The Vaquero Saddle

The vaquero saddle at the turn of the twentieth century was as good a saddle as any in the long history of saddles; it had evolved to its best and highest use and had withstood the test of time. With a tall cantle, high fork and horn, and deep, close-contact seat, it had an unmistakable look and character.

In the old California vaquero days, when cattle ranching was a major industry and all conducted on horseback, a vaquero worked long hours in his saddle, in all kinds of weather. Given the amount of time the vaquero spent in his saddle, he liked it to be tailor-made for him. It generally cost him several months’ pay and a long wait.

When the cattle industry began to change in the 1940’s and 50’s, saddles also changed to match the times. Now, in the early 21st century, lots of riders are recognizing the superiority of the old-time vaquero saddle. Even though few of us work cattle on horseback for a living, we want the close contact, all-day comfort, and lighter weight of that old-time saddle (and a touch of the romance of the vaquero era).

I admire and try to follow the old vaquero traditions as much as possible. I build primarily the old vaquero-style 3B saddle, sometimes modified for a thicker horn or a shorter horn, and the occasional Wade with its very thick fork and broad horn cap for a customer who wants that stouter look.

All of my saddles are built first to fit the horse, and second to fit the rider. They are built to be lightweight and to invite the rider to sit straight up, tall, and deep with little or no effort, and feel very close to the horse.

Take a look at the Saddles page to learn more about the saddles I've built.

Have you been thinking/dreaming about a custom saddle that fits your horse and you? Check out the custom saddles page for more specifics, and email me if you want to talk about a custom saddle.





Riding Out

Important pages:
Single rigging

Saddles & shoulders
Tucker's teeth
Ground Seats


Dec 29, 2017

I got to thinking about what people might like to know more about, and I realized that ground seats (what's underneath the saddle seat), are a mystery to many riders. So I wrote down my approach to building a "perfect" ground seat - you can read it here.

Nov 17, 2017

My new treemaker is Dusty Smith, a student of Rod Nikkel's who does things Rod's way. You can check out his work at WYO Saddle and Trees.

Sep 10, 2017

Here's a delightful update to the Saddles & Shoulders story. I got a message from Paula, whose horse was the subject of the shoulders story, 3 years after building the new tree for Cash's healed shoulders:

"Just wanted you to know that the saddle you built for me is perfect. I have ridden miles and miles in it both in AZ and WA, in the desert and in the mountains. I just got back from packing trip for 5 days in the Chelan Sawtooth wilderness with 5 women friends. They kept advising me that I need both britching and breast collar, but the saddle rode so well without that extra gear, and no sign of stress to my horse. Thanks for doing such excellent work."

Goes to show that a well-fitted saddle is worth the time and effort. And MY thanks to Rod Nikkel for his great skill building custom trees.

May 14, 2017

New saddle - The Dottie - for customer Rob and his Missouri Foxtrotter Dottie in New Hampshire.

May 1, 2017

My longtime treemaker Rod Nikkel retired from treemaking, but over his 20 years in the business he and his wife Denise developed an extensive and remarkable educational website - – and that website is still up. However, even though Rod has had to leave treemaking, he and Denise have not left us! They have a new, terrific, 67-minute video titled  “Western Saddle Fit – the Basics” for sale on our their new website –

The new website also has an Articles section where they have organized their more than 100 blog posts about saddle fit into categories to make them easy to find, in case you wanted to check that out:  Articles  Even if you decide not to buy the video, you’ll find a wealth of saddle-fitting information in the Articles section.

They have also put up a 7-minute video on YouTube called “Western Saddle Fit – the Essentials” - Western Saddle Fit.  They worked hard to put as much information into that short time period as possible, hoping it will help people with their saddles and horses even if those people never see the new website.

 This is crucial saddle-fitting information for everyone, whether they have or want to have a custom saddle, or have and will always have non-custom saddles. And if you do buy the DVD, watch it with the pause button in your hand, because there is a lot of interesting and supportive information in on-screen text and background inserts that go by too fast to read and understand if you don’t pause the video.

February 13, 2017

Finally finished a saddle for my own mare; now that she's finished being a broodmare, it's time to ride again, and of course she needs her own saddle, The Maggie.

November 16, 2016

The year is almost gone, and way too fast. Go see my latest saddle, the Avalon. It's another simple 3B, this one with custom conchos made from abalone shells.

This saddle was built on a custom tree made by my new treemaker, Harry Mari, who was trained by Rod Nikkel before Rod retired. His career as a fine woodworker set him up to be an excellent treemaker, and I look forward to many more saddles built on his trees.

August 24, 2016

Wow, it's been a long time since I wrote here. Time just flies when you're having fun! New saddle posted - The Cruiser. It's another 3B, of course (I love that saddle).

December 21, 2015

A new saddle just finished and shipped - the Diamond - for a lovely Arabian gelding in Wisconsin.

November 20, 2015

Two new saddles got finished in my hiatus - The Rocket and the Sunflower.

And there's a good story about my mare Popper, for whom I built The Popper and about whom I wrote the Ulcers page.

I (we) also learned a really interesting lesson about shoulders, damage, seating the saddle on a horse's back, and the value of a good tree (thanks to a terrific customer).

April 17, 2015

New saddle finished - the Zoom, named for customer Anna's delightful buckskin boy, Zoom.


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