Old West Meets New

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When you sit in a Western saddle, you expect to ride in harmony with your horse. That goal leads saddlers to constantly introduce refinements to their basic constructions. Even saddles that replicate the look of the old-time cowboy rigs now offer 21st century technology to upgrade comfort and help the horse in the arena and on the trail. For 2007, we toured the hundreds of saddles on display at the Denver Western and English Market for current trends across the many Western disciplines.

PERFORMANCE THROUGH CONTACT

“Close contact” is a feature we’re seeing more often in the Western world. Variations in rigging designs help the saddle wrap around the horse, so you can position your legs closer. A three-way in-skirt rigging gives you three options for attaching the latigo: front ring, both rings, or rear ring. The new Matt Gaines cutting saddle from Martin Saddlery incorporates patent-pending adjustable rigging. “You slide and lock the rigging in four different positions,” explains Tara Farnham from Martin Saddlery. “You can get the tree off the horse’s shoulder, and put the cinch at the heart girth.” She notes that this saddle was designed by a cutting horse trainer. “The tree lets the shoulders move freely, and you can keep your feet under you,” she says. Reining and barrel racing saddles put the rider close to the horse for immediate communication. Michael Pish of Pish Saddlery designed a new drop-down rigging for barrel racing saddles. “We drop the rigging down so there’s more comfort. The saddle doesn’t roll from side to side, and the fenders swing easier,” he says. Pish also sells the Holly Ricotta saddle, designed by the California barrel racer. To keep a saddle in position and increase durability, Reinsman uses all leather in the skirts. Circle Y has a new leather no-slip skirt, in which leather replaces the sheepskin lining.

IMPROVED SEAT FOR THE RIDER

Close contact can also increase the rider’s comfort. “We have a lot of trail riders now who look for comfort,” says Ben Inman of Dakota Saddlery.

The popular flexible tree can help both horse and rider. “The flex tree is a growing part of the business. It flexes to the rider, as well as to the horse’s back,” American Saddlery’s A.J. Hughes says. Reinsman Equestrian Products uses a flex tree built with a triple strength ground seat. The Comfort Fit tree is designed to avoid over-flexing, so the tree won’t “dig in” to the horse during hard stops and tight turns. Dakota builds saddles on a full-flex tree from Steele Saddle Tree Company. “It flexes all over,” says Inman. Circle Y offers the Flex-Lite tree on many of its styles. Tucker uses a self-adjusting tree in its new GII saddle line. The bar system is flexible, made of synthetic laminate and carbon-fiber reinforced wood. “It flexes on the outside of the bar on the hips and shoulders,” says Darrell Nephew. Tucker saddles have a virgin wool felt lining, with gel-padded bars.

Tucker has also made innovations in the gel seat. Their Gen II trail saddles feature a Gen II seat system. Nephew explains, “It’s a suspended seat. A V-foam padding is memory foam that compresses with weight. The Microcell seat leather is ventilated, so the seat compresses and conforms to you.”

Another comfort feature: Circle Y features its Softee system, with pliable seat jockeys and fender leather to reduce strain on knees and ankles.

MAXIMIZING YOUR INVESTMENT

Western saddles are designed to be long lasting and withstand the hard usage of the working cowboy. Look for long warranties to indicate quality. For example, some Circle Y saddles have lifetime warranties on trees, such as the Xtreme Performance line, with trees reinforced with Kevlar. Dakota offers a 10-year warranty on its Steele trees, available in four styles: Equi-Fit, Equi-Fit Flexible, Equi-Flex, and its newest exclusive, the Equi-Fit Evolution series.

Determine what saddle tree meets your needs and budget. Basic trees are wood covered with fiberglass, wood with rawhide, or wood with bullhide. The more economical alternative is the molded tree, such as the Ralide. To increase affordability for a riding program, look at today’s broader selection of synthetic saddles. One example: Cordura nylon fabric replaces leather in product lines such as The Action Company’s Abetta models.

Weaver Leather also offers a range of saddles aimed at casual riders. Weaver’s new lightweight Deluxe Synthetic Saddles in seat sizes from 15- to 17-inch weigh in at 16 pounds. They also have leather trim and pastel leather accents. These models have a five-year warranty on the fiber-flex tree.