Saddle bronc riding is always a fun and entertaining event to watch.
It’s amazing how cowboys stay rooted to their seats in the saddle while working the reins and spurring in rhythm aboard bucking horses trying to throw them off. Saddles are immensely important to the riders’ success, and I’ve always been fascinated about how they gravitate to certain styles, brands or types of saddles.
Whether it’s stirrup length, design, feel or rein, every bronc rider has subtle tweaks he makes to his gear setup. As a result, no two setups are the same, making it difficult for cowboys to borrow their peers’ saddles if theirs breaks, is lost or delayed by airlines.
It’s rare that a bronc rider will change his saddle mid-season, and those switches don’t usually end well. Once a cowboy has a seat he feels comfortable in, he’ll use it until it falls apart.
“I use them until they break, and then I’ll get a different one,” said 2006 World Champion Chad Ferley, who won Round 2 on Friday night with an 87.5-pointer on Frontier Rodeo’s Tip Off. “I’ve had this saddle for about three years, and the one I had before I used for about 11 years until it broke.”
Chet Johnson, who is riding in the fourth Wrangler National Finals Rodeo of his career, tried switching saddles at the beginning of the year, but it didn’t work out too well.
“I started the year and was coming off a surgery, so I thought, ‘I’ll just try a new saddle and try new everything,’” Johnson said. “I rode the new saddle up until Houston, and I didn’t have any luck. So, I went back to my old one, and it was like going back home.
“There’s really nothing wrong with the saddle, I think it’s what you get used to. You do get used to them and the makers you use. You get used to a certain style, and once you get used to a certain style, it’s hard to change.”
Reigning World Champion Jesse Wright tried riding one brand of saddle for a while, but ended up switching back to the style he learned to ride on during the early days of his career. He made the switch late in the 2011 season and has been red hot ever since.
“I think it is particular, and maybe it’s because it’s the one I learned to ride on,” Wright said of the saddle. “When I went back to it, it just felt so much better. I just stuck with it.
“(Older brother) Cody is quite a bit older than us, and he got the chance to try a few different saddles. That is what he was riding when we started, so that’s what we started out on.”
Ferley doesn’t place a crazy amount of importance on saddle styles, feeling more that he is versatile enough to use virtually any gear.
“I’m someone who doesn’t worry too much about my saddle,” said Ferley, who is competing in his seventh Wrangler NFR. “I figure, if I’m doing my job correctly, my saddle is going to work fine. None of them are too terribly far apart, but there are some differences that do make a lot of difference.”
The deciding factor, most times, is how it feels under their hind quarters. That’s all that matters in the end.
“Saddles get broken, and things like that can happen, so you usually try to get a pretty comfortable backup ready,” Johnson said. “For the most part, you get something you like, you have to stay with it.”