By Steve Bauhr
The first saddle I actually owned came with a horse I purchased. They were trying to sweeten the deal, and I went for it. Looking back, I should have known something was a mock, the horse’s name was Elvis! It was an older saddle of the Western Pleasure persuasion, with nice stitching and a padded seat which also had nice stitching. It wasn’t very comfortable though, and it didn’t really fit the horse either. But it was mine and all I had to ride in, so I used the daylights out of it.
The next saddle to come into my life was a new one purchased for $275.00. It was a barrel style saddle, and we planned to use it on a young 4 year old gelding. It was light and looked pretty good, but we later discovered it didn’t really fit the horse, although it was quite comfortable for us to be in. We rode in that saddle for years before noticing white marks around the withers. Amazingly, the horse never once showed signs of discomfort, although I’m sure he must have been in some. In 2002, I was getting serious about my horsemanship and decided I needed a saddle that would fit my needs, and fit a lot of horses. I was far from being an expert, but I was now under the teaching of many who knew much more than myself. At least now I was aware of how a horse moved and how a saddle might best fit a horse. The running joke for a while was I had spent so much on that saddle, if my horse happened to fall in a lake I would have to save the saddle first, then go back for the horse!
During the next ten years, I purchased several more saddles to use in the barn as I was now riding horses for the public and needed several more. Most of them were what I called, “45 minute saddles.” They fit the horses well, but they were all hard seats and did not fit me very well. Working as a trainer, my day consisted of riding 7 or 8 horses, all for about 45 minutes. I still use these saddles today, they are of the Wade persuasion, yet more of just an A fork style. They do fit almost every horse that comes into training with some adjustments made through padding. It wasn’t until 2015 that I made the decision to have a custom saddle built.
I worked with Jim Kiss from Boot Hill Saddlery to design a saddle that would again fit my needs and the horses I ride, but also fit my clients’ needs as this saddle is called, “The Bauhr Ranch Saddle.” We used a Will James tree as the foundation. We then covered it with Herman Oak Leather, and left it roughed out with only the skirts being tooled. I had a small pad installed because at times, I’m in it for more than 45 minutes, and since I have no butt, the pad makes a world of difference. This saddle fits a large number of horse’s bodies, and with a few pad adjustments, fits most everything I ride. The Will James tree is an old working ranch stock saddle actually designed by the famous cowboy author Will James. This style of tree has gone in and out of fashion for almost 100 years now.
What I liked was its versatility. As I mentioned earlier, it fits a lot of different horse’s bodies, and it certainly fits my body. It’s built tough enough to rope from, drop on the ground, get rolled in by your horse, and suffer little damage. It has a large pommel, or swell, and its seat is deeper than most dressage saddles. As Jim says, “No saddle is leak proof, but this one’s hard to get thrown out of.” Since designing it, Jim’s sold a few to clients who are still happy with it.
So what’s the real point behind this article? I’m not sure that there is one- I’m mostly just rambling on. It does bring to mind a few thoughts about saddles and the horses who wear them. When you’re starting a horse, it’s the saddle and the cinch that are the main issue. A horse must be properly “Saddle Broke” before they can be broke to ride. I meet horses that have been ridden for years, yet if I were to rope and pull up on a stirrup while they’re moving, they would try to out run the saddle from fear of what it just did. These horses were not properly saddle broke when they were started. The next issue is riding in the saddle. We have a horse who’s back is moving when they’re moving. We then have a saddle which is static sitting on the horse’s back. Now let’s add a rider who’s supposed to be moving and- well- you know- the problems begin. In every case, perfection or total harmony between these three parts is unattainable.
When I see friends going down the “Saddle Fit Chasm,” I feel sorry for them. It can sometimes lead to a small fortune spent on saddles, pads, chiropractors, or worse yet, not riding the horse. The best way I’ve found to manage this issue is the hands on approach. After riding a horse, I remove the saddle and rub a bit on the areas that make contact with the pad and saddle. It’s a daily check that I myself can monitor. If I see any outward signs of poor fit or discomfort, I address it. If not, I don’t change things. Once I know the horses are ok, what about me? If I’m riding a saddle that’s killing me- chances are I won’t be riding long. While I am riding in a poorly fitting saddle, I’m moving around a lot! This can make a horse sore just as fast as a poor fit.
Which brings me to another point: when I have attended saddle fit workshops, I’ve seen some unbalance, braced, and nervous riders. All of that makes its way right into the horse’s back. In many cases, in which horses are coming up sore, their owners would be far better served spending their time on riding lessons.
Lastly, a nice fitting and working saddle is just like a well broke pair of work boots. You look forward to putting them on and doing a day’s work. A saddle can become a friend that has shared all the same experiences with horses that you have. If you’ve already found one, you’re among the lucky. If not, I wish you good luck in the search. Remembering though, as with all things, you always get exactly what you paid for.
See ya out there!
Steve Bauhr owns and operates Bauhr Ranch- a full horse training facility in Chinese Camp, Ca. For more information, go to www.bauhrranch.com. Also find us Facebook and on our new YouTube channel!