This Old Saddle

Aug 1, 2017 | West Coast Horseman

The first saddle I actually owned came with a horse I purchased. The sellers were trying to sweeten the deal and I went for it. Looking back I should have known something was a’muck. The horse’s name was Elvis!  

It was  an older saddle of the Western Pleasure persuasion with nice stitching and a padded seat, which also had nice stitching. It wasn’t very comfortable for me nor did it fit the horse very well–a loose loose deal. But it was mine and it was all I had to ride in, so I used the daylights out of it. Mind you this was  pre “Saddle fit Experts”.

The next saddle to come into my life was new and purchased for $275.00. It was a barrel racing style of saddle and we planned to use it on a young four year old gelding. It was light and looked pretty good but we later discovered it didn’t really fit the horse although it was quite comfortable for us to be in. We rode in that saddle for years before noticing white marks around the withers. Amazingly the horse never once showed signs of discomfort, although I’m sure he must have been. 

In 2002 I was getting serious about my horsemanship and decided I needed a saddle that would fit my needs and fit a lot of different horses. I was far from being an expert but I was now under the teaching of some good horsemen who knew much more than myself. At least now I was aware of how a horse moved and how a saddle might best fit a horse.

Saddle number three entered my life. The running joke for a while was: I had spent so much on that saddle. If my horse happened to fall into a lake, I would have to save the saddle first then go back for the horse! Not long after that purchase I started riding horses for the public, thus acquiring a number of saddles to use in the barn. Most of them were what I called “45-minute saddles”. They all fit the horses pretty well but they’re all hard seats and did not fit me well at all. 

I kept more horses in training back then so my day consisted of riding seven or eight horses all for about 45 minutes to an hour. I still use these saddles today (they are of the Wade persuasion but really just an A-fork style).  Since they’re ”Off-the-shelf” saddles, none have a ground seat built for a human’s butt. They’re more like sitting on a log.   

It wasn’t until 2015 that I made the decision to have a custom saddle built. I worked with Jim Kiss from Boot Hill Saddlery to design a saddle that would again fit my needs and the horses I ride, but also fit my clients needs. This saddle is called “The Bauhr Ranch Saddle”.

We used a Will James tree for the foundation made from quality wood wrapped in rawhide.  We then covered it with Herman Oak Leather and left it roughed out, with only the skirts being tooled. I had a small seat pad installed because at times I’m in it for more than 45 mins and since I have no butt, the pad makes a world of difference. This saddle fits a large number of horse bodies and with a few pad adjustments fits most everything I ride.

The Will James tree is for a working stock saddle actually designed by the famous cowboy author Will James. This style of tree has gone in and out of fashion for almost 100 years now. What I liked was its versatility. 

As I mentioned earlier it fits a lot of different horse bodies and it certainly fits my body. It’s built tough enough to rope from, drop on the ground, get rolled in by your horse and suffer little to no damage. It has a large pommel or swell and its seat is deeper than most dressage saddles. As Jim says, “No saddle is leak proof but this one’s hard to get thrown out of.” Since designing it, Jim’s sold a few to clients who are still happy with it.

So what’s the real point behind this article? I’m not sure that there is one. I’m mostly just rambling on. It does bring to mind a few thoughts about saddles and the horses who wear them:

  • When you’re starting a horse, it’s the saddle and the cinch that are the main issues.
  • A horse must be properly “Saddle Broke” before they can be broke to ride. I meet horses that have been ridden for years, yet if I were to rope and pull up on a stirrup while they’re moving, they would try to outrun the saddle from fear of what it just did. These horses were not properly saddle broke when they were started. 
  • The next issue is riding in the saddle. A horses back is flexible soft and moving when they’re moving. We then have a saddle which is stiff and for the most part static sitting on the horses back. Now let’s add a rider who’s supposed to be moving and…well…you know…the problems begin. 

In every case perfection or total harmony between these three parts in unattainable. When I see friends going down the “Saddle Fit Drain“, I feel for them. It can sometimes lead to a small fortune spent on saddles, pads, chiropractors, body workers, and worse yet, not riding the horse. The best way I’ve found to manage this issue is the hands on approach. 

After riding a horse, I remove the saddle and rub a bit on the areas that make contact with the pad and saddle. It’s a daily check that I myself can monitor. If I see any outward signs of poor fit or discomfort, I address it. If not, I don’t change things. Once I know the horses are okay, what about me? If I’m riding a saddle that’s killing me in discomfort, chances are I won’t be riding long or much at all. While I am riding in a poor fitting saddle, I’m moving around. A lot! This can sore a horse just as fast as a poor fit. Which brings me to another point: 

When I have attended saddle fit workshops I’ve seen many unbalanced, braced and nervous riders. All of that makes its way right into the horses back. In many of these cases in which horses are coming up sore, their owners would be far better served spending their time and money on riding lessons. 

Lastly, a nice fitting saddle is just like a well broke pair of work boots. You look forward to putting them on and doing a days work. A saddle can become a friend that has shared all the same experiences with horses that you have. If you’ve already found one, you’re among the lucky. If not, I wish you good luck in the search. Remembering though, as with all things, you always get exactly what you pay for. 

See ya out there.