Phil Harris Offers Advice on Finding Your Dream Saddle
Showing horses is an intense commitment of time and money, so when you decide to invest in an expensive piece of equipment, you want to make sure you do it right the first time. Choosing or designing your dream western saddle is one of those things. A saddle is an artwork that can represent your personal taste, style, and attitude.
GoHorseShow had the opportunity to talk to Phil Harris of Harris Leather & Silverworks about the best way to choose or customize your dream saddle. He offers advice on the technical and aesthetic factors that apply to everyone – whether you are designing a custom saddle with Harris, or looking for a pre-made saddle that compliments you and your horse.
With an array of points to consider when saddle shopping, Harris says the first thing to consider is seat size. “I think if the saddle fits the rider properly, it will create a more harmonious balance between the horse and rider. Too many people choose a seat size based on the resale and that sometimes causes them to be in a saddle that does not fit.”
Many saddle companies also have different seat types. This fact can have different effects on people depending on the way they sit naturally or the classes in which they ride. First, Phil says he finds out the events his customers show in before beginning to look at saddles or custom options. Knowing your budget is also necessary. “This gives me an idea of the direction and items I would like to offer them,” Phil explained (pictured right with his wife, Phyllis).
Harris saddles have two seat options: the Equitation and the Regular. “The Equitation is the standard seat and functions best for most all riders. It is what’s in 99% of all of our saddles. We use the regular seat in mostly ranch pleasure saddles. The equitation seat provides the rider with more security and does not allow for over-movement. There is still the ability to reposition one’s self, but it will also correctly position the rider for the western pleasure, trail, and horsemanship classes. While the regular seat gives more movement for the rider for events like the ranch pleasure or western riding.”
Visualizing your dream saddle can also be a challenge. Most of us know what our preferences are but making something our very own can be challenging. Harris offers some advanced technology that can help customers put together their dream saddle by computer before actually building it. Phil says this service is something that has improved significantly over the years.
“With the website, we can show customers examples of many custom saddles that we have done. Photoshop and other photo altering programs are now available to help show how different options can look when added to a saddle. We are a small shop with a small staff, and I will not mock up a saddle unless the customer is very serious about ordering one. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to do these pictures.”
Harris is also known for their exquisite tooling patterns and unique exotic leathers – a sure way of setting yourself apart from the crowd. “We also have sample swatches of the many tooling patterns we offer. A customer can see what the carving will look like before ordering. We also have samples of the different colors of suede we provide for the saddle seats and swatches of all the exotic leathers that can be added to the saddles.”
Silver accessories are another customizable feature that can be added to a saddle you are building from scratch, one you already own, or one you want to revamp. Harris’ designs can be seen on their website, or they can draw custom designs for corner plates or other pieces.
When customizing, Phil says, “They need to be focused on the items that they want on the saddle that can’t be added later. For example, a silver horn can only be added when the saddle is being built. A cantle strip can be added at a later time. I tell all customers, let’s get the basic design down and get the price figured and then either add or delete depending on the budget.”
Customizing silver is an excellent way to give your saddle the personal touch that just might make it your dream saddle. It is also a good choice if you are looking for an affordable option while still being unique. One of the most popular ways of doing this is adding a name plate.
“The customizable features that stand out the most are the personalized items, such as the rigging nameplates or the name on the back of the cantles. These add a nice touch of personalization and most importantly, can be removed if they decide to sell the saddle.”
Overall, Harris believes that when it comes to silver, it is important to have a balance of silver on the saddles. “Your saddle should look good on any horse. It’s too expensive to buy a saddle just for one particular horse. You will probably have the saddle a lot longer than you’ll have one particular horse.”
An option that is still circulating the horse show fashion world is the color of saddles. Phil says that color comes down to personal preference, but “two tones are the most popular right now and have a stunning look on any horse. The contrast of colors sets the saddle apart in the show ring.”
Even though you might not have the same show horse forever, there are reasons you should consider one’s body type when choosing skirt styles. Harris explained that, “If the horse has a very short back, a round corner might work best. The only time I run into an issue is when the rider needs a seat larger than 17″. This causes the bars in the tree to need to be longer, and therefore the skirts must be longer. This extra length can give some shorter crouped horses trouble in the hip area.”
As fun and exciting as customizing can be, it is just as important to consider the functionality of the saddle. This falls in line with choosing the right seat for you to have the proper body position to better communicate with your horse. Talking to a professional through the process can ensure that you are getting what you need and what you want out of your dream saddle.
“We have the most complete custom saddle and silver shop in the nation and we can work with the customer to produce the custom saddle of their dreams,” states Harris. “We offer all of the accessories that the showman needs to complete the whole package. Personalization and customization are not a problem.”
Follow these steps to get started finding or creating your dream saddle. Some of these measures give you something to think about before you even start looking, giving you a jump start on the process.
1) Set a budget
Go into your search knowing what you can and are willing to spend to make decisions easier on yourself. You will find it simpler to pick what you like better if you know the dollar amount you have allotted.
2) Work with a professional to find your ideal seat type
Seat type has the biggest effect on you, your horse, and the communication between you and your horse. Make sure you have a seat that fits your body and allows you to use your legs and seat appropriately, enhancing your ability to maneuver your horse.
3) Start with tooling
Tooling is the base of a saddle’s style. Although there are many options, it’s a good decision to make right away. Most people have an idea of the tooling style they prefer just based on saddles they have seen. This allows you a ‘ground up’ approach, and you can build from there.
4) Get your shine on
If you know you want silver, it’s a good idea to make those decisions next. The amount of silver you choose can affect your remaining budget. This is true whether you are picking out a saddle or designing your own.
5) Everything else
After the bones of your saddle are set, anything extra depends on your remaining budget. Use this to adjust what you have at this point, or do some further customizing. If you are buying an already made saddle, you could invest in custom silver nameplates or something else that would make it your own.
Prioritizing before you dive into your dream saddle search will help you make decisions and help whoever you are working with better assist you. Ask questions, sit in as many seats as you can, pay attention to details, and make it your own. Your dream saddle is waiting.
Photos © Harris Leather and Silverworks, Kurt Clark, GoHorseShow, Morgan McCarthy-Warda