Saddle is therapeutic art

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Ron Stranghoner completed this roping saddle, his first from scratch, last week.

CARLYLE — Ron Stranghoner grew up on a farm west of Iola and has been around horses all of his 66 years. While he’s ridden on plenty of saddles, he just completed building his first one.
Stranghoner spent about 80 hours working on the saddle at the Pleasant Valley Saddle School in Loveland, Colo.
Stranghoner “got started working on saddles about five years ago, repairing and cleaning them for other people” he said.
The saddle he built has a feature called Montana twist straps, designed to keep stirrups rigidly perpendicular to a horse. The feature is particularly meaningful for Stranghoner.
He, his wife and another couple were in a tragic traffic accident south of Humboldt 21⁄2 years ago. Stranghoner was pulling a horse trailer when a van driven by Valerie Graham, Coffeyville, careened across the pavement and slammed head-on into his truck. Stranghoner’s knees were crushed.
“I saw the accident coming but there was nothing I could do,” he said.
Jeanie Larson and Terry L. Higginbotham died in the crash. Stranghoner and his wife spent 10 days in a Wichita hospital and several weeks in therapy.
They have recovered to the point that they now do much of what they want, which includes leatherworking for him.
“It will be nice to have stirrups that stay in place, and are supportive of my knees,” he said.
Stranghoner retired in 1999 after 35 years with the Kansas Department of Transportation. In recent months he decided he’d like to take a stab at building a saddle from scratch.
“I wasn’t too sure at first I could do it, but I read several books and talked to some people,” which gave him confidence, Stranghoner said. He and his wife packed their bags in late October and headed for Loveland, to the school operated by Dusty Johnson and with whom Stranghoner had become acquainted.

A SADDLEMAKER’S chores are exacting, time-consuming and require patience and strength of hand.
“You need to start with a good ‘tree,’” he said, a form made of soft wood and covered with rawhide. From that, various layers of leather are added and stitched, by hand and machine, and then tooled to give the saddle its signature look.
“This saddle,” Stranghoner said of his creation, “is for roping. The tree came from S.F. Bowman Saddle Company in Anthony, Texas, and it has a four-inch-high cantle,” or rear portion that supports the rider’s lower back. “All of the saddle is made from two sides of leather, except the latigo” — a strap used to cinch the saddle in place.
Leather components for Stranghoner’s saddle were cut from patterns with a special, extremely sharp, moon-shaped knife.
“The biggest problem for someone new to saddlemaking is learning to use the round knife and keeping it sharp,” he said. “When you cut through thick leather, you have to learn to make several passes to get through it and keep the cut accurate.”
While this is Stranghoner’s first saddle, he is no stranger to leatherworking and has a wide array of tools, “probably more than I really need.” He has made saddle components, gun belts and holsters.
The just-completed saddle won’t be Stranghoner’s last. He has orders for several others and intends to start on his second soon.

STRANGHONER allowed leatherworking became a form of therapy when he was recovering from his injuries and now, with the addition of saddlemaking, it has become a consuming avocation.
“It’s something I can do here in the house, regardless what the weather is like,” he said.