Purchasing a new saddle is expensive! Still, riders of all of ages will shell out what they need to get a quality saddle. That’s because saddles require a lot of time, energy and material to be made. Our resident master craftsman, Denny Lowe, spent a month making a saddle and we documented his process in a video! We realize that you might have some questions, so this post is a companion for that video with information on jargon used. Whether you are looking to make a saddle yourself or just educate yourself on saddles in general, we’ve got you covered!
Think of this has an active FAQ.
Please note that this is not intended to be a complete guide on making a saddle, but it can help you get started, refresh your memory on some aspects or at least familiarize yourself with the lingo well enough to get what you want out of a saddle commission.
First, if you’ve not watched the video, you can do that below. This roughly 30-minute video takes you through all of the basic steps of putting the saddle together. So, you won’t see any tooling or shape cutting. Just tacking, minimal sewing, shaping and trimming.
Now that you’ve seen the video, below you’ll find some additional information on vocabulary and what was used including the saddle tree, the materials and the tools.
A saddle tree is the foundation of the saddle. It is what guides the basic shape of the saddle and is the structure upon which the entire thing is built. SLC does not sell saddle trees. This is one of the more common questions we get. While we cannot endorse any one vendor over another, for this particular saddle, Denny used a 15.5 inch Wade Saddle Tree from Bowden Saddle Tree Company.
Oh and if you’re wondering what that saddle tree is sitting on, it’s called a Drawdown Stand. Denny says that many people make their own, but you can also easily find one for purchase online.
Many tools are used in the process of making a saddle. Here is a list of the essentials. Of course, every tool is not included and we have not listed stamps used for tooling. Denny does a lot of tooling with an adjustable swivel knife. With that basic tool and some patterns, the possibilities are endless.
Denny has an instructional video about getting started with tooling patterns. You can view our huge selection of stamping tools here for some ideas!
He also has custom tools he came up with by using his imagination. Test some things out on scrap leather you have – you just might surprise yourself!
Now, onto the list:
- Round Knife – used for cutting out all pieces, trimming and skiving.
- Straight Knife
- French Edger
- Safety Beveler
- Edge Bevelers (standard, varying sizes)
- Hammer (standard)
- Spikes (4) – used to hold pieces into place temporarily before nailing.
Perhaps the most essential part of a saddle is the material. Well, saddles are made from leather, but that’s not quite enough to get you started is it?
Denny exclusively uses Hermann Oak leather as the base for his saddles because of its superior quality, graceful aging and because it is ideal for tooling.
The leather has to be held together somehow and sewing only goes so far. While many parts are put together with a needle and thread, there is plenty that is nailed down and some things are held together by hardware, like buckles.
For this saddle, Denny used standard one inch nails and nearly all stainless steel hardware because of its superior resistance to rust and its natural shine.
Parts of a Saddle
Below is a graphic pointing out all of the parts of Denny’s saddle. Keep scrolling for a bit of information on each part.
Horn — Culminating point of the fork; originally used for roping, but can be used as a grip.
Fork (Swell) —Provides a base for the horn and shapes the front of the saddle.
Jockeys —Placed on top of the saddle skirts; protects the rider’s legs from the friction of the rigging and the horse’s body.
Saddle Strings —Leather ties that can be used to secure additions to the saddle.
Fender —Positioned underneath the rider’s legs to protect the rider from the horse’s sweat.
Stirrup Hobble Strap —Positioned at the bottom of the fender and just before the stirrups, the hobble straps ensure that the rider does not catch their foot in the fender extension. The hobble straps also assist in holding the stirrups at the proper angle for ease and comfort of mounting and riding.
Saddle Tree —Frame and foundation for the saddle.
Stirrup— Hanging frame that holds the foot of the rider, supporting the rider in mounting and riding the horse.
Cinch Connecting Strap —Connects the front and flank cinches.
Flank Cinch —Assists in holding the back end of the saddle down.
Flank Billet —Connects the flank cinch to the rigging hardware.
Skirts —Large pieces secured underneath the saddle that protect the horse from the saddle hardware and protect the rider from the horse’s sweat.
Cantle —Portion that slopes up at the back of the seat; provides comfort and extra security for seated rider.
Seat —Holds and positions a sitting rider on the horse.
Gullet —"Tunnel" underneath the fork that provides space for the horse’s withers.