Saddle Maker

What They Do

Insider Info

Saddle makers know that riders and horses have different needs, whether they're riding English or western style. "The trick is knowing how to design and make a saddle that's good for both," says Ronald Friedson, a saddle maker in Connecticut.

Saddle makers create stylish and durable saddles out of leather. It's a precision job. Barbara Kauffman, a saddle maker in Colorado, creates everything but the tree -- the frame the saddle is built around. She starts with a whole cow and two sides of leather, and checks the texture, color and strength.

Then Kauffman builds and traces the pattern of the saddle, cuts the leather, and whets, moulds and sews the pieces together. After that, she'll skive (pare down) the thicker parts of the leather and decorate the saddle according to the customer's wishes by hand stitching or stamping the leather with designs.

Saddle makers use specialized equipment like a clicker (to make rosettes and other patterns), a press machine (to punch out the die or mold), a splitter and a sewing machine. Common hand tools are knives, hammers, awls (to poke holes in the leather) and skivers (for splitting leather).

Saddle maker J.D. Moor says customer communications are very important. "Before we begin a saddle, we have an informal interview. I'll find out what kind of riding they're doing. Is it for pleasure or for roping or events? We talk about what the customer likes, what they don't like. I encourage them to ask for advice. A lot of people don't know what they really want."

Friedson agrees. "I'm a lot like a consultant. You need hard, scientific knowledge to back you up. You have to understand what people are telling you and then apply it to making the saddle, if it's possible."

Unless saddle makers work in a saddle factory, they are self-employed. They have workshops with benches, cutting tables and sewing machines. Kauffman and Friedson have showrooms where they sell retail hardware and accessories for horse riding. Friedson has a receiving room (where the level of the leather is graded), a storage area and workbenches.

"People are riding more," Friedson says. "They're spending long hours in the saddle, not just at horse shows. My number one customers are still young girls, but I've seen a lot of 30-year-olds start riding. There's definitely a new interest in riding."

Moor has seen saddle styles change in the last 10 years. "There are more cutaway skirts to give the rider more leg contact with the horse. Now they're more wide and flat -- like a table -- for bigger horses."

At a Glance

Create stylish and durable saddles out of leather

  • Tools of the trade: clickers, press machines, splitters, awls and skivers
  • Many are self-employed
  • Business savvy and good customer service are vital