Maybe you have a saddle that you consider the perfect ride – with one exception. There’s no rope strap on the swells, and you like packing a rope when you’re horseback. It doesn’t matter if you work, compete or play with your rope, as long as it’s handy on your saddle.
According to Tom and Tad Knowles, father and son who own and operate Wildflower Saddles & Tack in Elizabeth, Colorado, adding a rope strap is well within reach of those with average handyman skills. All it takes is a bit of hardware, a few tools, a saddle string and a little time to ensure that your rope stays put where you want it.
Although the Knowles now primarily make custom saddles, chaps and chinks, both men have spent countless hours horseback doing ranch work, and Tad now shows reined cow horses and enjoys big-loop roping. So both men appreciate that a comfortable, “all-day” saddle with the proper amenities, such as a rope strap, expedites the work at hand.
Here, Tad shows you how to add a rope strap to your saddle. Steps 1, 2 and 3 are similar to those used when preparing any string to repair a broken one on your saddle. (See “Saddle-String Savvy,” July 2006.) The clip-and-D-ring hardware used to attach the rope strap is the same as that used when adding a saddle string underneath a decorative concha. (Again, see “Saddle-String Savvy.”)
Step 1: Have the saddle shop where you purchase a standard three-foot string edge it for you, or buy an edging bevel for about $10 from a leathercraft store and round the edges yourself.
Step 2: Use a sharp knife or shears to “tip” the string ends, cutting one on an angle for ease of use. Square the other string end, where the horn loop later will be cut.
Step 3: Use a piece of canvas dipped in saddle soap to rub down the string. Otherwise, the leather’s top grain will crack, which weakens it.
Step 4: Select a position on the saddle fork for your rope strap, one that’s convenient for you. That’s a matter of preference, but decide where you want your rope strap before you start punching holes. Lightly mark the spot with a scratch awl (available from any hardware store), nail or pencil.
Step 5: Use a bag punch (available at a leathercraft store) to tap a hole through the fork’s decorative leather top layer, being careful not to score the rawhide underneath, which will allow moisture into your saddletree. Tad prefers a dull punch, as a sharp one’s more likely to score the rawhide. Insert a scratch awl in the hole, slightly lifting the top leather layer so the clip will more easily slide underneath.
Step 6: Place the metal strap atop the leather, right where you want it and where you’ll later insert it underneath the leather. Mark the leather, through the hole in the strap, to indicate where the screw later will be inserted.
Step 7: Now slide the metal strap into the slot you punched and underneath the leather. If necessary, lightly tap the strap with a hammer to seat it well into position.
Step 8: Use the scratch awl to make a pilot hole for the screw that’ll go through both the leather and the strap underneath. Although the pilot hole goes into the rawhide, the washer used in the next step will prevent moisture in the tree from becoming a problem.
Step 9: Position the stainless-steel screw and saddle washer, which countersinks and grips the leather underneath. With the washer in place, install the screw through the washer, saddle leather, metal strap and into the saddle fork.
Step 10: Measure the squared-off string end against the horn to determine how long a slit is necessary for the horn loop. The loop slips over the horn, once the leather strap’s been wrapped around your rope, to fasten the rope to your saddle.
Step 11: Punch a hole at either end of the planned horn-loop slit – before cutting it; otherwise, the slit might tear out easily. Make the slit lengthwise, right down the center of the string. Start at one end of the loop and cut halfway, then cut from the punched hole on the other end to complete the loop.
Step 12: Run the unslit strap end through the D-ring attached to the fork and then cut a small lengthwise slit in it, through which you’ll pull the loop end.
Step 13: Pull the loop end through the slit and snug the strap against the D-ring. This attachment, rather than a bleed-knot is more apt to come loose, should your rope get hung on anything. Now wrap the strap around your rope, loop the end over the horn, and you’re ready to go. After wrapping his rope, Tad brings the strap through the fork D-ring before fastening the horn loop, which holds his the rope securely off the horn.
Four generations of the Knowles family have lived in Colorado. Tom Knowles’ great-grandfather, a Scottish Highlander and veterinarian homesteaded near Monarch Pass, and his wife’s family are natives, as well, once from the old Abbey Ranch. Like Tom, son Tad roamed a bit, rodeoing and attending college in Oklahoma before returning to settle in Elizabeth, where the two operate Wildflower Saddles & Tack.
Through the years both have made many saddle repairs while working cattle and for their clientele. Nowadays they specialize in custom, close-contact performance saddles, combining the best of traditional saddlemaking skills with their many years’ experience horseback.
Contact Wildflower Saddles & Tack at (303) 646-3363.