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Choosing a Saddle with John Bauer, Flat Creek Saddle Shop

John Bauer, owner of Flat Creek Saddle Shop. Courtesy Photo

John Bauer was looking for a winter job about 30 years ago and found one at Flat Creek Saddle Shop with then-owner Scott Carter. While Carter eventually moved on, Bauer never did. The store in Jackson, Wyoming, is now in its fourth location, at 1655 High School Road.

While Bauer prefers to sell the shop’s saddles, he also does a solid business in used saddles. “A lot of people prefer a used saddle,” he said. “The price is right, and they are already broke in. There are a lot of good, used saddles available.”

John said when considering a used saddle, a person should make sure the tree is solid. It is not very common to see a damaged tree, but it does happen. The next thing to check is the stirrup leathers to make sure they are in good condition. The wool should also be good, as should the billet, or cinch straps. The store has 200 or more saddles in stock for all western disciplines at any given time.

The first thing Bauer asks a person when looking for a saddle is, “What do you intend to do? Then we will figure out a saddle that matches that.”

He said that one saddle is not going to cover all events, though one saddle might be all a person can afford. Then it depends on what is most important to the rider. “Are they serious about barrel racing? You aren’t going to rope in a barrel saddle. But a barrel saddle can make a good trail saddle, with shorter skirts and free swinging stirrups, even though it will have a higher horn.”

Ideally, Bauer likes to fit the saddle to the horse. He has the rider choose three or four possible saddles they like, trying each saddle on the horse first without a pad, then with a pad.

“Saddle trees aren’t like shoe sizes,” he said. “They do not come in different preset sizes. Each tree maker has their own pattern. They shape the bars differently, there are a lot of variables. That is why it is best to try the saddle on the horse before you buy.”

People often ride multiple horses. “Team ropers, for example, generally have some consistency in their horses,” Bauer said. “Then we fit the most common of the horses. Pads can make up the difference in fit on the odd horse.”

A custom saddle on a custom tree will fit a lot more horses. “However,” John said, “not everyone can afford a $4,200 to $5,000 saddle.”

Don Butler Wade Saddle. Courtesy Photo

A custom-built saddle will probably fit a person all their lives, but a person will be riding different horses over time. Horses themselves change over fifty years, and a 45-pound saddle is a lot different when you are twenty years old than when you are sixty or seventy. By then, most people want a lighter saddle.”

“The importance of saddle fit also depends on how much you use your horse,” he said. “You’re not going to get a blister on your heel if you walk two blocks in poor-fitting shoes. Going two miles would be another matter. If you only ride for an hour once or twice a week or just on weekends, you probably aren’t going to get those rubs. Someone using a horse hard needs a better fit.”

When asked if he rode, Bauer said, “Not as much as I want to!” He does help local ranchers out and helps his son Jesse, at the place he is on in Pinedale, Wyoming. Of course, John rides a custom-made saddle.

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