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Old 01-03-2013, 10:27 AM   #1
Baquero
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Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 116
Default Why I Like a Slick Fork Saddle

I enjoy old saddles, and have a few that I have collected over the years. I will post a few pictures of them later. I thought I would make a write up about why I like the slick fork style saddle. I had a conversation with a man the other day who said "I have seen saddle construction go down in quality, as quickly as bridle horses have." We discussed how saddles changed about the time we stopped seeing the old bridle horses. This turned into quite a discussion between me and him and I hope that I can convey some of our thoughts in this post.

We can learn a lot from the saddles that the old timers rode. The saddle makers Visalia, Hamley, Nolte-Olsen, Weatherly, Garcia, Porter, Lawrence, etc. The men who rode there saddles would often be on horseback before the sun came up and well into the night. They would spend there day working there horses and the cattle. They rode multiple horses in rough country and chased more cattle than many of us could think about. As a result they needed a saddle that was comfortable, fit many horses, and was strong enough to withstand A LOT of heavy work. What came about was the Slick Fork Saddle, the slick fork refers to the tree that the saddle is built on. The bars are what determine the severity on the horses back, and the way the weight is distributed. The bars were wider for more surface area against the horse so the saddle stayed in place better, and didn't need to be cinched as tight. More rock in the bars allowed the saddle to conform better to the horse's back, and spread the rider's weight out. The fork and cantle are for the rider. The seat the rider feels, is a result of the work of the saddle maker, not the shape of the fork. This is an important distinction to make when choosing a saddle.

It comes down to timing. As a rider you want to ride the horses movements more than you are riding the saddle. Let me put that another way, the way saddles are constructed today I see too many people riding there saddles and not there horse. The saddle should not impede your ability to get in time with the horse. Remember it is all about "Feel, Timing, and Balance" -Tom Dorrance. Think about each of these aspects in relation to your saddle. In a swell fork saddle like many ride today the higher the swells, the more pressure can be placed against a horses withers and the more difficult it becomes to get in time with the horse because the swells are in the way of the horses movements. The swell fork puts the rider behind where he should be, to get in a good balance with the horse. The slick fork on the other hand is a forward seat saddle, and uses a center fire or more generally a 5/8th's rigging to put the rider directly behind the withers and shoulders of the horse. Also with this type of rigging the saddle needs only one cinch.

A saddle should be narrow in the front, this allows the rider to get in the movements of the horses shoulders. When a saddle maker builds up the narrowness in the seat, it should make a FLAT seat. This is in a lot of ways a lost art. You see many saddles today with a hump or a bulge right behind the gullet.

A flat seat makes it so you aren't riding the cantle after every quick move the horse makes.

When positioned correctly a riders legs should hang down where the fork enters the bars of the tree. And as a general rule the horn should be 4-5" from the beginning of his/her pelvic bones. There is a growing trend to ride saddles with larger seats. This puts the rider behind the horse and makes it so he is constantly playing "catch-up" it is difficult to time a horse correctly when riding this way. A few of my old saddles date just before 1900, each of these saddle's seats are flat and measure less than 15" most are 14-14.5" seats. By today's standards these would be considered kids seats. Each of these saddles have cantles that are 4-5" high. This keeps the rider in the balanced position described, when things get rough.

It is one thing to be able to get in time with a horse by feeling it's movements and getting in time with his feet. It is another to be able to cue your horse in the correct time. The slick fork encourages correct timing. Riding a slick fork isn't an overnight adjustment. Many riders worry that they will fall off or bounce around without the positioning of the swells. In my experience by taking the time to learn to ride the horses movements in a slick fork, the rider will build balance and advance quicker into better riding technique.

In order to ride with a better balance a rider needs to let his legs hang below him by lengthening his stirrups. There is a slight bend at the knee, and when the rider stands he should be able to place anywhere between 2-5 fingers held vertically between the saddle and the riders seat.

Weight is another thing that has changed throughout the years. I have often heard men say "that is a good heavy using saddle" as if the weight of the saddles determines the quality of construction. Heavier leather does not necessarily make it better. All of the old saddles I have weigh less than 40 lbs with heavy tapaderos included.

There is also a huge difference in the construction of the saddle, it is very rare to see an old CA saddle with stiffeners in the skirts for instance most makers today put a lot of un necessary leather in a saddle. Which makes it heavier and more unpleasant for the horse. It also is a lot of leather that gets in the way of a riders ability to feel the movements of the horse, and the horse to feel the rider. They instead used thinner old style leather that is lined and stitched, and held up to a lot more abuse than most people put a saddle through these days. To get a good groundseat the leather is only built up to the thickness of the stirrup leathers. It is also interesting the trend that has happened with saddle horns. Large horns, and sticky horn wraps to work the more gentle cattle today. But that is a discussion for another day...

As I said before we can learn a lot about horsemanship from these old timers. Many of them had a lot more horses under there belt, than most of us will look at in our lifetime. The saddles they used were put to use, the saddle was very important to them. It was often necessary for a vaquero or buckaroo to save up for several months to order his custom rig. He didn't waste it on just any saddle, they knew the makers who were best and knew how to build a proper seat into a saddle. When someone said they "sold there saddle" it was a mark that a man was finished. By selling his saddle, it meant he could no longer ride and was often a distinguishing mark that the man wasn't in good health. They held these saddles dear, and would even lay there head against them at night. It is a lot easier to make a proper bridle horse when you have the right equipment. But even if you aren't planning on making a bridle horse, look at the gear you have and ask if it is helping or hindering your ability to get in time, ride with feel, and hold the correct balance of your horse.
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Old 01-05-2013, 09:34 AM   #2
Zane Michel
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Join Date: Oct 2012
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Thanks for the post on slick forks, you have described the saddle the best of anyone yet
Sincerely Zane
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Old 01-06-2013, 08:58 AM   #3
flyingcollie
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Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Blackfoot, Idaho
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Great post, a lot of food for thought. I've also been attracted to antique saddles, in my youth, those old ones with the high cantles, short "straight up" seats and center-fire rigging were considered "un-ride-able" years ago, same with ox-bow stirrups. It amuses me to see these "retro" elements coming back "in fashion" again.

I'd like to see more discussion on this, folks' experiences, and hands-on "wherefore". I've been riding the same custom-made saddle for 40 years. The maker was considered in our area to be a good one, the pattern I bought was nothin' fancy, but a good "ranch-roper" with a light swell. I've been damn glad I had that swell a time or two . . . it's a full rig, but I'd think like most, I never questioned the back cinch, though I don't believe I ever needed it. Fact is, as I look around, I see a lot of horses that are a little cinchy, and given to cow-kick and buck a little, and I think it's because of a back cinch in many cases.

Especially as I grow ever younger, I'm pretty sure my saddle weighs in a lot heavier than it needs to be, and I wish it was lighter. In my youth, I'd often ride bareback just because I can feel so "isolated" with all that cow-hide between me and my mount. On the other hand, I've never had a horse with a sore back, and it's still as sound as the day I bought it.

Baquero, you mention a number of "name brands" . . . but I wonder where you'd go these days to find the kind of saddle you describe so well . . . ?
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Old 01-06-2013, 08:02 PM   #4
Reata Ranch Horsemanship
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Join Date: Jan 2013
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Default saddles & saddle fit

Hi,

I'm not an expert on saddles or their fit but I do have an interest in them & the subject.
Saddles & saddle fit is surely becoming dinner table talk again as all these new fancy saddles are being pumped out of manufacturers etc. I personally believe you get what you pay for so I prefer a well made custom saddle that is made by an experienced saddle maker. My custom made Outwest saddlery wade is not only stylish to look at but it has given me the ability to feel my horse & ride my horse not my saddle. It has allowed me to feel my horse, get in time better ( I am still & always working on being better at this) & be balanced for me & my horse. My old saddle ( Australian stock saddle) never gave me that. In saying this their are some very good Aussie stock saddles I just think too many people ride them either too tight & their legs bent right up around their ears. We are on a working cattle station (ranch) so we often see a huge change when we get he cowboys or girls riding these saddles to drop their stirrups a lot, they ride longer but are more able to feel the horse, get in time & be balanced. The horse is much more comfortable & settled to go to work. Although some of our staff ride in aussie stock saddles most of them rise in a wade and we see huge changes for the good as their riding improves 100% once they ride longer & straighter in the leg & are centered or balanced. Bob Beecher made my saddle & he & his wife Terri have done extensive research & trial and error work with saddles, saddle fit & tree making. He is definately 1 man anyone who is seriously interested in this topic should talk too. My saddle has a flatter seat, my legs hang down correctly & comfortably & my saddle is made from quality leather but doesn't weigh a ton. I'm only light framed so I easily swing it on my horses. If your interested to talk to bob or look at my saddle design go to www.outwestsaddlery.com & my saddle is saddle #DD64. Not one of Bobs saddles are alike & they have an average weight of 34 lb if I remember right. Anyway hope people realise you get what you pay for so investing in a good saddle is only going to benefit you & your horse.
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Old 01-06-2013, 11:07 PM   #5
Steve C
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Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: "Hampshire Station" Merriwa, NSW Australia
Posts: 91
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RRH,

You say you are on a cattle station, whereabouts? I am located near Merriwa NSW and on 25,000 acres.

Steve
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Old 01-09-2013, 10:46 AM   #6
Out West Saddlery
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Location: Pagosa Springs, CO
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Looks like a great discussion going on here with alot of things we agree with! Deb from Reata Ranch Horsemanship invited us to join in. First to save space here I would like to share a couple links from our web site that has detail about our philosophies and a page on how we do and teach saddle fitting and evaluation. On the saddle fitting page it is important to read the text with the pictures. http://outwestsaddlery.com/html/sadd...formation.html , http://outwestsaddlery.com/html/sadd...ng_guide_.html . Although we are huge fans of slick fork saddles, that is all we build, you can have other style saddles with the critical elements in place and have a free moving horse with a balanced comfortable rider. In evaluating saddle fit the most important thing is you need to fit a saddle to how the horse should be in a healthy state, not necessarily how they are! You must look at your horses back with fresh eyes. 90% of the horses we evaluate that have been ridden have atrophy on the sides of the withers from the saddle bar angle being too narrow and the top line is dropped which is the direction they go to get away from the pain. They will also drop their top line when the saddle it too long and/or the saddle is bridging (not contacting in the middle). It hurts to collect and round their back. For the rider a flat seat, the correct size is critical. Any build up in the front of the seat encourages to sit back with your legs forward, you can try to sit centered but you have to work at it! You want your weight to be on the horse in the same spot where you ride bareback because that is the balance/centered point on the horses back/body. Think of their back as a teter toter....in the center you hardly move no matter what the teter toter does, move out of that spot and centriugal force takes over making it hard for you and the horse to stay balanced. Also very important is that is the strongest part of the horses back where they can carry your weight. Think of their back like a bridge......the middle is the weakest and behind the middle you are at the end of the rib cage and interferring with the horses hind quarter movement. Well this is probably enough for now, thanks for considering this information. I hope this is helpful! Feel free to call if you have any other questions at 800-863-6405. Saddle fit and proper rider positioning is our passion! Thanks, Terri
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Old 01-10-2013, 12:48 PM   #7
Baquero
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Join Date: Sep 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flyingcollie View Post
I'd like to see more discussion on this, folks' experiences, and hands-on "wherefore". I've been riding the same custom-made saddle for 40 years. The maker was considered in our area to be a good one, the pattern I bought was nothin' fancy, but a good "ranch-roper" with a light swell. I've been damn glad I had that swell a time or two . . . it's a full rig, but I'd think like most, I never questioned the back cinch, though I don't believe I ever needed it. Fact is, as I look around, I see a lot of horses that are a little cinchy, and given to cow-kick and buck a little, and I think it's because of a back cinch in many cases.

Baquero, you mention a number of "name brands" . . . but I wonder where you'd go these days to find the kind of saddle you describe so well . . . ?
Back cinches aren't bad, but when you have a centerfire or 5/8th's rigging there isn't much room for the back cinch. I need to take some pictures of my saddles and post them to give you a better idea of what I am talking about.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Reata Ranch Horsemanship View Post
Hi,
My custom made Outwest saddlery wade is not only stylish to look at but it has given me the ability to feel my horse & ride my horse not my saddle. It has allowed me to feel my horse, get in time better & be balanced for me & my horse. My old saddle ( Australian stock saddle) never gave me that. In saying this their are some very good Aussie stock saddles I just think too many
Most people these days are just looking for comfort in a saddle without thinking about getting in a feel with there horse. Both of these can be achievable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Out West Saddlery View Post
They will also drop their top line when the saddle it too long and/or the saddle is bridging (not contacting in the middle). It hurts to collect and round their back. For the rider a flat seat, the correct size is critical. Any build up in the front of the seat encourages to sit back with your legs forward, you can try to sit centered but you have to work at it! You want your weight to be on the horse in the same spot where you ride bareback because that is the balance/centered point on the horses back/body.
Terri, thanks for joining in on the discussion welcome to the group. You brought up some excellent points, I didn't think of allowing the horse to collect itself and round it's back for maneuvers. When I ride balanced it allows my horses to work balanced and become "collected" A saddle should encourage not discourage these movements.
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Old 01-11-2013, 05:57 PM   #8
Jeff Sanders
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Join Date: Jan 2012
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Here is one of my saddles. I will try to load photos of my other two also.
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File Type: jpg my saddle.jpg (43.9 KB, 102 views)
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Old 01-11-2013, 05:58 PM   #9
Jeff Sanders
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Here is another one.
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File Type: jpg katrina's saddle2.jpg (17.2 KB, 14 views)
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Old 01-11-2013, 06:18 PM   #10
Baquero
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Here are two more
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File Type: jpg sanders1.jpg (98.1 KB, 12 views)
File Type: jpg Sanders2.jpg (92.5 KB, 13 views)
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