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Current Trends in Western Saddles – with Harris Leather & Silverworks

Harris Leather and Silverworks has been around for generations. Mabelene Harris began hand-tooling leather belts and purses in the 1960s and quickly became very popular among the horse show crowd in North Carolina.

Fast forward to 1978, Ralph and Mabelene were selling hand-tooled and dyed leather show halters. Phil Harris, Ralph and Mabelene’s son, made his first saddle in 1982, then joined Harris Leather and Silverworks after graduating from college that same year. Eddie Harris, Phil’s brother, joined shortly after contributing his hand-engraved silverwork to headstalls, halters, saddles, jewelry, and buckles. Phil and Eddie’s children have now joined the family business.

Harris has been a formidable leader in the leather and silverwork industry and continues to create priceless works of art, including fully custom western show saddles. Phil Harris spoke with GoHorseShow to keep us current us on the newest styles in saddles and what we can expect to see in the show pen.

Trends in Western Show Saddles

Harris constantly strives to stay at the forefront of trends by developing new saddle styles within the western show saddle market. Phil says, “The current trends for western show saddles are those that have a heavy reliance on mixed materials. Therefore, we combine multiple exotic kinds of leather and hand-tooled leather and silver on each saddle to create detailed and unique designs with a lot of character. Additionally, we see the silver design trends more toward intricate detailing and heavy dimension on each piece to give the saddle a bold and one-of-a-kind look.”

Personalization on the saddle is also surging in popularity. Phil stated, “Whether it be a pair of silver initials on the saddle’s stirrup, a name on the silver rigging dee, or even initials on the corner plates, we are building more and more saddles with these personal touches.” 

Trends in Ranch Saddles

Harris has also been creating custom saddles for ranch showmen. However, AQHA rules discourage silver adornments or “bling” on the tack. Therefore, exhibitors are looking for other ways to make their saddles unique. Ranch saddle trends are undoubtedly more subtle, and Phil noted they can be challenging to create because of that.

According to Phil, “As a saddle maker, I can only do so much to the design or styling of a ranch saddle before it starts to get too far away from the lived-in ranch styling that most of our customers are trying to achieve.” 

Silver may be discouraged, but there are still options for designing a ranch saddle. Phil added, “We have been making lots of ranch saddles lately that feature antiqued copper studs along the saddle’s skirts. The silver studs along the saddle skirts were a style that we introduced back in the early 2000s and have become a mainstay in the western show saddle world. These antique copper studs allow us to give a ranch saddle that same intricate detailing that studs provide, without having the boldness and flashiness of the silver color.”

Harris saddles also feature a custom seat that will help with both the pleasure and performance aspects of the ranch classes. 

Inspiration for New Designs

Harris has had to continue challenging itself by moving forward with new ideas and concepts year-after-year to remain successful in an ever-changing industry. Phil shared with us, “Inspiration for new saddle designs can come from almost anywhere. We are blessed to have a large family working with us in our shop with several artistic and creative minds from which new ideas are always popping up. That’s the great thing about working with your family all these years. We each pull inspiration from our daily lives and the world around us. Styles within the world of fashion, furniture, automotive, and architecture are all sources of inspiration that we sometimes can translate into saddle styling.”

Phil went on to say, “Our customers also inspire us with new ideas. There are always those few customers who challenge us to create new designs and styles each time they order a saddle. We are grateful to have a customer base who challenge us and allow us to think outside the box to create a one-of-a-kind, custom saddle and keep styles moving forward.”

Harris Leather and Silverworks has been an outstanding business for many years. Harris prides itself in creating new styles and unique trends the market has never seen before to continue to be a trendsetter in the industry. So, be on the lookout for exciting saddle trends and styles this upcoming year and beyond.

About the Author- Celsey Crabtree is a devoted APHA competitor and enjoys showing in the all-around events with her horse SmoothChocolateScotch. Celsey teaches at Kansas State University and is a Ph.D. student in Agriculture Education. When not riding, Celsey enjoys being outdoors, CrossFit, and playing with her dogs.