Western Saddle Guide

Western Saddle Guide > Saddle Types > Leather Saddle

Leather Saddle

Leather saddles are the standard of the western horsemanship tradition. The strength, the durability, the flexibility, the aroma, and the eye appeal - all combine to make leather the optimal material for saddle making.

There is no question about it - the best saddles are made of quality leather. Anyone who would tell you differently is not truly knowledgeable about saddle making. This doesn't mean that synthetic saddles don't have their place; it simply means they can't match the quality and durability of leather saddles. Ever seen a working cowboy riding in a synthetic saddle? Just not going to happen.

Check the selection of leather saddles available in our eBay Tack Shop.

saddle fork

It takes the equivalent of a complete cowhide to make a leather saddle. The heavy hides used in saddle making are known as saddle skirting and are shipped from tanneries as "sides." Skirting comes in different weights (thickness) and grades (quality). Thick leather is used for critical, heavy wear parts such as fenders, stirrup leathers, and seats. Lighter weight leather is used for areas that need to stretch around different shapes such as the fork, cantle back, and stirrup covers.

There are two sides to the skirting - the grain (smooth) side and the flesh (rough) side. The grain side is what faces out in most saddles and is the side that can be stamped and carved. In addition to being decorative, tooling creates some texture on the smooth side to reduce the slickness of the leather. When the flesh side faces out it's called "rough-out." A saddle can be completely "rough-out" or can have "rough-out" parts such as the seat and fenders. Partial or complete rough-out saddles are common among working cowboys as they improve the rider's grip.

The quality of leather can vary dramatically from tannery to tannery. By examining different saddles in different price ranges, you'll quickly be able to see the differences. Low quality leather is thin, can crack easily when flexed, curls up with use, and often has a lacquer finish on it to make it look shiny - a sure sign of low quality. Such a finish will crack when flexed and doesn't let the leather "breathe." The quality of the leather is a major contributor to the price differences among saddles.

Hermann Oak Leather is considered by most saddle makers to produce the finest quality saddle leather in the world. A saddle made from Hermann leather is a sign of quality.


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