Thursday, October 01, 2009

Skeletons in the Garage

The other day I tried to explain a saddle tree to someone, and failed miserably. So while we were in Bozeman, I lurked around my brother-in-law's leather shop, asked endless questions and took dozens of pictures. So, for today's tutorial: saddle trees.

A tree is the saddle's skeleton. It provides stiffness, strength, and determines the fit of the saddle on the horse's back. For example, if your horse is wide through the top of the shoulders and back as many quarterhorses tend to be, you want a saddle with a tree that's wider and flatter to conform to the shape of the horse. This is especially important for rope horses and working ranch horses. A saddle that fits poorly will tend to move around when the horse pulls on or attempts to stop an animal that's been roped. The movement causes rubbing, pinching, and ultimately, rebellion on the part of the horse. When a rope horse quits stopping or pulling, the first thing we do is check the saddle to be sure there isn't a problem.  

This is a barrel racing saddle tree. It's shorter and lighter than a roping or ranch saddle because barrel racing is, essentially, a horse race, and weight matters. Plus there is little physical force applied to the saddle as there would be when roping a critter and dallying (wrapping) the rope around the saddle horn in order to stop or pull said critter.

The tree is carved of wood, then covered in fiberglass to add strength and durability and protect from rot. And termites, I suppose, if you have 'em. The tree is then covered in leather, with padding on the seat, etc. You can see the beginning of that process here, on what we call the swells, which is the front of the saddle. The saddle horn is under that sheepskin sleeve, which is on this one just to protect the horn while the saddle is being moved around during construction.

Notice that this tree is mounted on the base of an old barber's chair, which Richard bought and coverted so he can jack the saddle up and down while he works on it, which tends to save a lot of wear and tear on the saddlemaker's back and arms.

This is a ranch saddle. Notice the thickness of the saddle horn, designed to absorb the jerking and pulling of an uncooperative critter on the other end of the rope. This one is covered in rawhide. See the stitches where the pieces were laced together? Takes some serious skill to do that kind of work. Most saddlemakers don't construct their own trees, because its very time consuming and a real art. The rawhide is soaked until its very wet and soft, stitched into place, then shrinks up to look like this as it dries.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is so interesting to a city gal! Thanks for explanation and pics