The tree is the skeleton for any saddle and contributes to its strength and durability.
Story and photos by Guy de Galard
Saddlemaker Matt Miller of Dayton, Wyoming, refuses to build saddles on trees made by anyone other than himself. His reasoning is a tree is the foundation of any saddle, and each part of the tree plays a specific role in the quality of the finished product.
Bars: Connecting the cantle with the fork, the bars’ task is to evenly distribute the rider’s weight on the horse’s back and allow the rider to be balanced in the saddle for the benefit of both rider and horse. The bar angle is determined by the skeleton of the horse.
“The best way to determine what the bar angle should be is to look at the lumbar area of the horse,” Miller says. “The withers, on the other hand, will determine the gullet width.”
Fork: Its primary purpose is to determine how far apart the bars are and at what angle they should be set. The height of the gullet should always be measured in the back of the fork, as well as in the front because of the saddle’s different patterns and leather thickness.
Cantle: It holds the distance and angle of the bars at the rear of the tree. The taller the cantle, the shorter the actual seat.
Rigging: Based on notches cut into the bars, the tree dictates the rigging position. The rigging has to be aligned with the rocker, which is the lowest point of the bar on the horse’s back.
“If the rigging is in the proper position, the finished saddle will stay put, even when riding with a looser cinch, while achieving proper weight placement of the rider,” Miller explains.
Miller envisions the tree as a finished saddle.
“Everything has to be designed in the tree with the finished product in mind,” he says. “You cannot expect to have a pretty saddle when using an ugly tree.”
For more about Matt Miller’s custom saddles, see the September 2015 issue of Western Horseman.