It’s the Pitts 2-1-10 |

It’s the Pitts 2-1-10

A cowboy’s life has always been defined by what he did with his most valued possession … his saddle. The greatest humiliation in life for a cowboy was to be broke and forced to sell his saddle. When an old cowboy retired it was a tradition that he would hang his saddle with a rope from a barn rafter and when he made it to the final buzzer in life his friends would plant him in the ground and sack his saddle.

I’ve always felt that the greatest compliment you could hand out in life was to give a person your saddle when you could no longer climb aboard. That’s why my grandpa’s centerfire rig is now enshrined in my home. Not that it is real pretty to look at or anything. There are no silver conchas on it or words that indicate he was the world champion of anything. To visitors my grandpa’s saddle probably looks like any old piece of leather that had been drug underneath a horse or covered in calf scours. But it was the saddle my grandpa sat astride when he rode herd over our local rodeo and the one he tied to when he won the team roping at the county fair. I have a much treasured picture of me sitting in that saddle when I was just 3 years old. That saddle has always been much more to me than just something you threw over a horse’s back and I don’t care how broke I ever get you’ll not see me selling it

I’m ashamed to say I can’t tell you who made my grandfather’s saddle because the stamp of the craftsman was long ago worn shiny smooth, just like the seat and skirts. The flowers tooled in leather long ago lost their bloom. It could have been made by any number of countless saddle makers that made some towns famous, like Visalia, Leddy Brothers of Fort Worth or Capriola of Elko. Most western saddles carry the return address of a real cow town like Pueblo, Cheyenne, Miles City, El Paso or Ellensburg. For all I know my grandpa’s saddle could just be a no-name brand that the maker wasn’t proud enough to put his name on, but it’s still priceless to me.

Up until a few years ago I used my grandpa’s saddle every week and although the wool lining is yellow from sweat, and patchy in places, I can honestly say that its cottonwood tree was always kind to both horse and rider. Cowboy’s saddles were not always that way, you know? The first Western saddles were made in Mexico, out of rawhide that felt more like iron. It was said that a Mexican saddle could eat a hole into a horse’s spine and a pair of leather breeches at the same time. A sore backed horse was said to be “branded with a map of Mexico.”

I must admit my eyes get a little misty when I attend the funeral of an old cowpoke friend and his saddle has been placed front and center in the church. Fitting, I think, because that’s where most of them attended services. Under a big blue sky, riding a good pony sitting in their leather covered rocking chair.

The trade has progressed to the point that today’s western saddle may even be more comfortable than a rocking chair, and certainly more expensive. A good saddle can still cost more than a month’s wages and I don’t know if that means cowboys are paid too little, or saddles cost too much? Knowing how much work goes into a good saddle I’d have to say it’s the former, and not the latter.

Whoever made my grandpa’s saddle built it to last. The only new leather on it was put there by the local saddle maker. A stirrup leather broke during calving season and I took it in for repairs. The saddle maker, obviously from the old school, took one look at my well-worn saddle and said he’d have it ready the very next day. And he did.

It seems he had an unwritten rule that cowboy’s saddles always took precedence over those that belonged to dudes and recreational riders. The saddle maker also said he could tell from the cut-off saddle strings, wrapped horn and spur tracks in the seat that the owner had been a cowboy with a lot of courage and character.

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