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Cowboy Gear: Saddles

The West was won and conquered by the men who sit in saddle leather.

Saddle, a cowboy’s workbench and his throne.

In the West, known as cow saddles, range saddles, stock saddles.

In the East as Mexican saddles, Western saddles or cowboy saddles.

Vaquero saddle trees. (Pinterest)

Western cowboys were not impressed with the small, pad-saddles of the Eastern rider and referred to them as hog skins, kidney pads, pimples, or postage stamps. Made for riding, not for working stubborn Longhorns, most came without saddle horn and with narrow pieces of iron as stirrups.

Impressed by the skills of the Mexican vaquero, Texas cowhands adopted their saddle among other things, eventually modifying the Mexican-style mochila saddle, which appeared in the 1850s.  Known as the “Texas saddle”, it weighed only 12 to 13 pounds, the tree was covered with stitched rawhide and the stirrups were wide. The design evolved to be better suited to working all day or long rides in the saddle.

1870-1880 half seat (REF Pinterest)

By 1870s the “plains saddle” appeared, with a halt-seat and cantle covered by one piece of leather. The wooden saddle horn was lower and sturdier. Much of the credit for the necessary modifications creating the plains saddle goes to two brothers, John and Gilbert Collins. The brothers were based in Cheyenne, with shops in Omaha, Billings and Great Falls. They gave saddles to local ranchers in exchange for feedback on their designs. Buffalo Bill Cody was a customer.

Vintage Vaquero Saddle. (REF Pinterest)

Long hours spent in a saddle, and for some the work hasn’t changed much in the past century. Ranches across the country rely on a man and his horse to get the job at hand done. There’s no other alternative.

“[Cowboys] just don’t care for the ground.”

Photo by N. Bright

REF: COWBOY CULTURE: A Saga of Five Centuries by David Dary. Western Words by Ramon Adams.

Natalie Bright is an author, blogger, speaker, and cattle ranch owner. Her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, and she is the author of the TROUBLE IN TEXAS Series, adventure stories set in the Texas frontier for Ages 8-10. She also has a series of easy readers based on true stories about rescue horses. She is currently working on a nonfiction book about the great cattle driving era for TwoDot Books.