Saddle-making has been in the Brady family since Tom made his first saddle as a young man in the ‘40s. Since then, Brady saddles have been ridden in and owned by Movie stars, world champion Bronc Riders, Warwick Gold Cup winners and many hundreds more. Tom’s son, Bernie, is now working on saddle number 895.
When and how did Brady’s Saddles begin?
Master saddler Bob Thurlow taught my dad the art of saddle making. Dad then made saddles as a hobby, and at the same time taught me the art. I made my first saddle when I was 13. We both worked on the land and made saddles and strapping/leatherwork in our spare time to fill orders that were coming in from locals.
In the early ‘70s, saddle-maker Warren Newcombe left Walcha for Grafton, so we decided to open up a Saddlery in town in October 1974. Orders came in thick and fast and to get our name out there to the wider market, we travelled to rodeos and horse events from Townsville to Adelaide, and many places in between, with our mobile display unit.
What types of saddles do you specialise in?
I specialise primarily in stock and western saddles, but have made a couple of specialised types to suit for dressage. Customers buy stock saddles from us for general stock work through to camp drafting and Polocrosse. I have made western saddles for horse trainers and my bronc saddles for competition bronc riders at rodeos in most states in Australia.
Ray Herman won seven Australian and two World Titles in the 1980s in a saddle I made especially for him.
Allan Powell won the 2012 Central Queensland Saddle Bronc Title and the 2013 PRCA Rookie Title in a Brady’s Bronc Saddle.
Walcha’s own Carl Green won the 2013 ABCRA Australian Title in a saddle that I made for him.
How has making saddles changed over the years?
We are traditional saddle-makers, still making our saddles mostly the same way they have been made for as long as I can remember, although I am starting to use a few synthetic trees these days. I hand cut and hand sew (not like larger saddle manufacturers, who use mechanical cutting tools). When I do use a sewing machine, I use a Pearson 6, which is possibly 100 years old. We used to make our own threads by hand, but now use braided hand sewing thread from Italy.
The one thing that has changed is the size of saddles. People are growing bigger, and on average I now use an inch bigger tree. (I still work in imperial measurements and not metric, as do most saddlers.)
There are also a large number of mass produced imported saddles that can now be purchased through retail saddlery outlets. The quality is not to the same standard as a custom made saddle, but they suit the beginner and leisure rider, who most times then step up into a custom made saddle.
Describe the technique and the time that goes into making a saddle?
When a saddle is ordered, I draw up a design to suit the customer. I then order the tree from one of my tree makers, who custom designs the tree to suit the individual specifications. I then source the leather from several of our regular suppliers. It is a true art form, and no two custom saddles are the same. I hand cut the patterns out for the saddle, then commence building from the seat up. This includes several stages, including hand-sewing, tacking and wetting the leather, as it is worked at different temperature and moisture and oil contents for different applications. Each saddle will take from 40 – 60 hours to make, depending on the style. Some of my saddles have extensive “tooling”, where I carve special designs into the leather to create an even more unique and personalised saddle.
Your saddles are world renowned; tell us more …
My saddles have gone to a number of places around the world. I have a photo of Bernie Smyth competing in one of my saddles in the bronc ride at the world famous Calgary Stampede in Canada. American actress Victoria Tennant was in Australia staring in the Man from Snowy River mini-series and was riding in one of the saddles that I made for Evanna Chesson of Australian Movie Livestock. Victoria was so impressed with the saddle, that she commissioned me to make one for her to take home to the U.S.
A few months back I received an email from a lady in the U.S. who was interested in the history of a saddle she had purchased from a second hand store. She googled my name and was able to contact me. She said, “ I knew it was a well-made Ranch Cutter and couldn’t resist it”. On checking my records, I discovered that I had made it for a chap in Central Queensland about 16 years ago. He at some time swapped it for a horse. I don’t know the story in between, but somehow it ended up in the U.S.
Each saddle carries its own story. I once received an urgent order for a bronc saddle from a customer who had just lost his in a poker game.
Tell us about the awards you have won?
My saddles have won prizes at the Sydney Royal Easter Show every time I entered. The highest accolade in Australian saddle-making is to be chosen for the Showcase of Excellence at Sydney Show, where I have been selected twice. This is a great acknowledgment of the quality of the workmanship that I produce.
Plans for the future?
My date of birth is starting to work against me, but there is no reason why I cannot continue to make good quality saddles for another 20 years. It will be good to cut back on the workload, so Noelene and I can travel more and spend time with our 13 grandchildren. My dad, Tom, has made many fine kangaroo stockwhips that are now in many overseas countries, including Iceland, USA, Canada, to name a few. Dad was still doing this until only last year, aged 88, but his hands no longer have the flexibility/strength to continue.
In the past 12 months, I have “partnered up” with Garry Begley from Saddlery Australia in Qld, to run saddle-making schools to pass on our skills. The first was in Alice Springs, and then Longreach at the Hall of Fame. There are other schools organised for the second half of this year.
So, I look forward to making many more great saddles, braiding fine whips and passing on my skills well into my retirement.