Saddle Making in Merritt BC – Part 1

Custom saddlery in the Nicola Valley specializing in working cowboy saddles

“It might surprise you as to who the customers are that choose the most ornate hand carved saddles? You guessed it. The roughest toughest cowboys around do ornate the best. Ha ha.”

Saddle Making in Merritt BC Canada – The Nicola Valley is blessed with a cowboy culture.  As a result, every cowboy needs a quality saddle.  The community of Merritt, British Columbia, Canada is my home, and it is the cowboy culture  that has grown my passions for leather work in the area of saddles, as well as, chaps, and custom carvings. 

First Steps to Saddle Making in Merritt

saddle maker in merritt

Cowboy Wade

The first step in Merritt saddle making is to select the saddle tree. To do so lets use my current customer saddle I am working on. I selected a 16”wade with a wood post (ie. larger diameter neck horn mostly used for roping cattle). Therefore my second decision was to select a 41/2” cantle. The reason for the taller cantle is to create a more secure seat for riding rough horses. In this case, it was a pick up saddle for competing in saddle bronc events at rodeo competitions. 

experience merritt

Saddle Making Decorations 

saddle making designs

Custom flower design

The customer, a repeat customer I might add, decided on the tree and the exterior look of his saddle. (ie. rough out ). Furthermore,  my customers have design options when ordering a saddle from me. Many decorate the smooth side with intricate flower designs or a unique basket weave pattern. Therefore, the possibilities are literally endless. You ask? I can do it! Consequently this customer  chose a rough out (meaning flesh side of the leather for you newbies).

Leather Selection

The first thing I do is acquire saddle skirting from a reputable tannery. In this case Hermann Oak located in St. Louis Missouri is my go-to tannery. The acid (oak bark) process takes about 3 months long.  The finished leather is about 1/4” to 3/8” thick.

The second thing I do is apply a heavy 3/4”bark tan sheepskin (a tougher tan to withstand more abuse specific to the saddle industry). 

The Tools of Saddle Making in Merritt Canada

Horse shoe brand hdw

First of all, lets be clear, Don Loewen Saddlery uses nothing but the best quality materials available. I have found that the line of stainless steel hardware designed by and for working professionals, the horse shoe brand by Jeremiah Watt,  fits the bill perfectly.  In other words the cowboys of the Nicola Valley and beyond demand and deserve the best. 

Pattern Making

The patterns used in the saddle making process are very important. Every saddle maker should have their own style that can be identified at a distance. Therefore, it is clear to many, that the profile is a big part of what sells my saddles.

First… the saddle must be a comfortable functional product that is both balanced and pleasing to the eye. For example the grasslands of the Nicola Valley was the inspiration for the deep rounded skirt style that I designed for this client. 

Cutting the Leather 

The working cowboys in the Nicola Valley,  at least 30 to 40 full time cowboys, are employed and spend most of their working day in the saddle from pre-daybreak and into the late  afternoon . Having said that , these saddles take a real beating.  

The saddle parts that require more wear-and-tear or strength are taken out on the hip or but end of the hide, and the parts that require more stretch than strength come from the belly or flanks. The knife I use to cut the leather is a razor sharp head knife – a half round blade with a handle in the center.

In conclusion I hope you enjoyed this first segment. Part 2 will take on the exciting challenge of an all leather ground seat and shaping the skirts and some more of the knives and tools used daily in the saddle shop.

In closing I would like to leave you with the song “Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys” by Waylon Jennings. 

Merritt Saddle Making in Style

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