"Evolution of the Western Saddle" : a study in Bronze by Jack Long Osmer

The Bronze Sculptures
The History

Conquistador's War Saddle

A Spanish version of the Moorish saddle. The Moors dominated the Spanish peninsula between the 12th and 13th centuries. This saddle carried a trace of the old Crusader's saddle of Europe. The Spanish used this type of war saddle in working their cattle. The saddle had no horn on the tree and cattle were worked with a tool called a pike pole. This method was used before the rope or lariat era. Rigging was a little front of center or what we call the three quarter rig.
"Evolution of the Western Saddle"
displayed in noted museums and collections, including:

  • Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City
  • Smithsonian Museum, Washington, DC
  • Pro Rodeo Hall of Champions
  • 3M Corporation
  • Diamond M Foundation Art Museum, Snyder, TX
  • Marlboro Collection
  • Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
  • Phippen Art Museum, Prescott, AZ
  • Rodeo Hall of Fame
  • Grand Canyon Squire Inn Museum
  • Smoki Museum
  • Bank One Art Collection, Phoenix, AZ
  • Bank of Houston, Texas Collection
  • Harding & Harding, Inc. Collection, Geneva, IL
  • John Clymer Museum, Ellensburg, WA
  • Grand Palais, Paris, France (1980)
Click on Thumbnail Pictures below:

In 1979, the Saddle Set adorns the
White House State Dinner table
for Anwar Sadat and President Carter
The Spanish Colonist Saddle

This was a modification of the war saddle. The Spanish colonist of this era had learned that the use of the rope or lariat had many advantages over the pike pole in working cattle. He reworked the war saddle by cutting down the high fork and installing a snubbing post or horn. The cantle was changed to allow easier mounting and dismounting. Rigging was probably in the three quarter position.
The Mexican Vaquero Saddle

The Mexican Vaquero saddle held its own from the time of its conception until the present day, with relatively minor changes. In over two hundred years of its history you can still see the likeness of the first saddle in the current style. The fork and cantle were carved from wood and fastened to the side bars. The tree was covered in wet, heavy rawhide and sewn into place. When dried it provided a more solid unit. The earliest versions had a much smaller horn than did later models. The cinch rigging was directly under the fork, or what is know as the Rim Fire Rig.

The Santa Fe Saddle

This was a modification of the early Mexican saddle. The Anglo pioneers, recognizing the many advantages of this saddle, adapted it to their needs. The wooden tree was covered with rawhide and the horn was large and flat. The cantle had hand holes cut into it on both sides and the tree was covered with a removable leather Mochilla. Leather pockets were often placed on the Mochilla or Mother Hubbard. Generally they used wooden stirrups, but occasionally iron rings were used. Rigging was in the three quarter position. Since similar modifications were used in the earlier years in Texas and California, this saddle enjoyed great popularity in the Western plains.

The Early Texas Saddle
1850 - 1880

This modification of the Santa Fe saddle grew out of the Southern Texas country. The texans of this era came up with a tie hard roping system, which required a much stronger saddle. A steel horn was bolted to the rawhide covered tree, which was domed and had the nickname of acorn or apple horn. The fork and tree were also covered with leather and the large Mochilla was fastened permanently. A wool-like skirt was often sewn to the under side of the tree to cushion the man's weight on the horse. This was also one of the first double rigged saddles, which made it possible to rope and hold larger cattle in such rough country. The stirrup fender was introduced to protect the riders' legs from the sweat and friction of the horse's body. Stirrups were made of steamed wood.

Texas Trail Saddle
1870 - 1900

After the close of the Civil War, returning Texans found themselves with no money but millions of cattle. The trail drives of longhorn Texas cattle to Kansas, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas developed the need for a stronger, more comfortable saddle. The Texas trail saddle was a revision of the early Texas saddle. The saddle was fully double rigged and had an A fork with a steel horn bolted in place. The front strap ran up from the ring, wrapped around the horn and went down to the opposite ring. The front rig strap went completely over the back bars and both front and rear rings were tied together by a connecting strap. Rings were often covered in leather to protect them from rust. The saddle bars were redesigned for a better fit to the horse's back and square skirts lined with wool were placed under the tree. The housing replaced the Mochilla, and everything was held in place by strings that went through the skirt tree seat and housing. Stirrups were of steamed wood with a broad tread. Frequently they were covered with hog snout tapaderos.

Late California Saddle
1870 - 1900

In the late 1800's California cattle and horses had increased in size and numbers. Working conditions required a stronger saddle than the earlier models. A high steel horn with the cap pitched back was bolted to a slightly swelled fork. The cantle was higher and had less slope than the earlier models. This fork and cantle combination formed a deeper seat, which made the saddle popular for riding rough horses. The fork was the forerunner of the swell fork saddle. The three quarter rigging was glued and then nailed to the tree under the fork cover. the wool lined skirts, usually square, cushioned the load on the horse. Often large saddle pockets, or cataras, were attached behind the cantle. Tapaderos up to 28" long were often used over Oxbow stirrups.

Swell Fork Saddle

This saddle was designed in the late 1800's in the Pacific Northwest, meeting the needs for a more secure seat on large, rough horses. The horn, of iron or brass, was screwed to the fork, which ranged from an extreme of 22" on down, but most were about 12" or 14" wide. The high, deeply cushioned cantle, coupled with the wide fork and short seat, gave the cowboy a secure grip on his horse. In fact, some of these saddles were referred to as "Bear Traps". While center-fire and double rigged were used, most were equipped with three quarter rigs. For the first time the stirrup leathers were concealed under the seat cover. Stirrup equipment was usually of the Oxbow type.

All Around Stock Saddle

1930 - 1971

During this era barbed wire had conquered the West and cattle breeding was becoming a science. New methods in cattle raising management changed the saddle needs of the cowmen once again. The saddle shown is double rigged with wide fenders covering the stirrup straps. Note the broad tred on the leather covered stirrups. With its low 3" cantle and 13" fork, it made a good roping as well as riding saddle. Rough out leather was used in the construction of the seat, fwenders and skirts. Since the cowboy could use this saddle for work as well as rodeo roping it proved to be quite popular. It probably was the forerunner of the present day roping saddle.

Modern Day Working Saddle

The vanishing old dyed-in-the-wool cowboy is being replaced by his modern counterpart. Versatile, specialized and skilled in the application of "cow technology", he demands a saddle that fits his current needs. He will probably ride colts and work cattle during the week, with here and there contest roping on the weekend. Many are using a saddle with some swell in the fork, a moderate cantle, and usually a "Dally horn". Cinch rigging is in the full double position, occasionally in seven eighths. This allows more freedom of movement for the fenders and stirrup leathers. Joining the housing and skirt into a one piece assembly seals out dirt and moisture and adds strength to the saddle. In the brush and high snow country the "hog snout" tapadero is still used but more cowboys have dispensed with this item.