though most of our dams and waterholes are dry or almost dry, we do not rely on them for livestock water. We have windmills and wells with waterlines, so we can always get livestock water. Not so for some, out on the gumbo. 

Someone said a few years ago, “It used to be that there would be enough dry years that there were pastures out on the gumbo where you couldn’t run livestock, as there was no water for them to drink. So they got a chance to heal up. Now, so many have dug wells and put in pipelines, they have water all over it. And they can over graze it just like everybody else does in dry years!”

Yeah, our pastures are getting hard use. What else can you do? Cattle too cheap to sell right now and we all live with the hope and prayers we will get some rain and this will turn around.

One thing I have noticed in the past 63 years. This ol’ country is awfully resilient and can heal it’s self if given half a chance.

I hope we get some rain all over this dry ol’ country. It is so dry, it hurts to look at it.

Rain!!!

As I write this we just had a wonderful rain come thur’. Not sure how much we got, but I am happy for any amount. I hate to be greedy, but I am not sure how much we’d have to get before it would make me unhappy!

From what I have read there are over a 1000 pair a week leaving North Dakota. Ranchers with no more feed to graze and no prospect of winter feed supplies are shipping their herds. It’s terrible!

Our postures are very short, the hoppers have eaten so much of what little feed was available… bleak prospects. But with enough rain, we can make it until fall. With enough rain, someone will make a hay crop. Whether any of us can afford it is another question.

There is the possibility of shipping cattle to another region where feed is more plentiful, but for no more than they are worth, you have to wonder if it is justified. Out neighbors in the southern states have faced this. Problem with shipping cows is sending cows not acclimated to another area and how they will do. I have a friend in Missouri and he tells me hay is cheap. Problem is, it is very low quality so cows need a huge gut to make it work. Not like in this area where it is higher protein feed. And the cost of trucking, with the price of fuel is terrible also. Just the ramifications of shipping pairs and then trying to get them mothered back up, even with calves ear tagged, is daunting.

This isn’t a new problem. Many have faced it in the past. Just one more problem ranchers face. I am sure there will be government programs to help, the problem is, will they really do much good? As a neighbor said to me after the Atlas blizzard, when I said I bet there would be low intrest loans available for those who had lost livestock, “I don’t need any more loans. I don’t know if I can pay back what I have now!”

Most will survive. Some will not. It is all part of the deal. If we could get a decent price for the cattle we sell, it wouldn’t be so bad, but as it is, calves and yearlings have been selling below the cost of production for too many years now. Blame it on the packers. Blame it on ranching. We just have to take it day by day and hope their is a light at the end of the tunnel. But what many who are not involved in ranching, in this area need to remember is, the small family rancher spends their money in these smaller local towns. When the rancher is gone, so will most of the business be. 

Truman supposedly said, the buck stops here.. well with rancher, the buck starts here.. and if they can’t make a buck, they can’t spend it.

If you are the praying sort, please pray for wide spread rain all across this big area. We all need it. And Praise the Lord for what we have gotten!

Here is hoping we all get a good soaking by the time I write another of these.

I took off Saturday afternoon and drove to Harrison, Neb, for a gig. I went south of Hot Springs and came in at Crawford. I hate to be that guy, but man, I am jealous!

Green and hay! From Rapid City south it looked great. They had many more bales in their fields than anyone is getting in these parts. And the grass was green and pretty tall. Cows I seen were fat and sassy and enjoying the cool weather and the rain that was falling.

Harrison was shorter grass, but still pretty green. A guy I know from that area told me they had just gotten an inch of rain and it was amazing how much it changed the look of that grass in just 24 hours.

I drove on roads that showed where it had rained earlier, most of the way home. When I called Cindy to tell her I was headed home about 9 pm, she said that it was raining here. When I got home I checked the rain gauge and it showed about 1 one hundreds.. Oh well, at least it washed the grass a bit.

In the past, when ever we got a good rain and someone would comment on it, I would always reply, ‘Well, my son is a priest, so God’s going to take care of me”. I thought that was a pretty good answer. Then someone pointed out the passage in the Bible where it tells us, “He makes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike.” That kind of took the wind out of my sails!

I have thought on that passage a lot, since. Not sure what the meaning is, as like so many passages that people like to quote from the Bible, if you don’t read what comes before it or after it, in the context it was written, you can sure take the wrong meaning from it.

From my thinking on it, it means that God showers his grace and justice on everyone. And some are grateful and some are not. I ain’t no biblical scholar, just a dumb ol’ rancher, but that is my take away right now. Who knows, I might change my thinking on further reflection and conversations with people.

I sure hope and pray we get more rain soon. It is hard to see this beautiful country we all live in looking so drab when we have seen how much more beautiful it can look in it’s best green finery!

Here’s hoping we all are walking in lots of mud puddles soon and no one is cussing them!

Summer

Well, I guess summer is here. June 21st is the start date, I think. Longest day of the year. Most daylight anyway.

It is odd how my thinking has changed over the years. 

I remember as a child, I couldn’t wait for summer and freedom from school. Of course I had to work, help putting up hay and other seasonal chores, but I also got to go fishing and swimming. Hot never seemed that bad, back then. Or cold, either for that matter.

Now hot is hot! And it seems like it doesn’t have to get nearly as warm for me to think it is hot. And, for that matter, cold seems colder also. I ain’t sure if I got smarter or weaker!

I used to look forward to the Fourth and fireworks  also. Now I think more of what we have lost in this country, with all the changes. Seems like we were more patriotic all those years ago. Independence Day! Wow! And all it stood for. I was proud of where I was from and I had heard stories of how our country had struggled and the sacrifices made by our ancestors so we could live in a country that was ruled by laws and not kings. We studied it every year in school. There were movies and books about it. 

Don’t seem like anyone is interested in that any more. I guess I will have to ask my grandkids and see what they know about it.

I am still proud of the area I live in and the people around here and how we all live and the work we do. Seems like there are so many who think we are wrong in our thinking and what and how we live. That is pretty sad, when I think of all those who sacrificed so we could. And that so many misunderstand us and the work we all do and why we do it. Too bad we can’t get the real story out instead of there made up stories on TV and the movies, about this lifestyle and work.

Maybe people will start paying more attention and we can all be proud this 4th of July. Quit looking at what is wrong in this country and celebrate what is right.

I sure hope so.

I hope you and yours have a great celebration on the 4th and remember why we celebrate it.

6/13/21

Dry. 

Too dry. 

Man, I hate it when it’s too dry.

When you have cold winter temps.. you kind of figure on it, prepare, have feed available or the means to get it. And if it doesn’t get cold and stay that way for a long time, so much the better.

When you have drought, even if you have planned for it, it still ain’t no fun. You can’t just haul in more pasture. 

If it is not real widespread, you might be able to effectively afford to ship cattle to an area with abundant grass for grazing. But usually the abundance is a long ways away and it really isn’t economically possible. You can sort off the best of your pairs or replacement heifers and send them away for awhile and sell down the rest. It never seems to work to good for some reason. Most cattle have been bred for the environment they live in. In this area, moderate rain fall, short grass, high protein. If you ship them out, it is to an area with higher rainfall, more lush feed with lower protein content. They can adapt.. but when you try to bring them back to a more desert area, it just never seems to work very good.

The last time we were bad dry, a neighbor shipped his older cows off to the corn country and had them wintered. He sold the ones he thought were the poorer half and brought the other half home, in the spring. Tho’ many of us had been telling him his cows had gotten much bigger than he thought they were, that was the first time he had proof of it. The ones he sold amazed him how much they weighed. They had been eating ample feed and really filled out and did well. He was shocked. I never did hear how the cows he brought home did. But my guess is they worked themselves out of the herd within a few years. Hard to take a skinny cow that has been fat and get her to cycle and breed back.

I am not sure how we will survive this dry spell. We have been doing it since my ancestors settled here at the turn of the century. In the past we have bought expensive feed to get by. It didn’t work. Then we sold down the next time. That wasn’t a good plan either. As an older rancher who is a bit of a cattle trader told me, “There is no right plan during a drought”. I guess he is right.

I am sure glad God has it all figured out. As I am just muddling along. But I have faith it will all work out according to His plan. Just kind of wish He’d let me in on it! 

Here is hoping everyone gets some good rains to help out!