History of the Wade Saddle

 The History of the Wade Western Riding Saddle

Part 1:

Because of my occupation as a horseman and horsemanship school instructor, and because of my last name, I am often asked if I am related to, have intimate knowledge of or advice regarding the popular Wade western riding saddle. The only honest answer to these and other questions is both; yes and no. I will try to clarify what I know about the “Wade” saddle and add a little advice to anyone considering purchasing a “Wade”.

Most serious horsemen and horsewomen have at least heard of the Wade western riding saddle. It is almost impossible to study natural horsemanship and not come across some mention of this saddle, especially in western horsemanship circles. Many top western clinicians today ride exclusively in a Wade and have helped to spread its’ popularity.

I too, was interested in knowing if there was any family connection between my immediate family line and Clifford Wade, the man most instrumental in developing the Wade saddle. In the July 1999 issue, Western Horseman magazine ran a highly-informative article by Frank Hendricks on the Wade saddle. I sent a copy of this story to my sister Jeanine, who is the unofficial family genealogist and record-keeper of our family tree and lore.

As Clifford Wade was ranching near Enterprise, Oregon when he developed the modern version of the Wade saddle, Jeanine started her research in that region to see if we had any family connection to Clifford. After several false starts, she finally contacted a rancher by the name of Sam Wade, also from Enterprise, who was a great-nephew of Clifford. Sam turned out to be a great fellow and very helpful to Jeanine. At first, she thought there was no family connection to Clifford, but we have since figured out that there is a common relative a few generations back. Sam and Clifford were very close and Sam was a treasure trove of inside knowledge on the early Wade saddle.

Clifford related to Sam that the first Wade saddle prototype was developed in West Virginia. Clifford’s grandfather was a stockman in that state, and like many people of that era, if you needed a tool you designed and built it yourself. This first prototype was crude but very functional. A few years later, Clifford’s grandfather was bitten by the bug to “go west” to the fertile ranchlands of eastern Oregon, so he formed the Wade family wagon train to travel the Oregon Trail, many miles of which run across Wyoming. Much of the Oregon Trail is in the area that we take our Blue Sky Sage guests to ride, so we are traveling in the tracks of that clan of the Wade family that went through, on their way to greener pastures. After a successful journey westward, the Wade family developed several fine ranches in eastern Oregon, where the descendants still reside today as prominent and successful cattle and horse ranchers.

The first Wade saddle was then rebuilt and evolved over the generations until Clifford inherited the original. By then, years of hard use had taken its’ toll and there wasn’t much left of the original. At the height of the Depression, in 1937, Clifford took the old saddle in to Hamley’s Saddlery in Pendleton, Oregon, one of the most respected saddle makers of that time, and had that company build a new western riding saddle on the old pattern, with a few of Clifford’s own refinements added. Sam kindly provided Jeanine a copy of the original receipt for this new saddle, which cost Clifford $99 Depression-era dollars, which was certainly a small fortune in those days.

Clifford was a close friend and neighbor of the Dorrance family, who ranched nearby. The Dorrance’s were all good stockmen; the two men of the family that we are most familiar with today are brothers Bill and Tom Dorrance. Most people in the western natural horsemanship movement have studied or at least have heard of both men. Tom and Clifford were close friends and Tom was impressed with Clifford’s new saddle. Working together on the range, Tom and Clifford would discuss and then modify Clifford’s saddle until Tom was satisfied with the improvements, at which time Tom had a custom Wade saddle built for himself.

Most people know that Tom Dorrance was Ray Hunt’s mentor and that Hunt himself was an early user of the Wade-pattern saddle. Through Hunt’s worldwide clinics, in which he used a Wade saddle, many people were exposed for the first time to the advantages of the design for western style horsemanship. Today, many of the leading horsemanship clinicians in the United States are Ray Hunt students and they continue to use and popularize the Wade saddle.

The Wade saddle is not a fixed style, but a continuing evolution of refinements that retain the underpinning foundations that have made the Wade such a remarkable western riding saddle. The advantages of this pattern are simply too lengthy to mention here in all but a brief synopsis but the foundation goes to the design of the saddle tree. The true Wade saddle fits a broad array of horses, allowing the horse maximum freedom of movement. The horseman sits comfortably and securely and has close contact with the horse. It may not be the perfect “weld” between horse and rider, but many think it is as close as anyone has come so far. If you are thinking about purchasing a Wade for your own use, I think I can offer some advice and maybe a few things to watch out for that may save you some trouble down the trail. I personally ride a custom-built Wade saddle, on the genuine Wade tree, made by Castagno Saddlery in Utah, and as the saying goes, “this saddle ain’t for sale”. I am still in awe as to how much both I and my horses have improved after using this saddle. We simply have a much better “weld” to each other.

I will go into more detail on the benefits of the true Wade western riding saddle, built on the original tree design that Clifford’s grandfather developed, and was modified by those horsemen who knew its’ benefits, and what the horse and rider both could benefit from.


Above: Original Receipt from Hamley's Saddlery to Clifford Wade, for the new Wade saddle he designed, 1937, courtesy of Sam Wade.


Click here to read Part 2, The Evolution of the Blue Sky Sage Signature Double Wade Saddle

Blue Sky Sage Signature Double Wade Saddle - Order Yours Today!




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