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Hello, saddlemakers!

I need some advice on where to get a good wade tree. I've been looking into building a wade saddle for myself but since I've never built a saddle before I wanted to know where I can get a good quality wade tree for a decent price. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated! 

Thank you!

-Ryan

 

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JMcC   

Good luck with that project. Sounds like fun. I can't help, but I'm sure there are others who can.

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What do you feel is a decent price?  You kind of get what you pay for with saddle trees.   Even halfway decent production trees are $300-$400 anymore.  The handmade trees seem to start around $600.  I think the next handmade tree I order, I'm going to give Dusty Smith of WYO Custom Saddles a shot.  He trained under Rod Nikkel, and I've liked what I've seen from him so far.  But there are many good makers out there.  Otherwise, I have bought several production trees from Timberline and been fairly pleased.  Their trees are a little "neater" and the rawhiding a little nicer than the other production companies.

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Sonny Felkin at Quality MFG makes some nice wade trees.  Rawhide work is very nice.  He is an older guy that is a wealth of information. Not the cheapest for  sure.  But worth the price.

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3 hours ago, Big Sioux Saddlery said:

What do you feel is a decent price?  You kind of get what you pay for with saddle trees.   Even halfway decent production trees are $300-$400 anymore.  The handmade trees seem to start around $600.  I think the next handmade tree I order, I'm going to give Dusty Smith of WYO Custom Saddles a shot.  He trained under Rod Nikkel, and I've liked what I've seen from him so far.  But there are many good makers out there.  Otherwise, I have bought several production trees from Timberline and been fairly pleased.  Their trees are a little "neater" and the rawhiding a little nicer than the other production companies.

I was thinking $400-$500 but if a couple hundred bucks more make a difference I can do that, too. Might as well spend a little more and do it right the first time. I've been looking at Rod Nikkel trees but unsure about the pricing. I'll also look at Timberline and see what's there. I have a question about the rawhide. Do production trees have only cow rawhide? Do they also use bull rawhide? I've heard that bull rawhide is thicker and stronger than cow rawhide but I've only seen bull rawhide used in handmade trees.

Thank you for your help!

-Ryan

3 hours ago, Ken Nelson said:

Sonny Felkin at Quality MFG makes some nice wade trees.  Rawhide work is very nice.  He is an older guy that is a wealth of information. Not the cheapest for  sure.  But worth the price.

Thanks! About how much does he ask for his trees?

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10 minutes ago, Rolandranch said:

I was thinking $400-$500 but if a couple hundred bucks more make a difference I can do that, too. Might as well spend a little more and do it right the first time. I've been looking at Rod Nikkel trees but unsure about the pricing. I'll also look at Timberline and see what's there. I have a question about the rawhide. Do production trees have only cow rawhide? Do they also use bull rawhide? I've heard that bull rawhide is thicker and stronger than cow rawhide but I've only seen bull rawhide used in handmade trees.

Thank you for your help!

-Ryan

If you are willing to spend 400-500 on a tree, by all means go with a handmade tree.  Rod Nikkel quit making trees at least a year ago, and sold all of his equipment, I think.  

I may be mistaken, but I don't think that the hand made tree guys exclusively use bull hide.  And I might be mistaken about this as well, but it isn't so much about thickness (to a point) as it is a nice, tight job of rawhiding.  The thicker the hide, the harder it will be to get it to suck down tight into every place that it needs to be.   I'd like a tree maker to verify this for me, but with just the amount of rawhiding I've done personally,  I think using the right parts of a decent cowhide would be thick enough for most trees.  The other end of the spectrum would be the cheap Mexican trees covered with multiple pieces of goat rawhide just nailed and tacked to the tree. It's thin enough to tear by hand.

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I read in a saddlery book (I think the Harry Adams one, but that's off the top of my head) that the difference between "cowhide" rawhide and "bullhide" rawhide was that one had been split while the other had not. I wasn't sure that I bought this when I read it, as I doubt that they run raw hides through a splitter. I've never worked in a tannery, so I don't actually know. I do know that when I worked in a butcher shop we never sorted the hides out, although if we had they would almost exclusively be in a "steerhide" pile. Just random thoughts that this conversation brought to mind. 

Ryan, you might look into Bowden trees. They are not as nice as Timberline or Quality Mfg's but the ones I've got from them have been fine. Cost is about $300 last I checked. 

All the best, Josh

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I have made several saddles on Wade trees by Bowden.  They have all been perfect in every way.  All are symmetrical and well-made.  You can't beat it for the price.  I have used other makers as well, but found that I was just paying more for no discernible inccrease in quality.

 

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Bull hide is heavy rawhides that have not been leveled or split and they do split rawhide.  There is no comparison between a Bowden Tree and a Quality tree.  Quality is a much better made tree and it shows too.   I have been using Lewis Trees out of Hereford TX for the past 7 or 8 years.  The man I build all these saddles for  specifies them.  I have built a lot  of saddles on them over the last 8 years and have yet to have one come back for any reason.  These guys that are riding my saddles are COWBOYS Deluxe and they use them hard.  That said they are somewhat harder to nail to and drive screws in than a rawhide tree.  They are good guys to do business with. 

I used Sonny's trees for a long time and if I was not building for a man that specifies Lewis Trees I would still use his trees on at least part of the saddles I build.   I cannot say anything bad about Timberline these days but at one time, a long time ago,  I felt they had some quality control issues but a friend of mine and as good a saddle maker as I know swears by them the last 10 years.   I used 2 Bowden trees about 10 years ago and was sorely disappointed with both and the last ones I saw, I was not impressed with, but that is just me.  I know some guys that like them and maybe I am missing something with them but I doubt it. 

This is all my opinion, with the exception of the rawhide thing and that was told to me by Harry Adams in person.  Harry had owned a tree company at one time and KNEW Rawhide.   HTH

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According to what Harry told me, and if I remember correctly,  Bullhide isn't necessarily off of a bull.  It is just full thickness off of a mature heavy hided bovine.  The Australian Ringers that worked for me were amazing rawhide braiders.  All of them that braided rawhide, swore  that the best rawhide you could get was off of an old, thin (very thin) hereford cow.   More glue in the rawhide.   BTW it is called green hide down there.

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Thanks, guys for all the advice. I will definitely look into all the options given. Thank you, Ken, for explaining rawhide to me. That helps and clears up a few questions I had.

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I believe Ken is correct in stating that bullhide is simply the heaviest, unsplit hides available.  They may or may not be from a bull.  Likewise, hides that are called steer hides are not necessarily from steers.  As I understand it, they are classified by weight and size when still in a raw state, and labeled accordingly.

I can verify that the best rawhide comes from an old skinny cow, the thinner the better.  The hide off a thin cow cuts up smooth and glassy, whereas a hide from a fat critter has too much grease in it to work up nice.  I have been told that the only difference between hides from black critters or hides from red critters (all else being equal) is that the red hides have a better, lighter color.  The black hides do produce a fairly dark rawhide and the only red hides I've had came from calves, so it isn't really a fair comparison.  Sorry, I guess we've gotten a long way from the Wade tree!

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Aussies used to claim the hereford hides were tighter grained and like you said better color.  I don't do braid work but admire those that are good at it.   A good 64 strand bosal is a thing of beauty and good tool on a horse.

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Thank you all for all the help.

Now I have another question about trees...

When I'm riding and my horse decides to get stupid and starts crow-hopping or something I like to bring my heels up to the shoulders for grip and to absorb the shock so I don't fly over the swells. However, all the saddles I've ridden in have their stirrup leathers is such a way that makes it pretty difficult to get the stirrups to where I'd like them. How could I modify my future saddle so the stirrup leathers can move up easily? Is it in the saddle making process or the tree making process?

Here's an old tree to show what I mean. (Also, does anyone know of someone who re-rawhides trees? This isn't the style of tree I want but I may build off of it someday or sell it.)

  2487579327847595861.jpg.d77499659fea82d4d021f85850231d3b.jpg

 

Would cutting the ground seat in such a way help?

tree.jpg.5cf5637b42dc0074f3ef9789389b3ec3.jpg

Thanks,

-Ryan

Edited by Rolandranch

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Stirrup slots in the ground seat like you have drawn in the second picture would definitely help obtain some forward swing to your stirrup leathers.  However, the pattern of the rigging also plays a big part in how free they feel.  If most of the saddles you've ridden have locked your feet back behind you, chances are you've ridden mostly arena roping saddles.  Arena ropers don't want free swinging stirrups.   When I was in high school, I had an Arab mare that liked to crow hop every once in a while.  I was riding an old Hereford roping saddle at the time.  I could stick with that mare better bareback I think than in that saddle.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the saddle was positioning me to get dumped.  Once I switched to a saddle that I could get my feet ahead a little when she dropped her head, I could ride her easy.  A lot of the arena roping saddles have the rigging leather actually taking the place of the front bar riser, with a lot of leather behind the swell to keep that stirrup leather back there.  I've even seen binds to keep the leathers back on some roping saddles.  Most of the saddles I build go out to the country to guys who are going to do a little of everything on them, but not much arena roping.  They want something that they can ride in for hours, and I usually try to get as much freedom in the stirrup leathers as possible.  The style of the fork can have some effect also.  A cut-under style front like in your picture will allow for more forward swing than a swell with no cut-under that comes further down and further back on the bar.

On re-rawhiding the tree, unless it is a really high quality tree to start with, and/or the leather parts are still in good condition, I wouldn't bother.  If you have to replace all or most of the leather parts, you might as well start over with a decent tree and have something when you're done.  That however, is just my opinion:).

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Ryan,

Do you want a bronc saddle or a working saddle?  I've read the replies to your tree questions; however, I keep wondering:  "what kind of saddle do you want to build?"  Do you want a ranch, roping,  trail, pleasure, mounted shooting, or reining/penning style saddle.  Forward swing is okay for some events, and there are always people that want a lot of forward swing; but that doesn't mean that it is the correct way to ride.  When laying out your stirrup leather slots, you have to take into account your rigging placement and rider BALANCE.  When you throw your legs forward, you are placing yourself off balance; thus, your body moves backward.  Being young you may have the strength to adjust and hang on, but wait till you age.  Balance will be your friend when you're in your 60's.

I've added some lines to your photo to show you that moving your stirrup leathers forward affect how you'll place your rigging plates.  My drawings show roughly a flatplate design.  You can see that if you cut into your front rigging position, you weaken the area that supports the front ring.  Forward swing can be increased with lighter leather for the rigging rings, but is this what you want?

5a582227b78ea_tree_jpg_5cf5637b42dc0074f3ef9789389b3ec3-Copy.jpg.3b76096fd8fe0590a973e984acd769df.jpg

Blue line is rigging plate.  Yellow line is the one you drew. and the green line is where the forward most edge should be for the stirrup leather slot.  As you can see, if you cut out the forward yellow line, you decrease the amount of leather supporting your ring.  If you ride up and over the rigging plate, you create a lump under your leg.  Take into account that the rear swell edge of the rigging plate is usually skived thinner than the front to begin with, but skiving it more to allow for forward swing weakens your plate.  I suggest you do a little more research in designs, styles, and rider placement.

Ron

Edited by Northmount
Removed dead space

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2 hours ago, Big Sioux Saddlery said:

Stirrup slots in the ground seat like you have drawn in the second picture would definitely help obtain some forward swing to your stirrup leathers.  However, the pattern of the rigging also plays a big part in how free they feel.  If most of the saddles you've ridden have locked your feet back behind you, chances are you've ridden mostly arena roping saddles.  Arena ropers don't want free swinging stirrups.   When I was in high school, I had an Arab mare that liked to crow hop every once in a while.  I was riding an old Hereford roping saddle at the time.  I could stick with that mare better bareback I think than in that saddle.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the saddle was positioning me to get dumped.  Once I switched to a saddle that I could get my feet ahead a little when she dropped her head, I could ride her easy.  A lot of the arena roping saddles have the rigging leather actually taking the place of the front bar riser, with a lot of leather behind the swell to keep that stirrup leather back there.  I've even seen binds to keep the leathers back on some roping saddles.  Most of the saddles I build go out to the country to guys who are going to do a little of everything on them, but not much arena roping.  They want something that they can ride in for hours, and I usually try to get as much freedom in the stirrup leathers as possible.  The style of the fork can have some effect also.  A cut-under style front like in your picture will allow for more forward swing than a swell with no cut-under that comes further down and further back on the bar.

On re-rawhiding the tree, unless it is a really high quality tree to start with, and/or the leather parts are still in good condition, I wouldn't bother.  If you have to replace all or most of the leather parts, you might as well start over with a decent tree and have something when you're done.  That however, is just my opinion:).

To be honest, most of the saddles I've ridden in are roper saddles. That explains a lot. It's funny you mentioned your Arab mare crow hopping. A month or two ago, I was riding my Quarter Horse/Tennesee Walker mare without any riding aids. No saddle, no reins, nothing but a halter that didn't do me any good since I didn't have anything attached to it. Anyways, we were going down a dirt road at a slow gallop when a car pulled out ahead. I asked her to slow by placing my heels on her shoulders (that usually works) but she was kinda buddy sour that day and didn't want to slow so she dropped her head and began crow hopping. I grabbed a hand full of mane and rode it the best I could. I tried to imitate saddle bronc motions and it actually felt pretty smooth. She didn't twist or spin so I didn't fall off. I got some weird looks for the folks in the car so I just waved and smiled like it was all part of the show. Ok back to the saddle. What effect do you think wade swells will have on the forward swing of the stirrup leathers as opposed to a swell-fork? As far as the rawhiding goes, a saddlemaker friend of mine and my farrier say that it's a Bull Moose and worth saving but I haven't decided on what to do with it yet. 

-Ryan

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2 hours ago, Goldshot Ron said:

Ryan,

Do you want a bronc saddle or a working saddle?  I've read the replies to your tree questions; however, I keep wondering:  "what kind of saddle do you want to build?"  Do you want a ranch, roping,  trail, pleasure, mounted shooting, or reining/penning style saddle.  Forward swing is okay for some events, and there are always people that want a lot of forward swing; but that doesn't mean that it is the correct way to ride.  When laying out your stirrup leather slots, you have to take into account your rigging placement and rider BALANCE.  When you throw your legs forward, you are placing yourself off balance; thus, your body moves backward.  Being young you may have the strength to adjust and hang on, but wait till you age.  Balance will be your friend when you're in your 60's.

I've added some lines to your photo to show you that moving your stirrup leathers forward affect how you'll place your rigging plates.  My drawings show roughly a flatplate design.  You can see that if you cut into your front rigging position, you weaken the area that supports the front ring.  Forward swing can be increased with lighter leather for the rigging rings, but is this what you want?

5a582227b78ea_tree_jpg_5cf5637b42dc0074f3ef9789389b3ec3-Copy.jpg.3b76096fd8fe0590a973e984acd769df.jpg

Blue line is rigging plate.  Yellow line is the one you drew. and the green line is where the forward most edge should be for the stirrup leather slot.  As you can see, if you cut out the forward yellow line, you decrease the amount of leather supporting your ring.  If you ride up and over the rigging plate, you create a lump under your leg.  Take into account that the rear swell edge of the rigging plate is usually skived thinner than the front to begin with, but skiving it more to allow for forward swing weakens your plate.  I suggest you do a little more research in designs, styles, and rider placement.

Ron

Thanks, Ron. You actually nailed the kind of saddle I want to build. I want a working bronc saddle. I need a strong saddle to break horses, to pony young horses, and long trail rides. In other words, a saddle to handle everything about horse training. I'm still a young and a learning horse trainer so I agree that I do need to work more on my balance. For about a year I've been riding bareback at least one mile every day except on most Wednesdays and days I'm sick. Last week I was on a 7 mile bareback trail ride and I think it helps a lot with balance. When I grip the shoulders with my heels and lean back is when the horse's front is coming down from a jump or buck and I need to put my feet in front of me in order to catch myself. I've watched my brothers go over and into the dirt when trying to grip the horse's side instead of swinging their feet up and catching themselves. While on trail rides I'm often yelling at them, "Heels down and toes pointed out!" I see what you're saying about the rigging plate and skiving. From the top of my head, I would say I would skive it to get the free-swinging motion in the stirrup leathers but how much do you think it would affect the strength of the plate?

Thanks,

-Ryan

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7 hours ago, Rolandranch said:

To be honest, most of the saddles I've ridden in are roper saddles. That explains a lot. It's funny you mentioned your Arab mare crow hopping. A month or two ago, I was riding my Quarter Horse/Tennesee Walker mare without any riding aids. No saddle, no reins, nothing but a halter that didn't do me any good since I didn't have anything attached to it. Anyways, we were going down a dirt road at a slow gallop when a car pulled out ahead. I asked her to slow by placing my heels on her shoulders (that usually works) but she was kinda buddy sour that day and didn't want to slow so she dropped her head and began crow hopping. I grabbed a hand full of mane and rode it the best I could. I tried to imitate saddle bronc motions and it actually felt pretty smooth. She didn't twist or spin so I didn't fall off. I got some weird looks for the folks in the car so I just waved and smiled like it was all part of the show. Ok back to the saddle. What effect do you think wade swells will have on the forward swing of the stirrup leathers as opposed to a swell-fork? As far as the rawhiding goes, a saddlemaker friend of mine and my farrier say that it's a Bull Moose and worth saving but I haven't decided on what to do with it yet. 

-Ryan

I bet you did get funny looks from the folks in the car!  I personally am not a fan of Wade saddles; I am a swell fork girl, always have been.  Part of that could be that I've never ridden a Wade that I built for myself.  I'm not very big, and the Wades I've ridden have been a couple inches too big for me, but I like my swell fork saddles, so I haven't been motivated to build a Wade for myself.  I think you should be able to get all the forward movement with a Wade that you would want.  Comparing it to a swell fork is a very general comparison, because there is so much difference in swell forks.  A front with a lot of undercut and leg cut, such as that Bull Moose, will allow for more forward swing than something with less undercut and no leg cut and a big rounded front, but even with those you can usually get all the forward swing you'd need.  Understand also, there is a difference between forward swing and forward hung.  You do want your saddle to be balanced in that your stirrups hang underneath you, and for the most part, stay there.  Stirrups hung too far forward can be as bad as hung too far back.  Use the slots in the underside of the bars as a guide for your top slots.  For me, the goal is to be able to swing ahead if needed.  People who have never ridden anything but western saddles don't realize how much they depend on that 3" stirrup leather to stabilize their legs until they ride an English saddle, and then their legs fly forward because they have been bracing with their feet against 3" stirrup leathers and 8" fenders and don't even realize it.  Bareback is great for balance, and I had to ride bareback until I was big enough to saddle my own horse, but try riding an English saddle once.  I won't say it's more difficult than riding bareback, but it is sure different, especially the so-called "Lane Fox" cutback flat saddles used on the show walkers and Saddlebreds, as there are no knee rolls or thigh blocks on those. 

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When I was young and on BIG ranches, you could get fired off of most of them for sticking a horse  with your spurs  in the shoulders. And most of them had at least a few horses in the remuda that could have earned a living as broncs going down the road to rodeos.  I have seen rank horses rode in everything from Will James Trees to Chuck Shepard trees.  Just a matter how well you can ride.  The saddle can be an advantage or disadvantage.  Depends on how well it is balanced.  You will  have a better chance in a cowboy ( swell fork) saddle if it is well balanced than you will an arena roping saddle.  And the ultimate advantage will probably be a  small form fitter, which I have never seen a really good cowboy ride. However,  if a horse ever goes down with you,  you will probably be severely injured or killed.  They were regularly  referred to as suicide traps in my youth.  I have never rode one and would not. 

If you think you want a saddle that rides like a bronc saddle, you haven't rode one very much.  They are made to contest in PERIOD.  They are not comfortable to ride and I would think extremely hard to ride a cowhorse in correctly.  BTW  I rode a Hamley  Gold Seal bronc saddle for a couple of summers and it did "leak" more than I liked it too.

If you want to ride colts, the first thing to learn is how to keep them from bucking.  And learn to ride better.  

Just my 2 cents worth. 

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oltoot   

Check out a PRCA spec bronc saddle closely and note that stirrup leathers go under the front pads of the tree to be locked forward, as previously noted, not comfy for prolonged use and not very horse friendly. Stirrup slots underneath must stop where they do to leave some weight distribution area. Everything about rigging placement, ground seat design, etc that can be said has been said; that said trees are like saddles, cheap is not necessarily good.

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5 hours ago, Big Sioux Saddlery said:

I bet you did get funny looks from the folks in the car!  I personally am not a fan of Wade saddles; I am a swell fork girl, always have been.  Part of that could be that I've never ridden a Wade that I built for myself.  I'm not very big, and the Wades I've ridden have been a couple inches too big for me, but I like my swell fork saddles, so I haven't been motivated to build a Wade for myself.  I think you should be able to get all the forward movement with a Wade that you would want.  Comparing it to a swell fork is a very general comparison, because there is so much difference in swell forks.  A front with a lot of undercut and leg cut, such as that Bull Moose, will allow for more forward swing than something with less undercut and no leg cut and a big rounded front, but even with those you can usually get all the forward swing you'd need.  Understand also, there is a difference between forward swing and forward hung.  You do want your saddle to be balanced in that your stirrups hang underneath you, and for the most part, stay there.  Stirrups hung too far forward can be as bad as hung too far back.  Use the slots in the underside of the bars as a guide for your top slots.  For me, the goal is to be able to swing ahead if needed.  People who have never ridden anything but western saddles don't realize how much they depend on that 3" stirrup leather to stabilize their legs until they ride an English saddle, and then their legs fly forward because they have been bracing with their feet against 3" stirrup leathers and 8" fenders and don't even realize it.  Bareback is great for balance, and I had to ride bareback until I was big enough to saddle my own horse, but try riding an English saddle once.  I won't say it's more difficult than riding bareback, but it is sure different, especially the so-called "Lane Fox" cutback flat saddles used on the show walkers and Saddlebreds, as there are no knee rolls or thigh blocks on those. 

I agree. I like how my roper saddle's stirrups are hung. I wouldn't want them to hang any further forward. I "earned" an old English saddle from a friend for riding an x dressage thoroughbred 16 miles and fixing his bad crow hopping problem. Later, another friend gave me my first (and last) English riding lesson with that English saddle and I was riding my x dressage 16 hand Hanoverian. It was very different. So different that I wouldn't even go to a lope because I thought it would be way to easy to fall off and 16 hands is a long way down. :) It was a good experience, though. My 11-year-old sister broke her ankle a few weeks ago from falling off a bareback horse. I can saddle my horse but I still ride bareback a lot because I'm too lazy to carry a saddle down to the horse corral and saddle a horse when I could already be 3 miles away bareback. I was told by my riding teachers that I ride "well-enough to not need swells". They said a Wade would work well for me and if I felt that I needed swells I could add bucking rolls. I've never ridden with bucking rolls so I don't know how they would feel.

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4 hours ago, Ken Nelson said:

When I was young and on BIG ranches, you could get fired off of most of them for sticking a horse  with your spurs  in the shoulders. And most of them had at least a few horses in the remuda that could have earned a living as broncs going down the road to rodeos.  I have seen rank horses rode in everything from Will James Trees to Chuck Shepard trees.  Just a matter how well you can ride.  The saddle can be an advantage or disadvantage.  Depends on how well it is balanced.  You will  have a better chance in a cowboy ( swell fork) saddle if it is well balanced than you will an arena roping saddle.  And the ultimate advantage will probably be a  small form fitter, which I have never seen a really good cowboy ride. However,  if a horse ever goes down with you,  you will probably be severely injured or killed.  They were regularly  referred to as suicide traps in my youth.  I have never rode one and would not. 

If you think you want a saddle that rides like a bronc saddle, you haven't rode one very much.  They are made to contest in PERIOD.  They are not comfortable to ride and I would think extremely hard to ride a cowhorse in correctly.  BTW  I rode a Hamley  Gold Seal bronc saddle for a couple of summers and it did "leak" more than I liked it too.

If you want to ride colts, the first thing to learn is how to keep them from bucking.  And learn to ride better.  

Just my 2 cents worth. 

I think I see what you mean about how the saddle can be an advantage or disadvantage. On my first ride with my first horse, my horse reared and flipped over. I was in a slick fork and was able to bail-out in time. Can you explain some of the pros and cons of slick forks and swell forks? The saddles I ride in are all slick forks. I've ridden in a few swell forks but not long enough to compare an contrast it to slick forks. No, I don't want to ride in a bronc saddle (unless competing in the rodeo). I just want the leathers to be a little more free than my roper saddles. If my horse starts acting up I try my best to keep it under control by one-reining or doing more groundwork before I even get on. I don't want my horse to buck but I do want to be ready for the worst because those animals are a lot bigger and stronger than me so if they decide to buck... they're gonna buck. 

Thanks for the help (It's worth a lot more than 2 cents to me).

-Ryan

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