Why are saddles so expensive in Australia?

If you are a horse rider you will know the prices of equipment in Australia is artificially high, selection limited. An online Google search will quickly prove this. The saddlery industry in Australia is dominated by a few large chains of franchise stores. These chains offer limited choice and inflated prices. If you live in the country you typically have limited choice to shop local.

We exist because we can use economy of scale in volume buying on a world market to bring good quality product to Australian riders at a reasonable price. In some cases we use Australian design and build overseas. In some cases we buy the best value we can that is already established overseas.

Why don’t we build our stock saddles in Australia? With so many cattle in Australia why use imported leather?

Two very good questions.

Our family is six generation Australian and with a farm background. If we could use Australian produced agricultural product I guarantee you on an emotional basis we would try and do this. Unfortunately in today’s economy just not possible.

Like many manufacturing industries saddle making is labour intensive and skill dependent. It also needs a support chain of component equipment. Raw leather, trees, metal fittings, nails, felt, etc .

High labour cost is only one part of the equation. We cannot offer the wages the mines can but this alone is not the only reason. The skill base is disappearing. There are not the apprenticeships training to support the industry. List a job for a trained saddler and see how many applicants you get. The biggest issue is the supply chain to support the industry in Australia is disappearing.


Leather is the biggest single raw material input in a stock saddle. If we take leather as an example, Australia once had a leather tanning industry. For stock saddles we need high quality vegetable tanned sides of 4.5 to 5 mm in thickness. Tanneries are a “dirty” industry. They output many pollutants. Look in the yellow pages and you will find very few tanneries currently exist in Australia. Green legislation has closed these dirty industries in Australia and moved them to countries with less stringent waste disposal laws. You can take different views on this legislation .On one hand you can see it as good for the environment, on the other hand exporting Australian jobs. I am not trying to make a political comment. Whatever view you take it does not change the fact that we cannot buy commercial quantities of Australia tanned leather, so we have to by overseas.

For some years so called Australian leather was actually sourced from New Zealand. This tannery also closed down a few years ago. Today most so called AUSTRALIAN SADDLES are made out of imported, mostly American or Argentine tanned .The hides may even be Australian originating hides , who can tell when they sell on the world green hide market and go to a tannery, but you can be sure the hide will NOT be processed in Australia.


There is a difference between a home hobby small builder and world class factory production. The equipment and capitalisation needed for a factory is a different scale to a small artisan working from home. A small artisan can build a fine saddle, but it will be prohibitively expensive. In the 1930’s there were a few custom car makers that made hand assembled “fine cars” for super wealthy buyers. Many of our small custom saddle builders can be compared to these old custom car makers. Fine product, but they were just not affordable by the masses. In cars today the brands most Australians use are Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, BWM, Audi, Mercedes, Isuzu, and Holden. All are built in a factory, not somebody’s back yard. Nearly all are built overseas.

We do not do custom one off builds, this is not our market. We sell factory built, quality saddles that have value built in. We do not do one off builds. Neither does Holden or Toyota do one off builds. You cannot get economy of production if you do this non standard work. Cost of production will rise on a one off build and we lose our competitive advantage.

Stock Holding

We hold some between 300 and 400 saddles in stock ready to ship at anytime.

Most models , sizes and colours are available for immediate delivery .

Custom Build

Can we build you a custom built saddle?

Yes it is possible. Please give me a call to discuss what you need.

Some considerations. We need 6 to 7 weeks to build for you. We can only build on trees we have available but can change models to you preference. We deliver to your agreed specification . There is no trial and return on a custom build. A custom build will cost more than a production build.


Clifford Wade, whose family came west on the Pregon Trail , had a saddle . made by an unknown maker, that his dad brought with him from the East. Tom Dorrance , who lived in Wallowa County, origon,cowboyed with Cliff and admired Cliffords livestock handling ablity and the saddl Clifford rode he had ingerited from his dad.

According to Dale Harwood, noted Idaho saddle maker ,in 1939, Tom Dorrance took Cliffords saddle to Hamley and Company Saddle Shop in Pendleton ,Oregon. He had a new saddle made on a saddletree copied from the tree in Cliffords old saddle.

In 1940, Tom Dorrance was not satisfied with the fit of this saddle. he went back to Hamleys and worked with Walt Youngman,head tree maker at Hamoey, and they made some modifications in the saddle tree. At that time, Hamleys made both saddle trees and saddle in their shop. Dorrance continued riding this improved saddle throughout his long career as the prelier horse psychologist.

Hamleys made more of these trees that Tom Dorrance and Walt Youngman had designed. They wanted to call them Dorrance trees, but Tom wanted the tree named after Cliffird Wade from whom they had copied the original. Hamley &Company made a few saddles on the Wade trees. They were mostly scatted arround Nevada,eastern Origon, and southern Idaho, but had limited popularity.

In 1962 ,Dale Harwood opened a saddle shop in southernIdaho. Harwood had buckarooed on ranches all over northern Nevada and oregon. He started making saddles for working buckaroos. In 1992 , Ray Hunt had Dale Harwood build him a saddleon a wade tree. Harwood credits Ray Hunt with popularizing the Wade style of saddle by riding in one in the many horse clinics Hunt conducted throughout the United States, Canada ,and also Australia.

There are several reasons why Wade saddle remain popular today. The saddle sets low on a horse,giving a horse better leverage while holding heavy livestock that has been roped. The horn is low and out of the waywhen roping. The horn has a prominant lip to make dallying with your rope easier. Working uckaroos really like the saddle because of the way it fits a horse,never moving whether riding in steep mountains , or on the flats.

Tom Dorrance's original saddle, built on the first Wade tree , which he wore out and recovered himself, is currently owned by Jim and Luke Neubert, sons of Bryan Neubert , horse clinician from Alturas, California. The saddle was given to Bryan's sons as a gift by Tom Dorrance in 1989. Tom Dorrance's saddle copied by Hamley & Company from Clifford Wade's saddle and then reworked by Hamley $Company from Clifford Wade's saddle and then reworked by Dorrance and Walt Youngman.

Article by Mike Laughlin,courtesy of Cowboy Showcase. A version which appeared in the July 2014 issue of Western Horseman Magazine.

The introduction of the Wade saddle into Australia would have to be credited to Ray Hunt. His influence on horsemen and Horsewomen since conducting clinics in Australia has been profound.He always rode a nice Dale Harwood saddle which not only impressed the clinic participants but also some saddle makers.

The wade saddle is one of the most popular western cowboy or buckaroo saddle being made today and there ialways strong demand for this style of saddle .