Saddles serve an essential purpose for cowboys. They provide comfort and security through all types of weather, day in and day out, for people herding cattle, feeding animals and building fences, among the other dozens of tasks on a ranch.
“It’s so practical; it can’t be beat,” Bryan Pickeral said of the trusty saddle.
With something so vital to life and work for area ranchers, it is important to choose the right saddle.
Pickeral owns Pick’s Saddle Shop in Buffalo, a saddle repair business that mainly serves local ranchers. He also owns three quarter horses, works in Sheridan and is taking business agriculture and ranch management courses at Sheridan College.
Pickeral said the main point of a saddle is comfort and durability for the rider. A saddle should not limit a horse’s movements, either.
“Nothing’s worse than an ill-fitting saddle,” Pickeral said. “… It definitely has to be non-restrictive to the horse that’s doing the job because those horses might be out there all day doing that job.”
Most ranchers have one Western saddle for multiple horses and use them year-round.
“They try to find a saddle that’s going to fit a number of different kind of (horse)backs,” Pickeral said. “… Fit is very, very important.”
Pickeral said ideally a saddlemaker can measure the specific dimensions of a horse to create the best-fitting custom saddle while also making it somewhat universal. He added that a saddle also depends on a person’s size, especially for the fit of a seat.
Bruce King, owner of King’s Saddlery and King Ropes, said the store has a few different types of saddles that generally fit horses in the area.
King said saddle sales usually increase when the weather warms up and grass becomes greener. He added that most local ranchers are experienced and don’t have many questions when they come in looking for a new saddle.
Quint Gonzales said the most important trait of a saddle involves comfort for riders. Gonzales is a farrier instructor at Sheridan College, owns a farrier business and has 13 horses on the family ranch he and his wife oversee.
Ranch saddles usually weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. Trail and competitive saddles are lighter because their users generally require more speed.
“A trail saddle doesn’t need to be near as durable and strong as somebody that’s doing ranch work and roping stuff,” Gonzales said.
“Most of the things that are on a ranch saddle are there out of necessity, not for show,” Pickeral said.
The heart of the saddle is called a tree. Most trees are made from rawhide, but some are fiberglass, nylon or plastic. The vast majority of saddle colors are brown or black but it depends on the treatment they receive in the creation process.
Despite its rough nature, a saddle must be handled with care.
“Everyone’s scared to get leather wet, and leather is very forgiving if it’s conditioned,” Pickeral said. “Really, if you think about it, leather is nothing more than a cow’s skin. We put lotion on our skin when it gets dry … Leather is the same dang thing.”
Most saddles are made in factories and fairly inexpensive, while custom ones cost at least $3,000.
Pickeral believes the price is well worth the cost.
“That sounds like a lot of money, but for the time, effort and skill that goes into making a saddle, that’s not a huge amount, really,” Pickeral said. “… In mass production, they’ve lost some craftsmanship.”
Indeed, some quality custom saddles can last a person’s lifetime, if not longer. They require repairs over the years but can be extremely sturdy. Gonzales said his wife still uses a saddle originally purchased by her great-uncle.
Pickeral and Gonzales rarely, if ever, ride without a saddle. Pickeral said if the trip is short — a few minutes or less — he might go bareback but otherwise always uses a dependable saddle.
Regardless of the type of person utilizing a saddle, it is vital for ranch workers to determine the saddle that best fits their needs. If they choose well, a saddle may stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Editor’s note: This story was published in 2019 Destination Sheridan, Sheridan WYO Rodeo. Read more online, pick up a complimentary copy of the magazine at The Sheridan Press or find it in businesses and racks across Sheridan County.