Have you ever heard the saying “Ya Gotta Get Western With It”? The phrase implies the need to be a little rougher and tougher to get the job done. Living a western life means putting wear and tear on tools, clothes, equipment, the list goes on. With so much of this a part of everyday life, it’s important to have quality, long-lasting products to survive “getting western with it.” Hence, saddles, a natural necessity for the western life, are made from leather.
Properly defined, leather is “the skin of an animal, with the hair removed and prepared for use by tanning to preserve it against decay and make it pliable.” Leather has unique properties that makes it the go-to material for riding equipment, like saddles. It is a durable, tough material that withstands lots of usage and spans decades. Just like a cowboy.
“Sit loosely in the saddle.” - Robert Louis Stevenson
Using leather to build and craft saddles makes riding that much more comfortable. The material is flexible, allowing it to move with the rider. Because it is pliable, it can be customized with tooling. Thus creating a personal touch to every saddle, just as Texas Saddlery does.
Although there are many types of hides, cattlehide is most commonly used in crafting a saddle. Cowhide is thick and made up of two main layers, corium and grain. Corium is the bottom layer with thinner collagen fibers that move up toward the grain becoming thicker and tighter. The grain faces the hair that is eventually removed, then buffed to make the leather uniform.
Breaking down the grain, there are two grades. Top grain is any corrected leather. In other words, any blemishes like scars, stretch marks, bites and so on are buffed and removed. Full grain is a fully intact leather with all the blemishes, making it very unique and the most sought after.
Dissecting the Leather of a Saddle
Each part of the saddle has a specific use, so specialized leather is used for specific parts. Some parts of the saddle need to be pliable and breath, while others need to be sturdy and stiff. The good news is, using leather and other materials, this requirement for saddles can be met.
Breaking the anatomy of the saddle down, we find a specific type of leather for each part. These include skirting, latigo and harness. There are several parts to a saddle, but most can be grouped into these three types.
Skirting is a special leather that is used for skirts or hanging portions of a saddle that might come between the legs of a rider and a horse. Easily moldable, skirting is also used to form the seat and easily accepts tooling and oils.
Latigo is cattlehide leather that is sometimes vegetable tanned. Typically this leather is used for cinches, ties and other saddlery work. However, once tanned and oiled, latigo can’t be stamped or tooled. But that makes it perfect for cinches and ties.
Lastly, harness leather is used for much of the other saddlery work. The leather has exceptional weight and thickness, but is easy to cut. Making it easy to use for several saddle parts. Harness leather is also generally made from vegetable tanned hides.
“A song is like a saddle: you ride it for a while, and if it’s the right kind of song you can sing it for the rest of your life.” - Glen Hansard
More Than Just Saddles
Even though leather is used for saddles, it’s used for many other products and items. It is a unique material after all. The uses for this resilient material expand to clothing, office supplies, everyday items and more.
With leather readily available, why not make more than just saddles? Include belts, wallets, portfolios and more.
Good news, Texas Saddlery does!