We at J.J. Maxwell Tack & Saddle Co., pride ourselves in making top quality, western style saddles for the horse and mule. Trail saddles are our specialty, but we also build traditional western saddles as well. If you are looking for a well fitting saddle for your equine partner, that is well balanced and a close contact saddle for yourself, you have come to the right place.
There are many reasons why purchasing one of our trail saddles would be a good decision. Each saddle is more than just an exquisite, hand-tooled, quality piece of leather art. Each saddle is engineered and hand-crafted by a master saddle maker in the Old World, and western traditions. There are no gimmicks, just top quality workmanship, based on time proven principles.
All of our saddles are hand-crafted of top quality leather, 100% bark tanned wool fleece, stainless steel screws, and stainless steel or brass hardware. They are all compact in design, which means: lighter weight, shorter skirts, less bulk. The stirrup leathers are pre-stretched. The advantage of pre-stretched leathers is, the side you mount on will not become longer than the off side. We will lengthen or shorten fenders and stirrup leathers as needed for longer and shorter than normal inseams. The fleece is grain oriented, which keeps your saddle pad from sliding out from underneath the saddle. The skirts are blocked, which means that they have been wet and formed to the tree and allowed to dry. This gives the underside of the saddle a nice curve to it. The back of the skirts are not sewn or laced together beyond the back of the bar and are allowed to float. This prevents a hard line across the back. A permanent stirrup twist is applied to the stirrup leathers. This means less stress on the ankles, knees, and hips.
There are several choices for the seat, depending on your wants or needs: a well shaped hard seat with a nice pocket, a standard padded seat, or an inlaid padded seat. With a standard padded seat, you do loose some of the pocket. The inlaid is the preferred seat by most because you have a little bit of padding where it is needed, and you still have a good pocket. All of our seats are shaped in a way where there is no excess bulk. They are made as close contact as possible, for a western type saddle. In regards to a narrow twist. The twist can only be as narrow as the the fit of the horse. If you have a wide, flat backed horse, you are not going to have a narrow twist. Only way to narrow the saddle is to build up the seat away from the horse, but then you loose contact.
All of this is added to a special designed tree that will give the horse/mule and rider the utmost in pleasure for a lifetime. We use 11 possible fits with an easy to use fit system. The fits are based on different body types. The tree is a wood fiberglass covered tree for strength and durability. The front of the tree bar has been shortened up slightly and rounded off. This makes for less of a sharp angle. The front of the saddle is the front of the tree. You may note that there is very little excess skirt sticking out in front of the tree bar. The front of the saddle is meant to be placed just at or off the scapula. This modification to the tree is very subtle, but it allows for more freedom of the shoulder. All of our trail saddles have the same features. They all have a 4 inch cantle. The Hope saddle, Pistolero, Weatherly, and the GT Packer are all built on the same style tree.
We also have a unique rigging that lessens the cinch pressure, and spreads the pressure down the side of the saddle. This makes it unnecessary to have a rear cinch, and therefore, a lighter weight saddle. We do add rear rings, billets, and a flank strap upon request.
Beside all these features, our saddles have been designed to position the rider in a truly balanced position. Not only will it position you properly, but it has been designed to free up and accommodate the working muscles of your equine partner. Because of the compact design and the close contact, well balanced seat; they make an excellent Western Dressage Saddle. Many of our customers can and do testify to this. Remember, if your horse is not enjoying the ride, then you probably aren’t either.
If you want more answers to questions you might have about out trail saddles and other topics of interest, click on the F & Q link in the bottom tool bar. If you would like to see more photos of our saddles, please click on the Facebook icon at the top of our home page. Thank you for your interest. Hope to hear from you.
Choosing the right fit
Choosing the Right Saddle Fit
In addition to the many fine features of our trail saddles, we have taken great care to provide you with a saddle fit system that is user friendly and will assure the best possible fit for your horse/mule.
Remember that as little as 2 pounds of pressure per square inch can cause tissue damage. Therefore, our tree bars are made with sufficient surface to allow proper weight distribution. The front of the bar has been shortened up slightly and rounded off. This allows for more freedom of movement in the shoulder area.
Our fit system involves a set of 11 fiberglass forms that represent the different bar angles, widths, and flare. They are breed specific, but in reality, they are body types. It can take numerous bars to fit any one breed of horse. These forms stack inside of each other and are sent out in a box with a 9 minute video that explains how to position them and what to look for in fit.
Each form has a letter designation. This is an easy process to do. We ask that people take digital photos or video of the best fit and email them to us to confirm the fit. The forms are returned to us with the order form and the determined letter designation. A tree with that letter/ fit, in the style chosen, and seat size needed, will be ordered, if not already in stock. These photos are a good representation of a good fit and a good example of the proper camera angles to take photos.
Proper Positioning & Balance
#1 Balanced Rider (photo on the left) #2 Unbalanced Rider (photo on the right)
We made this information available to help people better understand how our saddle position the rider correctly. Diagram 1 shows a rider in a typical western saddle. The rider is sitting in a chair seat position, being forced back against the cantle. The drawback of this, is it puts the rider behind the horse’s center of balance. If the horse makes any sudden moves, the rider will have a more difficult time staying seated in this type of saddle. Not to mention this is more fatiguing for the rider and the horse.
Diagram 2 shows how a rider would ride in one of our trail saddles. The spine is straight for better support, and the rider’s weight is near the 15th vertebrae. Our trail saddles are engineered to position the base weight of the rider in the most natural place on the horse’s back, which is, the 15th vertebrae. In a natural state the horse will carry 60% of its weight on the front end, and 40% on the back end. The first 14 vertebrae of the horse, angle toward the back. All the vertebrae behind the 15th vertebrae, angle toward the front. The 15th vertebrae stands straight up. This is the balance point of the horse. On our trail saddles, we shorten up the front of the bar slightly, which allows us to move the saddle further forward, without being on the horse’s shoulder blades. With this modification to the front of the bar, as well as how the seat is shaped, we can put the rider closer to this balance point. With typical western saddle, the rider often ends up sitting behind the balance point, at about the 17th vertebrae. We would like to be as close to the natural balance point as possible.
Another thing that needs mentioning is proper positioning of the saddle. It is a common practice for people to place their saddles too far forward. Look at Diagram 1 again. Besides not being a balanced seat, it appears to be too far forward on the horse. There are many reasons why people might saddle like this. Not understanding the mechanics of the saddle and the importance of it being placed in a certain place in order for it to work properly is one reason. The purpose of the tree in the saddle, is to distribute weight over a larger area. Over 2 pounds per square inch can create tissue damage. Think of the tree as a puzzle piece; it has to be in a certain place in order for it to fit. Another reason why the saddle might be placed too far forward, would be, concern for the kidney/loin area. This is a pretty common occurrence with short backed horses. By placing the saddle too far forward, the front of the saddle is now resting on the shoulder blades, the middle is not contacting at all, and the back of the bar is digging in toward the back. The very thing that people are worried about, pressure in the loin area, is happening. We call this bridging (where you only have contact in the front and the back). You have less weight distribution, shoulder restriction, as well as the rider’s weight is shifted even more toward the back. This can result in soreness in the shoulder and loin area, especially with a heavier weight rider. The last reason we would like to mention, why people might saddle this way, is because of the horse’s conformation. When a horse is butt high ( butt higher than wither), or it could be a horse that is high withered, with a deep pocket behind the shoulder, the saddle will not set level. Again not knowing the mechanics of the saddle, people will place the saddle on the shoulder blades to level out the saddle. The saddle still needs to be placed in the proper place, and the leveling, can be corrected with a good, orthopedic pad that can be shimmed properly. It you don’t shim, then there will be a lot of pressure toward the front of saddle, because the rider’s weight has been shifted forward. Not to mention the rider is now out of balance too. Many western saddles are on the larger side. This might explain a lot of the problems with positioning of the saddle. If the horse cannot accommodate a saddle like this, then you need to find a smaller skirted saddle. Improper saddle placement can cause shoulder and loin pain as well as cinch sores. Many behavior problems can occur, such as head tossing, stumbling, bit resistance, etc. Every saddle should be placed off the scapula.
Our saddles are designed to fit immediately behind the horse’s scapula. The front of the finished saddle is the front of the tree. That is why you do not see much excess skirt in the front. The seat is designed to position the rider’s body on his/her pelvic floor, at or near the 15th vertebrae of the horse. Our goal here, is to help you work with your horse or mule, not against it. It allows you to become one with your horse, while giving you a secure, comfortable seat, so you and your equine partner can achieve a more harmonious relationship.
About Our Rigging
About Our Rigging
We started by offering our unique rigging on our first trail saddle, which was the Hope saddle. So we now call it the Hope rigging and it comes standard on all of our trail models. It is designed to lighten the pressure in the wither, shoulder, and girth area. At the same time, it also disperses the pull over the entire side of the saddle as well as it holds the back of the saddle down. It may appear to be center fire rigging, but it floats between 7/8 and 3/4 position. With the Hope rigging there is no need for a latigo keeper, because the rear D can serve as your keeper. This way the latigo does not get in the way of your leg or fender. By tying the knot at the back D ( or no knot at all) you eliminate unnecessary bulk. Some people prefer traditional rigging with the rear billets and flank strap. Keep in mind that this will add weight to the saddle and the features we mentioned above will no longer apply. We highly recommend our style of rigging on all of our trail saddles. This keeps the comfort of the horse in mind, reduces weight, and bulk.