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Randy Cornelius

lightweight trail saddle request

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I have had an inquiry from a lady of small stature about building a custom saddle for her. She is requesting a saddle as light weight as possible but still be a quality saddle. She is having trouble throwing the saddle up on her horse. From talking with her I think she would like a bowman type tree. I have ideas such as using a 10/12 oz leather instead of 15 etc. Trimming up the skirts and the fenders to lighten it some but thought I would throw the idea out to see what others thought and see what other ideas were out there. I would be open to all suggestions. What about tree construction? Is there something that could be done from a custom tree makers view? She is not a roper, just trail rides and shows some I don't think the saddle will be abused from that aspect.

Would like to hear all suggestions. It's in the planning stages.

Randy

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Randy,

Last year at Sheridan, this was a pretty common thread throughout the week. Some guys are making light-weight saddles for just what you are describing. Pretty much the common thing was to cut an ounce or two here and there, it adds up, and the pounds take care of themselves. Don't try to do it all in one area.

A few of the common things - lighter weight leather in appropriate areas. plastic stirrups with light treads (or the foam treads).

Construction - smaller skirts, Mother Hubbards with skirt riggings even better. Smaller and narrower fender patterns. Narrow stirrup leathers - Blevins or a clone are made in 2". Some guys are using 1-3/4 or even 1-1/2 with other buckles. Thinner leather over the swells, cantle backs, etc - any minimal wear area for the intended use. Some guys are using some synthetic materials like Kevlar and Biothane for reinforcements. Some guys even get pretty sparing with the oil to keep them under weight. Not lining things you normally might. Leaving off the back cinch and billets unless they really want them, then that weight gain is on them.

I will let the tree folks comment on what can be done on their end. One factor to consider is that if the bars are too thin, they may not be able to have the shape on the bottom to fit. If they do, it may require more groundseat buildup to get a decent seat, which negates the thinner bars. Shortening bar length much to cut weight may also get into saddle fitting issues as well. If the saddle is not a roper, a thinner fork could be used.

Mike Craw might remember the guy's name who was with there from FL last year (the tall guy, Mike). I met him at Wickenburg again this spring. He makes a barrel saddle that is light. Good guy to talk to. Some of these guys making the better endurance saddles might have some insight too. Steve Gonzales (Bend, OR ?) has kind of a rep for light saddles.

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Bruce,

I think you're talking about the guy who works for NASA at the Cape? Carlos got business cards from EVERYBODY and I'm going down to the shop tomorrow. I'll check his card file and try to find it.

Mike

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Basically, as far as rawhide covered wood trees go, you have two factors - the weight of the wood and the weight of the hide. Bottom line is the lighter the wood, the weaker it is. Now there are differences between the wood species. Some are more flexible than others and bend more before they break. Some split lengthwise while others break across the grain. But when you compare woods overall, the lighter the wood per volume, the easier it is to break. The only ways to make a stronger tree without changing the weight would be if the same wood was used, but the wood of one tree was full of knots and the other was clear - no knots - which is definitely stronger. Or if the same wood was used, but one had lots of laminations and the other had little to no laminations. However, the makers who spend the time to laminate generally use a combination of woods, usually with at least one hardwood layer, which adds weight. In the same way, the lighter hide is lighter because it is thinner and, therefore, weaker. So you are doing a balancing act between weight and strength, and don't let anyone tell you any different. It can't be lighter and "just as strong".

Some things in the way you order the tree that might make a difference:

The width of the swells. The bigger everything is, the more wood and rawhide are there and the more it weighs. So order narrower swells. For a Bowman, get an 11" rather than a 12". Cutting back the stock thickness on the fork (the front to back measurement) actually makes very little difference because the extra is taken off the front of the lip, which has minimal wood anyway. But in reducing that side to side measurement, you are cutting quite a thick chunk of wood off each side, and the rawhide needed to cover it is less too.

The size of the cantle. Same thing here. Taller, wider cantles have more wood and rawhide than shorter, narrower ones.

Something NOT to change is amount of bar surface area needed to support the weight of this rider as determined by seat length or, preferably, the thigh length (length of bar between front point of the cantle and back of the fork where the rider's leg goes). While you might make it easier for the rider doing their three second lift of the saddle to the horse, you are increasing the PSI under those smaller bars on that horse's back for the entire duration of every ride. NOT a good trade off. If they are a small person, they will have a smaller saddle anyway. If they are a bigger person and want a lighter saddle, this is NOT the place to cut corners.

As well, the thinner the bars, the weaker they are. That trade off is just an "actual fact". And while you can have thinner bars and thicker bars that both fit well, there is a limit to the thinness of the bars. Also, you can't just "thin down" thick bars. There are too many variables and too much geometry that changes when you try to do that to expect a maker that doesn't already have a system in place to make both thicker and thinner bars to "just shave down the bars for this tree". They need to be made differently from the beginning.

Different makers use different woods for different reasons. Ask the tree makers what wood they use and why. Most hand made makers use some hardwood, at least in their forks. If weight is a real concern, find out from the tree maker what the average weight for the type of tree you need will be. But also find out what kind of bar surface area that tree has. If the tree is light because it has a minimal sized bar, you may have a sore horse and an unhappy customer. If the weight is a bit more than you want, ask what they figure they can do (or are willing to do) to make a lighter tree, and what difference in weight will result. They will generally have answers for these questions. Most tree makers have a lot more variations than they can easily tell saddle makers about. So ask.

If someone asks us for a lighter tree, we will use a thinner-than-our-normal hide, and, since some boards are heavier and some lighter, we use the lighter ones we set aside for special request lighter trees. But since we never know for sure when a saddle will be sold or how that tree will end up being used (such as the barrel racing tree we made where the husband likes the saddle so much he team ropes out of it all the time), we have a basic quality of material requirement that we choose not to go below. Every tree maker decides how they are going to deal with the question of weight differently.

And honestly, the saddle maker can make a far greater difference in weight in the finished product than the tree maker can. The last place you want to skimp on is the foundation.

Edited by Rod and Denise Nikkel

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Bruce,

The guy you were asking about is Charlie Dean. He runs C. Dean Saddles and Rapairs, 101 N. U.S. Highway 1, Oak Hill, Florida, 32759-9697. Phone is (386) 345-0808.

Mike

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I know this post is over a month old but I thought I'd ad my $.02.

As has been said, how the tree will be used is a factor. Going to the other extreem, lets say your customer can live without a horn and other parts of the saddle that have been pared down.

A side note, Steve Gonsoles in Bend, OR.(down the road from me) has a specific patened designed saddle he builds that is ultra light for the enduance riders and really has no tree as compared to traditional saddles. I'll let him explain it.

Once I reallized that I couldn't go Steve's direction when designing an endurance/trail saddle I went back to the traditional tree to see where we could lighten things up. I worked with a tree maker and mainly came up with a slick fork(no horn) with the front of the swell cut square off about where the front of the horn would be, slotted bars and the tree maker picked the wood. Either way though, I'll let tree makers confirm this statement, you can only go so light with a tree. Let's say we are looking at 6# to 7# at the lightest. The rest of the weight is in the leather and hardware.

I came up with a design that was still around 22# for the finished saddle(w/o stirrups) and it still had enough rings and ties on it for all the gear you want to tie on.In this case I used latago for the primary hide so yah it was heavier with waxes, oils and dies but it is dang near weather proof, which was the idea for this model.

It also had and english style girth setup which may or may not have reduced weight. This is a western/english 'hybid' but is rugged for it's purpose as well as in the lighter weight range that many smaller folk look for.

So I guess I am confirming what has been said, that most of your lightening up is after you get the tree issues delt with. I think we need to address the difference between most commercial saddles and custom makers. The custom maker can afford to take advantage of alternatives in materials which can offer more options. (Yes I used some synthetics in this model)Whereas in the commercial market most of their materials though still may be high quality aren't chosen for lightness, thus we have a lot of horse people out there who assume that the lighter weight saddles are either of poor quality or non-existant, meaning most good commercial saddles are heavier than they want.

Was that $.02?

G.Hackett

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