Archive for April 2012 | Monthly archive page
Since the founding of the TCAA in 1998, I have built nearly twenty unique, collector category saddles for an average price of nearly $30,000, all of which have been collaborations with some very good silversmiths (Scott Hardy, Mark Drain, Mark Dahl, R. Schaezlein & Son) Almost all of them took over a year from the first stages of design to their completion and all of them had design features and techniques that I had never before attempted. Some had aspects that, to my knowledge, had never been executed by anyone. A few of them have been collaborations with three or four other craftsmen (silver, rawhide, hardware, tree, leather). The artistic and technical challenges this work has presented has been very gratifying to me personally. Working closely with a great silversmith has added another important measure of satisfaction as well.
Virtually every saddle I make is considered a one-of-a-kind project but if you are interested in a saddle that transcends the working class category in to the realm of fine art, I would like to invite you to attend the TCAA show opening at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City in mid-October (link!). I also produce work at this level on a commission basis. Give me call for details about museum quality saddles for the discriminating collector.
“The best saddles made are those that have a successful blend of function and art. This is the goal for every saddle I build whether plain or fancy.”
Over the years, I have approached fine craftsmanship as a process…a journey of refinement. There has been an ongoing, deliberate effort to make the next saddle better than the last. It is a study of integrating function and art, the two ideals at the heart of fine craftsmanship. This commitment has required a certain amount of sacrifice, but it has produced work that is continually evolving and growing. As I operate within this context, you will find that my process is slower than many. I produce fewer saddles in a year’s time than most folks who are making a living at it. In the end, I have a fewer number of customers to keep track of, who can be assured that the work I do for them will have my full attention.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the many saddlemakers who have gone before me, some of whom I’ve had the privilege to learn from directly. I’d also like to thank my contemporaries, and the great artists/craftsmen within the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association. Their dedication, creativity, and friendship have made a difference in my work and in my life.
Better horsemanship begins with paying careful attention to details.
One of those details that figure into the larger picture is adequate care and maintenance of the one thing you use every time you swing a leg over your horse: your saddle. The quality of care you give your saddle should match the quality of care you give your horse.
People often ask me what products and procedures I recommend for care and maintenance of their new saddle (or their old one for that matter). There are a number of things that you can do to keep your saddle looking and working great for many years.
Proper cleaning is perhaps the most neglected and misunderstood part of taking care of leather goods. It is also one of the most important things you can do to extend the life of your saddle. More than ever before on ranches, horses are trailered to where the riding begins. Nothing coats a saddle with dust quicker and more thoroughly than in the back of a trailer on the back of a horse on an unpaved road. Arena and round corral work can be dusty at times as well.
Airborne dust particles will tend to be very fine and will therefore find their way easily into the layers, seams, and pores of the saddle. Folks would do well to knock the dust off their saddle at the end of each day with a dry piece of sheepskin. Thorough washing using saddle soap is recommended at least once per year depending on the amount of use the saddle has seen.
All you need is a tin of saddle soap, a sponge and plenty of warm water to flush clear the area you are cleaning. Moisture will cause damage only if the leather is not allowed to dry within a day or so. This process will clean off the dirt on the surface, and will also open the pores in the leather and float out dirt particles that have penetrated.
Thoroughly clean any piece that may come into contact with the horse such as fenders, stirrup leathers, billets, and the back cinch. Warm moisture from the horse penetrates very readily into the leather and carries with it salts and dirt that should be removed with a thorough washing with saddle soap.
Allow the leather to dry, and then apply a leather conditioner. If the leather appears to be particularly dry, use a high grade of oil to replace what time and washing have removed. I use 100% pure neatsfoot oil. Oil should be used sparingly unless the leather is very dry. Over-oiling will only add unnecessary weight to the saddle, will darken the leather and may bleed out in hot weather. Too much oil will eventually break down the fiber in the leather as well. Other leather conditioner products that I’ve used include Ray Holes Saddle Butter and R.M. Williams Saddle Dressing. These products have waxes in them that help seal off the leather so that dirt and salts will not penetrate so readily.
Once again it is important to apply these wax-based products when the leather is warmed to room temperature or outside on a warm day. Saddle butter or dressing will tend to cake onto the leather, especially in the carved or stamped areas. In order to render these products into the leather, a hand-held blow dryer can help, along with plenty of hand rubbing. The wax will melt, soak into the pores, and then solidify as it cools. After application it is a good idea to buff off any excess butter with a scrap of sheepskin so that the surface of the leather is not sticky. A smooth finish will repel dust better than an oily or sticky surface.
Written for Eclectic Horseman Magazine