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.
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.