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Custom Saddles by Kelly


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

Kelly Collum at Horse Corner in Lebanon, Tennessee says he can make any type of western saddle. He makes custom saddles by order and details the saddle according to its rider and the job to be done. Currently he’s working on a reining saddle. He also does a lot of repairs to all kinds of western saddles.

“All western disciplines have specific requirements,” he explained. “For example, reining riders want a low swell and a low horn. But barrel racers and cutting horse riders what a high horn,” he said.

One of the first things he does when starting a new saddle is to fit the horse. The template for measuring the horse that he uses was developed by Australian Dennis Lane. “That way I can tell the tree maker what the horse needs. I first want to fit the tree to the horse, then fit the seat to the rider, according to the rider’s anatomy. When you sit in a saddle, the tail bones and two pin bones are what you sit on. If the arch (of the saddle) is correct, it can be made of stone and it won’t be uncomfortable. But if the arch is incorrect, you can pad it all you want and it will still be uncomfortable because it will place your body in the wrong position. You much touch all three points (stated above) to be correct.”

Collum primarily uses trees made by Ben Swanke in Montana. “His [trees] are handmade; he uses good materials; and he is meticulous about fit and everything being what is should be.”

Collum explains that “trees vary by discipline. The bar is the part that sits on the horse. The swell/fork is the front of the saddle which can provide something to put the rider’s leg against, or another fork style can offer nothing to put the rider’s leg against. The cantle is the back of the tree. Generally, the larger the swell, the better able to rider is to hang onto an unruly horse. A saddle for a cutting horse has a very large swell and they usually have a longer seat – 16”, 17”, even 18” seat length. The rider wants to sit as far to the back of the saddle as he/she can.

“Barrel racers want a shorter seat to stay in full contact all the time.

“Cutters want to have ‘slop’ in the seat to move back and forth so the horse’s quick movements don’t unseat them. The slop in the seat takes up half the jolt.

“Reiners want to stay in the same place in the seat and stay connected. The rider wants to be back in the ‘pocket’ so they want a front arch higher. The higher the front, the less the rider moves and the more the saddle holds the rider in the ‘pocket.’

Next, Collum explained skirting and rigging. With in-skirt rigging, the rigging is part of the skirt rather than separate from it. In-skirt rigging's advantages are its lighter weight and the least amount of bulk under the rider's legs of all the rigging styles. However, Collum says he wouldn’t do in-skirt rigging for a guy who ropes a lot of cattle. When they dally off the saddle, if the rigging is not correct or stout enough, it will tear up or will sit sideways on the horse. When the cow pulls on the saddle, you want the rigging to be strong and to be double rigged. Having a rear cinch helps keep the saddle better in place on the horse.

In addition to saddle building, Collum boards horses, teaches lessons, and offers clinics periodically. He works his cows with his horses, does a lot of pleasure riding, trail riding, and goes camping all across the country. He has all-around horses, some bred for cutting horses, and he uses his cows for riding lessons. “If you give someone a job, it changes how they think. They think about what they’re doing rather than how they’ doing it.

He hosted a Buster and Sheryl McLaury Clinic April 16-19, 2015. Buster grew up on the ranches out west, like the 6666, where he studied under Ray Hunt and learned how to work on the ranches. He helps people be better horse people and helps nip problems in the bud. At this clinic he taught colt starting, a cow working class, and horsemanship. “He’s comical,” Kelly said. “He asks people who think they know how to ride to do particular tasks – and it’s interesting to watch what happens when they try to do the tasks. He’s a good teacher; he’s perceptive to what the individual rider needs.” Kelly is also a follower of the Ray Hunt methods in his training. “I believe in what he did.”

For more information about Horse Corner and Saddles by Kelly, visit:

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