Q&A Questions and Answers:
Hey there, Cowboy Bob,
Do you have any idea when the Western Saddle was first introduced?
Well, I was just a youngster back then, so my recollection might be a bit flawed, but I'd say the first western saddle was introduced in 1539 when Fray Marcos led his expedition across what is now Texas and New Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola. Most of those saddles, however, were used by the soldiers; the padres either walked or rode burros.
As ranches sprang up around the Spanish missions, the few "vaqueros" who had access to horses rode saddles that were little more than a bunch of pads held in place by a hunk of leather held in place by a strap -- similar to that used by Argentine gauchos today. The wealthy Spanish rancheros used highly ornamented saddles fashioned after the heavy European war saddles, which were very expensive and of little use as every day working saddles.
The first true Western saddles were modifications of the saddles used by North American colonists. Through experimentation, saddlemakers came up with hundreds of variations on the basic saddle, changing the height and angle of the cantle, adding or removing tapaderos. Those who rode half-broke horses in wild country prefered pommels with deep insets that could be gripped with the legs. As the colonists migrated west, they brought their saddles with them, and the Native Americans and vaqueros quickly saw the advantages they offered. The California gold rush and settlement of Texas, in particular, brought a number of saddle-makers to the ripe markets of the Southwest, and by the 1850s the Spanish rancheros were trading in their pads and heavy war saddles for the new "Western" styles.
The experimentation and variation continues even today, with Fiberglas trees, shock-absorbing stirrups and more coming into use. The basic style, however, has stayed essentially the same; and a cowhand of the cattle drive days would feel right at home in one of today's Western saddles.
Stay Straight Up in the Saddle!
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