Monument Heights
Gila Cliff visitors bring economic development.

Conservation Genetics
Gila trout management.

Growing Food Connections
Luna County combats food insecurity.

The Birds of Spring
Avian Caboodling right out there in the garden!

Hitting the Road
Three from Las Cruces embark on 1,400 mile bicycle journey

Good Shoes, Good Health
Footwork can make all the difference.

Relaxing on the Dunes
White Sands Full Moon Nights

Hidden Treasures
Organ Mountains Desert Peaks

Cowboy Craftsmanship
The art of the ride: creating a good saddle.

Travel the Stars
Astronomy conference coming to Las Cruces

Columns and Departments

Publisher's Note
Desert Diary
Southwest Gardener
The Starry Dome
Talking Horses
Guides to Go

Special Sections

40 Days & 40 Nights
Wearing History
Exhibit: Artifacts of the First World War
Around Silver

Red or Green
Dining Guide
Yankie Creek Coffee House
Food Co-op Gift Card Winners

Arts Exposure
Arts Scene
Gallery Guide
Call for Entries
Grant County Winners

About the cover


Cowboy Craftsmanship

Creating a saddle with both rider and horse in mind

by Karen Ray

Can you imagine a horse with chronic back pain? Unfortunately, many of our equine companions have been doing their best to perform under just such conditions. From horn to cantle, a saddle is an integral part of the riding experience. It can be one of your best friends or can give endless grief. TW Saddlery and Specialized Saddles, two local companies under the same ownership umbrella, have developed a patented fitting and construction system to provide maximum comfort and mobility to both horses and riders.

Dave Kaden puts horse and saddle through their paces.

Greenville, Texas, is recognized as the saddle making capital of the world. However, 700 miles away in Canutillo, Texas, saddle designers Dave Kaden and Tracy Webb Kaden of Specialized Saddles and TW Saddlery are making a mark on the world with their innovative designs. This large company makes nearly 1,000 saddles per year, shipping them worldwide and participating in about four major equine trade shows per year.

“Specialized Saddles is our original com-pany and we began by establishing a strong following in the endurance market,” says Kaden. The company has been in business about 17 years and focuses primarily on endurance and trail saddles. He explained that initially he would periodically get requests to make western saddles and saw the opportunity to help all kinds of horses. Kaden grew up on a Texas ranch and is familiar with the physical and mental demands of all types of horsemanship. Thirty years of ranch work and riding prepared him well for both competing in endurance riding and developing saddles that would meet the rig-orous demands of sport and work.

The TW Saddlery brand has been around for five to six years and stands for Totally Western, but also happens to be the initials of Tracy Webb. Kaden said Specialized Sad-dles “is the world’s largest manufacturer of endurance saddles … many hall of fame riders use and endorse our saddles.” In ad-dition to many U.S. customers, saddles are also sold in Australia, Belgium, Norway and the United Kingdom, among other locations, by representatives specially trained in the company’s fitting technique. In the UAE, endurance riding is a big business and has an enormous national following. Kaden said some sheiks “have over 400 horses in training” and the country is setting new world records every year in the sport.

‘Where you ought to be’

Gail and Terry Kinter, endurance riders and trainers in Silver City, first purchased Eurolight model saddles back in 2008.


“The first ‘saddles’ appeared more than 4,000 years ago,” according to equisearch.com, “and were nothing more than a patch of animal hide or a piece of cloth. These early models offered little in the way of support or security, but they served as a buffer between horse and rider during bareback migrations and battles.” The website describes a saddle found in a fifth century

B.C. Scythian tomb “intricately decorated with animal motifs made from leather, felt, hair and gold. As expert horsemen, the Scythians used cushioned saddles and girths and may have had leather stirrups.” The actual date of the invention of the stirrup is widely debated but there is no doubt that it transformed the equine transportation of the day. According to “The Early History of Horsemanship” by Augusto Azzaroli, “The stirrup first came into use in Asia and all evidence points to it having been invented by the riding nomads of the steppes.”

“They made a special saddle for me. It’s purple ’cause it’s my favorite color,” Gail said with a laugh. She also has a second Eurolight. Her husband, Terry, bought his Eurolight within a month of Gail getting hers.

“I just went on and on and on about the saddle,” Gail said. “I thought, how can a saddle make that much difference in me? I knew it could in a horse. The first time I rode it … wow! It is comfortable for the horse and the rider the first time you get on it. I’ve never ridden a saddle this comfortable.

“David and Tracy truly care about the horse and fitting a saddle to a horse and their system is amazing. I haven’t seen one like it. What I like so much about those saddles is the freedom of movement for the rider because of the adjustable stirrup placement

Terry and I were riding so many different horses...

training for endurance, one saddle fits everybody, you just adjust the saddle to fit every horse. We had 17 horses we were training. And so instead of having to have three or four different saddles, you have one saddle that you’re used to riding all the time and then, it doesn’t matter what the horse does, you’re used to your saddle and you’re able to stay there where you ought to be.”

Dave Kaden of Specialized Saddles and TW Saddlery
models one of their creations. (Courtesy photo)

The process of adjusting the saddle fit to a different horse is very quick and simple, Gail said.

“It’s wonderful, the saddle is already adjusted for you, the rider, you just adjust it for the horse and you’re ready to go.”

The Kadens operate Flight Leader Farm in Canutillo, on the Texas-New Mexico border, less than a mile from the Rio Grande. The Mesilla Valley provides plenty of top quality hay for the horses and an abundance of beautiful scenery to explore. The farm is a fully fledged horse operation as well as home to the sister saddlery companies. Tracy runs the equine side of things on the farm and works “as a consultant to individuals interested in purchasing high quality performance horses.”

She also designs custom saddles with a fashion-able flair to fit the needs of both the horse and rider.

“If you have always dreamed of a one-of-a-kind saddle she can help you design your own work of art,” she said. “Exotic leathers, custom tooling, silver with Austrian crystals are all available.”

Amazing transformation

Kaden began competing in endurance races back in 1999 and is now a four-time national endurance champion. He used three different saddles in those events and said the right saddle really lets the horses perform better. With David and Tracy, the Kinters leased horses to the King of Malaysia when his eques-trian team came to Las Cruces for an FEI (Interna-tional Federation for Equestrian Sports) endurance ride. David fit one of Specialized Saddles’ models on one of the horses “and that saddle fit him beautifully,” Gail said.

He and Tracy are both highly skilled in all areas of horsemanship. Even as they practice for a mounted shooting event, the care and love they have for their horses and equine sports are evident.

“Necessity was the mother of invention,” said Kaden. “Nothing was more true than the genesis of our product.” He said he once had seven different saddles, changing them out depending on the horse and the riding situation.

“Chronic sore backs were always a problem after 50-mile rides, not only for me but for every guy that I knew that was over 150 pounds. Everybody had sore backs. Endurance riding is to horse riding in the same sense that car racing is to the cars we drive.”

Their primary market is trail riders, who benefit from the lessons learned in the endurance sport. He set out to overcome those sore backs and “see the fit.” Fortunate to live in Greenville, at the time, he began working on developing new saddle patterns, often drawn out on newspaper, collaborating with companies to develop prototypes.

“The really rewarding thing about my job is the amazing transformation I’ve seen in the attitude of horses and people’s experience with their horses,” Kaden said. “I’ve transformed many horses from a tail wringing barn sour horse that they just want to get rid of to a happy horse … just a tremendous reward.”

Their unique system has built in padding and results in a perfect, adjustable fit. Kaden says it is “the only system in the world that lets you adjust all three dimensions of saddle fit, width, arc and angle.”

Kaden also has a computerized pressure pad.

“If you feel you’re not getting something quite right with the fit, you can go to David and for a minimal fee, put your saddle on top of this computer sensitive pad, it puts a thermal image on the computer and he is able to diagnose where the fit needs to be adjusted,” Gail said. “The service that you receive from them is second to none.”

The Kinters use their saddles not only for endurance riding and training but also trail riding. The lightweight construction and ease of carrying gear makes rides in the mountains of the Gila National Forest a real pleasure. Gail said the saddle is so balanced you can ride it without a cinch, although she wouldn’t recommend this to novice riders.

Although most humans are right handed, Kaden said most horses are left-handed and prefer the left lead. This is why racehorses run to the left and barrel racers take two left turns and only one right. Each side of their saddles is independently adjustable to accommodate the “surprising number of horses that exhibit asymmetry,” a trait humans often share. The saddles are primarily made of English bridle leather, more waterproof and pliable than traditional skirting leather.

However, they use a synthetic Biothane “for the parts that you never ever want to break, the stirrup leather and the billet strap that attaches the girth.” He explained that “if you ignore those, after years of use and salt, (from horse sweat) they can break.” The company makes about 19 different saddle models, each custom built on-site at Flight Leader Farm and taking about 6-8 weeks to create.

“It’s hard to imagine what a saddle will feel like without actually trying it with your horse,” Kaden said. That’s true with many things, and the Kadens believe so strongly in the great fit and quality of their saddles they are happy to provide you with a demo to ride.

“You couldn’t ask for easier people to work with … they work very hard and truly care about the horses,” Kinter said.

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