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DirtyDusty

Building my first mule saddle

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So getting my patterns made and starting to layout, using the Jeremiah watt method. Came to my next question. In the video he has a triangle shaped riser in the front of his plug. When I laid mine out, there isn’t much room for the front to go all the way down. As you can see by the dotted line, I will be running part of it up in the fork. Is this correct?  In am thinking I need to just slice that part till it blends, and go all the way to the bottom of the bar.

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I skive along the swells to create a smooth transition. I would arc the riser forward at the bottom to give you something to skive to create a transition there. Just curve it around the swell. I'm sure there are other methods, but that's what I would do. 

BTW, nice looking tree. 

Randy

Edited by rktaylor
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1 minute ago, rktaylor said:

I skive along the swells to create a smooth transition. I would arc the riser forward at the bottom to give you something to skive to create a transition there. Just curve it around the swell. I'm sure there are other methods, but that's what I would do. 

Randy

So instead of a straight dotted line, make that cut an arch, to spread the transition?

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I think the dotted line on the swells is fine. I would have the riser at least 3/4" wide from the swell to the edge of the bar. That let's you keep the riser at full width along the stirrup slot and skive a transition for the ground seat. Sorry I don't have a photo. 

Randy

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I'm going to back up and ask what your rigging plans are.  You can't think about this one piece at a time. That's a mistake that I still make on occasion. 

Randy

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15 minutes ago, rktaylor said:

I think the dotted line on the swells is fine. I would have the riser at least 3/4" wide from the swell to the edge of the bar. That let's you keep the riser at full width along the stirrup slot and skive a transition for the ground seat. Sorry I don't have a photo. 

Randy

I understand what you are saying. As far as rigging I was looking at doing a dee rig in the 7/8 position. Like the Al Stohlman dee rig. Figured it would help keep it lighter. I am using 13/15 skirting.  

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There may be better methods, but this is what I did on my last saddle with a dee rigging. The riser ends near the bottom of the swell. The rigging is skived to match the riser thickness and then follows the front edge of the stirrup slot. It slides up under the ground seat. This is closer to a full position than 7/8. More experienced makers might frown on this, but it worked for me. 

Randy

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Finally got a day off to get a little work done on it. Had a few questions before I get too far ahead. 

I got my plugs and risers in, Lined my strainer, and wanted to make sure it looks like it’s set right. I have some arch in it, up until it starts to curve upwards. At that point, it flattens back out. Looking from behind, it looks like there isn’t much clearance for the spine.  Is this enough?

The side view is how it will be sitting on the mules back.   Does the slope look ok?

in the mock up, I have the lining, for the strainer, under the front tabs. Should I pull it back out, so that the excess will pull out of the way far enough?

Any other issues you see?

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I personally like a little more and consistent rise going toward the swells but that's a preference. Are you following Watt's method on the ground seat? I suppose Stohlman's method isn't a lot different if those are the two resources you are using. While the strainer is the foundation, you can still do a lot of shaping with leather (with a lot of skiving). I fit the liner under the front tabs, but make sure you have enough to stretch over the finished ground seat. 

Randy

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3 minutes ago, rktaylor said:

I personally like a little more and consistent rise going toward the swells but that's a preference. Are you following Watt's method on the ground seat? I suppose Stohlman's method isn't a lot different if those are the two resources you are using. While the strainer is the foundation, you can still do a lot of shaping with leather (with a lot of skiving). I fit the liner under the front tabs, but make sure you have enough to stretch over the finished ground seat. 

Randy

Yes, I am following watts method. The strainer will still come down about 1/4” behind the stirrup slot. I just tacked a couple nails in place, nothing was driven down.  It shows laying the first layer down 2/3rd the way back, and sloping up to the swell.  Then the next piece goes from the swell all the way back to the dish, a couple inches shy of the rim. Then a cantle filler for a Cheyenne roll. I am doing a straight up cantle, so I am wondering if I need to run my 2nd piece of ground work all the way to the back rim, since the cantle filler will be going on the back side. 

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I tried the tree on the mule this afternoon to see how the strainer cleared his spine. It was touching the hair on his spine , at the lowest point of the strainer.  The skirts were not on, so that should give me another 3/8” clearance?  5-star makes a mule lad for extreme mike backs, that has the center cut away for clearance.  I have seen where Paul Garrison, the mule trainer modifies his pads to accommodate mule backs lijevthis one.  Any thoughts? 

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A bare tree on a horse or mule will give you a good indication of the suitability of the the bars angles, width and rocker  but it will not provide conclusive information on the clearance of the gullet, groundseat and cantle gullet.   To check for clearance, put a firm thick pad under the tree.  Use pad(s) thicker than you intend to use in order to replicate the skirts, sheepskin and pad you will be using with the finished saddle.  It's typical when placing a bare tree (no pad) on an animal for the gullet to be at or near the withers, yet the finished saddle will have ample clearance.  The same and more will be true for the groundseat, since the sheepskin and skirts will not extend over the spine area.  I suspect that when you make the same test with padding, the clearance will be adequate.

The 5-Star pads you are referring to can be helpful for a mule with a prominent ridge along it's back.  Essentially, these pads have the same affect and will add to the clearance created by the sheepskin and skirts.  The cut-out isn't so much to compensate for the lack of clearance of the saddle (the saddle should have enough clearance regardless) but to prevent the pressure and friction along the ridge of the spine from the pad being pulled down tight across the top of the back.  That "ridge" type of back just can't get any relief from the pad or blanket, even if the saddle isn't bearing down on it.  This is the same concept as the contour shape of many felt pads which corrects for the tendency of a flat pad pulling tightly across a horses withers despite the saddle having adequate wither clearance.  It's also why good horseman will tuck up the pad/blankets into the gullet before cinching up. 

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Got a little progress made. Cantle back is fitted and waiting for me to stamp it. Ground seat has 2 layers, like the Jeremiah Watt method. 

How does my ground work look?  Hard to get a good angle go see the the contours. The pencil marks are 1” apart, starting at the cantle, for reference. Penciled in where the stirrup slot will be notched out.  Lower angle shows where I thinned out over stirrup leather. Should this area be thinned more?

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The ground seat at back of the stirrup leathers should be paper thin at the bar edge.  That's the area that needs to be as NARROW as the tree and stirrup leathers allow.   I like to see the metal from the strainer peeking though at the back of the stirrup leathers.  That way I know I've removed enough.

Your "pocket" or low point looks to be in the right place (about 3 1/2" behind stirrup leathers) but should be more concave as it rises to the fork; it's too straight now and should be more of an elliptical shape.

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23 hours ago, EdOdgers said:

The ground seat at back of the stirrup leathers should be paper thin at the bar edge.  That's the area that needs to be as NARROW as the tree and stirrup leathers allow.   I like to see the metal from the strainer peeking though at the back of the stirrup leathers.  That way I know I've removed enough.

Your "pocket" or low point looks to be in the right place (about 3 1/2" behind stirrup leathers) but should be more concave as it rises to the fork; it's too straight now and should be more of an elliptical shape.

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I have been shaving some more off the rise.  I am getting into the grain of the top piece of leather. Is this normal? Still have the thickness of the first layer underneath. Still need to thin the sides more, too. 

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This is a little late, but I NEVER use ring shanks in the construction of a saddle.  I have repaired saddles that have been built by some of the recognized top saddle makers of the last 50 years, Bob Marrs, Billy Don Hogg, Howard Counsel, Boyce Bader, Harry Adams and the list goes on.   The only well known saddles (2) that I ever tore down that had ring shanks in them and a lot of them were a couple of Ralph Shimon's.   I know some really good saddle makers that will not work on a Shimon for that reason and I will not either.    If you will never work on a saddle you build, I guess it would not matter but if you build enough of them and they are rode and used a lot, they will need repair sooner or later.  Making them repair friendly, I think is important but is probably not to a lot of people.

On ground seats, when I started, I had the Stohlman series and Harry Adams, Saddlemaker's Shop Manual.  I knew Harry pretty well, rode several of his saddles.  He had a reputation for putting a seat in a saddle "second to no one".  This by them big outfit cowboys that lived in their saddles.  I think his book is a good place to start and build on. Stohlman teaches to build an all leather ground seat and he did put a good seat in a saddle.  I have seen a couple of his saddles and know  a few people that have rode some of his saddles. If you build enough different types of saddles, you will learn to put different types of seats in saddles for different types of  disciplines.  Cutters,  ropers, barrel racers all want different types of saddles.  

One thing about those cowboy saddles,  they are supposed to be comfortable for 18 to 24 hours at at time.  Like an old man that had been the wagon boss on the XL in Nevada told me one time,  "I have had saddles I could stay in for 24 hours at a time and sleep in them and had some that would eat the hip pockets off your jeans in 8 or 9 hours or less"

Edited by Ken Nelson

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On 4/21/2021 at 1:22 PM, EdOdgers said:

You can make the skirts as short as you like, in fact you don't need to have skirts (think McClellan saddles).  On the other hand, do you want to have a good looking saddle?  Some folks mistakenly believe that skirt length will necessarily affect the horse/mule and needs to be short for animals with shorter backs.  Sadly, they probably believe that because of bad experiences with improperly built saddles.  A saddle with properly blocked-in skirts that are angled up and away behind the cantle, won't interfere with the horse or mule's back.  Thus the saying: "ride the tree not the skirts."  I've attached photos to illustrate how the angle of the topline of the skirts behind the cantle and the blocking  of the skirts (bedding of the tree into the skirts) can be done to provide clearance and prevent the skirts from putting pressure on the back. 

So, assuming you design and install them properly,  skirt length is primarily an aesthetic consideration for which you are the judge.  I usually make my skirts from 5" to 6" behind the cantle back.  I feel that within that range I can create a balanced, pleasing look.  I only use the shorter 5" length for skirts that are narrower (vertical measure) and/or have "mother hubbard" housing (no jockeys).  I know some makers who make beautiful saddles that commonly use 6 1/2".  The saddle in the photo is 5 3/4" and is very typical for my saddles with that skirt shape and depth.  On an occasion or two I've been talked into going a bit less than 5" and regretted it, later realizing the saddle looks chopped off, imbalanced and ugly.  On the other end of the saddle, I extend the front of the skirts 1 1/2" to 1 3/4" in front of the bar tips.  Thus my total skirt length for a 16" seat is going to end up at 27 1/2" or maybe close to 28".  Seat lengths that are shorter or longer will have proportional skirt lengths.

If riders are concerned about saddle length interfering with the animals hip, and they should be, it's the bar length they need to be concerned about. To avoid long bars they need to avoid long seat lengths.  As you pointed out, the bar length for a 16" seat is going to be about 24" and for a lot of shorter backed animals that's about all they can handle well.  I always warn anyone desiring a longer seat they have the responsibility to ride bigger, longer backed critters.   A 17" seat saddle and a 250# rider is not a good fit for a 14-3 horse weighing jsut 1,000#.  You can't put five quarts in a gallon jug.

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How deep are the skirts on that saddle?  How far down does the rigging plate come?  Has a nice balanced look. 

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Referring to your May 18 post, the reason you are down to the grain on the top piece of leather and still have too much rise is because the first layer wasn't carved down enough.  There are two ways to go about creating groundseats, one is to lay on the layers of leather and then start carving.  IMO, a better way is to fit and carve down each and every layer, starting with the risers and tin, with the goal that each layer will be as close to final as possible.  This way you will not only have a proper shape but it will also be closer to the tree and horse.

Below are photos (not in sequence) illustrating how I depend on a vision of the final seat shape to define each step.  By the time the strainer is in, I'm almost there and in most cases I only need to apply one layer of leather over the strainer.  Note that I'm using my templates early in the process, not just during final carving.  Not shown are the other templates that are perpendicular to the one shown.  Also note in the first of the sequence (last photo), the risers that will support the strainer have been carved down to the tree at the low spot or "pocket" of the seat.  With this mindset and process I feel I keep my groundseat as close to the horse as the tree allows.

Answer to the question about the drop of the rig plate:  Most of mine are 6 1/2" from bottom of front bar pad to bottom of rig plate.  (Bars vary in width, mine are quite wide at about 6")  The skirts are about 11 1/2" at the rear rig.

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