World-famous Severe Brothers Saddlery, a family-operated outfit in Pendleton, Oregon, was started by brothers Duff and Bill Severe in 1955. Today, the next generation of Severe brother, Robin and Randy, carry on their father and uncle's saddlemaking traditions, while adding a few touches of their own.
Both Randy and Robin make saddle trees for the shop. Severe Brothers offers more than 40 trees style from which to choose or modify to fit your and your horse's needs. According to Robin, the tree is the foundation of a good working saddle.
"We order frozen rawhide out of Texas," Robin says. "The main thing we look for in rawhide is strength. We use strictly bull hide for its durability."
For ladies' trees, the men often use Charolais hide, because it's lighter weight and thinner than other hides. Hereford hide, which is thicker and heavier, is good to use on trees that will be under a lot of stress, such as a saddle used by a calf or steer roper.
The brothers note that the trend is to build wider trees that sit lower on a horse's back. But they don't like the way such saddles sit on a horse's back.
"A horse's loins are only about four inches wide," Randy explains. "When you widen the tree, the saddle sits on the horse's ribs. That's why the padding industry has developed-to get the saddle off the horse's ribcage."
Severe Brothers saddles are designed to be ridden with only a Navajo blanket to reduce the heat and weight on the horse's back.
"We place wool on the bottom of the saddle, and we try to seal the tree with tighter leather to protect the tree from environmental elements," Randy explains. "Moisture will weaken a tree."
In an era of mass production, Randy and Robin prefer to stick to traditional tree-making methods.
"I hope to preserve the methods of assembling a saddle tree," Robin says. "Nobody is teaching it, and it's a time-proven method. Not many people want to take the time to learn or do it-they'd rather use a duplicating machine. I'd make more money and it'd be faster to mass produce saddles, but I fee it'd compromise the saddle's integrity, and I can't afford to do that."
Carving the Future
Just like his Uncle Duff, Randy is known for his uncompromised carving quality. Influenced by Duff, Cliff Ketchum and Don King, Randy carves with depth, clarity and precision. One of his specialties is the Northwest flower, a floral design developed by Duff. When carving the pattern, he considers the way flowers grow in nature.
"I like to fill the area with the design, whether it's a large fender or a small area on a belt," he says. "Some floral patterns show flowers stacked like bales. No flower grows like that in nature. It grows until it hits a boundary, then it grows back on itself with no restrictions.
Randy was taught to carve flowers starting with a circle, and making a flower from that. The pattern can go in many directions.
"My goal is to make a flower pretty enough a bee will land on it," Randy says. "If I can fool a bee, then I've accomplished something in saddlemaking."