Saddlemaking

14 01 2008

So why do I do it?

tarqsaddlecantle.jpg

Because it would be a great job if I didn’t get all that flak. And if I could make a basic income out of it. It is great to make something which is good, beautiful, and useful. And sometimes I can express myself as an artist too.

It started with Tarq’s saddle. Which gives no trouble by the way, it has even survived Tarq’s swimming adventure. It has protected his back when he slid down the dike, and bumped on his back over the iron border of the canal. I had to dry it, brush it up, and although clearly has been through the works, is still beautiful and perfectly serviceable.

With Tarq’s saddle I let my worst imaginations loose. design, tooling, colouring, and sowing and construction did take three months.

tarqsaddlefender-is-ingeolied.jpgtarqsaddledfender-is-gekleurt.jpg

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But definitely worth it. And worthy of The Tarq!

tarqsaddlewebsite.jpg

I’m now working on an endurance saddle. The X-treme! I’m leaving everything off which isn’t absolutely necessary. Maximal comfort for the horse; minimal comfort for the rider! It’s still only half finished.

tarqsaddlextremebeetjeaf.jpg

Besides. There is something of a message here: one doesn’t have to buy badly made saddles, that don’t fit and damage your horse. And I spend a lot of time and effort in giving clinics, and lectures, about the importance of, and how to make sure, that your saddle fits reasonably well.

Probably all a waste of time and effort.

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6 responses

20 01 2008
Lofter

Wow… what beautiful work. The tooling is masterful, and your use of color really makes the details stand out. I’m curious about the green tree, though. I’ve never seen a green saddle tree before. What is it made of? I’m guessing fiberglass?
At any rate, your work is quite impressive and I’m sure The Tarq will appreciate it!
Cheers from Texas! :->

20 01 2008
Aafke

Thanks Lofter, you cheered me up!
All our work is done by hand, stitching too. And we only use bronze or stainless steel hardware. And real sheepskin under the skirts.

The green tree is a fiberglass covered wooden tree. It will only have the riggingplate added, so there’s going to be a lot of the tree visible; that is why I added another layer of fiberglass, and sanded it smooth and laquered it. In ”endurance circles” people like a bit of colour, at least in Europe. I thought I was going to do somethinig really over the top. Al hardware is going to be stainless steel.
My regular saddle has the same tree but rawhide covered. Actually I had ordered that one fiberglass covered too, but it came rawhide. And it was só beautiful! It’s a regular Ed Steele, but it was as perfect as a custom tree.
I recommend fiberglass for my customers here: nobody does any real roping here, and what with our climate, constant rain, and high humidity, fiberglass is the better option.

20 01 2008
Lofter

Ah, I see. What I’ve learned of saddle making was taught to me by a true cowboy, Eddie Collier. Eddie wouldn’t use anything but wooden trees, covered in rawhide, so that’s all I was accustomed to seeing. But, the saddles we made were geared toward a specific customer base, too, and your comment explains the difference. (We never used any bronze either, only stainless steel hardware.) We certainly don’t have the climate here that you describe, so I can surely see where a fiberglass tree – if not strenuously used – would last forever.
Eddie, who has been making a living crafting saddles his entire life, can still build his own trees. He seldom does it anymore (I’ve never actually seen him do it, come to think of it), as it is understandably an extremely time consuming process. Once a year, Eddie goes to the National Finals Rodeo, usually held in Las Vegas, Nevada, and takes orders. He’s very well known on the rodeo circuit here in the states, yet he’s one of the most humble human beings I’ve ever known. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I respect him so much.
Thanks for the response, and I’m sorry for being so long-winded!

20 01 2008
Aafke

I’m really interested to hear your experiences. I got taught by Willem, who got taught by canadian indians and american cowboy/saddlemakers.
We only use wooden trees, but here in europe, all the saddles are really mostly pleasure saddles. Real roping is hardly done in the Netherlands. And anyway: you’d then use a ropertree. My own doesn’t even have a horn, as I’m not a ”western” rider, and I think they are a bloody nuisance. Besides, never had, have, or will have, the urge to go after one of those chique pedegree arisocratic milkers they breed here. Wouldn’t be appriciated either!
My saddle is also half in-pocket. and the flank-cincha-ring is only design.
Most of the manufactured saddles that are sold here are the absolute pits, quality-wise and everything a lot more expensive as in the states offcourse.

A tipical problem over here is; everybody rides just about anything! Ok, some people have quarters, but any breed, or mix is used here, which makes for an enormous varity in back-shapes. And I don’t know how it is in America. The few people I know there have sensible horses, but the quarters, and especially the reiners I get to see here are very badly built in my opinion. They’re getting smaller and smaller, (dutch male height average 6 foot) they are severely overbuilt, have no withers, very broad shoulders, and shoulderblades that extend to far backwards, which really means that they need a rigging position before the full-position. And they tipically can’t have a 16” saddle. The only one I’ve measured for a 16” is my own horse! An arab too. So for these tall dutch people we have to build saddles that can’t have more than a 15” seat. which means a slick-fork. Which they don’t like because it’s not the fashion here. And trust me; fashion counts a lot more that logic.

20 01 2008
Lofter

I think we see as wide a variety of horse here as you do over there. Quarter horses are enjoying wide popularity, especially here in Texas, which is the home of the American Quarter Horse Association. I’ve not worked leather for several years, but am still close to the saddle-making operations I used to oversee. At present, they are building two basic saddles: a roper style, workman’s saddle, which is quite plain in appearance, but well built; and a ‘custom’ saddle, which is usually built with 3 1/2” post dally saddle horn, 12” swell, 3 1/2” cantle, with custom tooling, or rough out fenders. These saddles will start at around $475US, and go up depending on how ‘custom’ the customer wants it to be… and some have wanted them quite gaudy! (By comparison, when I was working with Eddie, some of his specialty saddles sold for as much as $15,000US!) As you say, too often fashion does count more than logic. And a fool and his money are soon parted!
My experience doesn’t go nearly as deep as yours, as I’ve never actually measured a horse for a saddle. That’s always been done by the customer, prior to the saddle being ordered. I’ve worked the leather (cutting, tooling, etc.), but never actually ‘built’ the saddle. Only a small cog in the bigger wheel.
In my line of work, we have a large staff of employees who work on horseback daily. Over the past few years, the average weight of the men and women using our saddles has steadily increased, we’ve seen (and continue to see) more and more broken trees. While trees can be replaced and saddles repaired, I think you would agree that there needs to be more education on how to properly care for and handle a saddle… not to mention the horses we go through. While we raise our own stock, many more are going to auction each year, after fewer years of service, in poorer condition. It’s actually very sad.
Again, I apologize for my lengthy reply. Guess I have more to say than I thought! :->

21 01 2008
Aafke

Lofter: I love rambling on about horses and saddles, must do some actual work now though. Will come back to it later.
Meanwhile you should check out the post ”Trouble with Tarq”

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