Most horse owners will, at some point in time, run into the debate about Billy Cook saddles with some riders on horse forums extolling their virtues, while others on the forum may have a less sanguine opinion. To an uninformed reader hoping to invest hard earned money in a quality saddle, this apparent split in opinion is quite bewildering. However, a short recitation of the history of this brand name should help clear up the confusion. In fact, there are three different manufacturers that have created saddles bearing the Billy Cook name, two of which continue to produce saddles to this day. While many consumers refer to this fact, many others don’t distinguish which saddle they are describing, making the forums of little help when deciding whether to purchase a Billy Cook saddle.
There are certain basic features required of any saddle in order for it to fulfill its function. Regardless of cost, quality saddles are those that are comfortable for the horse as well as the rider.
The heart of the saddle is the tree. The traditional material for the tree is wood, hand worked by a craftsman. If the tree is not durable, the saddle will not last, and a twisted or crooked tree can injure your horse. The second element of a quality saddle is the leather. Saddle leather should be supple, and there should be two layers in the skirt for improved durability. Low-quality leather or synthetic materials can be used to produce a less expensive saddle, but they will not have the durability or comfort that good leather provides. Quality saddles should use stainless steel fittings that will not rust or snap under the pressure exerted during heavy riding. Finally, quality saddles should have a thick padding made of either synthetic material or wool fleece.
While there are a number of different saddle manufacturers, a horseman looking to buy a Billy Cook saddle today has three choices: an original Billy Cook Saddlery saddle; a saddle produced by Billy Cook Maker out of Sulphur, Oklahoma; or a Billy Cook Saddlery saddle made by Simco-Longhorn, which is owned by America’s Top Brands. With three different saddles bearing very similar names it can be hard to determine which will best suit the needs of individual purchasers. This Billy Cook saddle review will attempt to guide horse owners in determining which of the three choices will best meet his or her needs.
The Original Billy Cook Saddlery Saddle, Greenville, Texas
There is no dispute that the original Billy Cook saddles were of superior quality and enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for craftsmanship. They can be distinguished from other Billy Cook saddles because they were made prior to 1990, which can be determined by the first two figures of their serial number that is stamped under the jockey. They also have the logo Billy Cook Saddlery, Greenville, Texas etched on the saddle horn.
When was It Produced?
The original Billy Cook saddles were produced in the 1970s and 1980s by the Billy Cook Saddlery/Potts Longhorn Co. partnership located in Greenville, Texas. Billy Cook had a gift for designing quality saddles, and the work of his craftsmen acquired a reputation for excellence in the equine community. Unfortunately, after the death of Mr. Cook’s partner, Billy Potts, their company ran into financial difficulties and was forced to file for bankruptcy. During the bankruptcy, the company, including its patents, designs and name, was acquired by the Simco company in 1990. A decade earlier the Simco company was acquired by Action Company, which manufactures a diverse array of products. Action Company, in Greenville, Texas, has continued to produce saddles bearing the Billy Cook Saddlery name, as well as Simco and Texas Tan saddles. Meanwhile, Billy Cook began all over again: creating new saddle designs and opening production of Billy Cook saddles in Sulphur, Oklahoma, which are distinguished from the Texas operation by the name Billy Cook Maker.
Unfortunately, the original Billy Cook Saddlery saddles are no longer being produced but can often be found offered for sale on the used market. While they are difficult to find, original Billy Cook saddles in good condition are highly sought after. Several vintage Billy Cook saddles are offered on eBay ranging in asking price from $500 to $1,200, demonstrating a remarkable ability to retain value considering that these saddles are approximately forty years old.
The Billy Cook Maker Saddle, Sulphur, Oklahoma
Billy Cook continues to oversee saddle production at his company in Sulphur, Oklahoma operating under the name, Billy Cook Maker. These saddles carry on the quality and craftsmanship of the original Billy Cook saddles and several are listed as top sellers by online tack shops. Billy Cook Maker saddles range in price from $1,500 to $2,700. Billy Cook Maker offers a variety of saddles to fulfill a wide selection of horseback riding needs and the preferences of individual riders.
Billy Cook Maker offers a variety of trail saddles. They feature a lightweight single skirt, in-skirt rigging, and padded seats. The trail saddles are made for the comfort of the horse and rider over long trail rides and are designed to fit a wide range of horse builds. This product also features leather tassel ties and a full quarter horse bar, complete with a 7-inch gullet.
Riders who enjoy the quick turns of barrel racing will appreciate the details of these barrel saddles, which come in a variety of dimensions and fit most breeds and sizes of horses. Billy Cook barrel saddles feature a full quarter horse bar, padded suede seat, rough-out fenders and jockey, and basket-weave tooling. A unique feature of these barrel saddles is the cutout skirt and 7/8 rigging that removes the extra bulk under the fenders, allowing the rider to feel close contact with their horse.
Billy Cook is best known for his reining saddles and understandably so. These are truly beautiful saddles, with black padded seats, handcrafted tooling, and silver Conchos to satisfy the love of bling. Billy Cook reining saddles are built on wooden trees with a 6 3/4-inch gullet and an in-skirt rigging design that allows for closer contact between the horse and rider. The fender swing provides plenty of forwarding and backward movement allowing riders to position themselves while maintaining a sense of security in the pocket. With their beauty and style, these saddles are a good choice for everyday riding as well as the show ring.
These saddles feature a suede seat, pre-turned fenders and plenty of silver details. They are built on a full quarter horse bar, making them suitable for larger horses, and have fully adjustable fenders to allow for the ease and comfort of smaller riders.
All Billy Cook Maker saddles are built on a well-fitting wooden tree and have a full quarter horse bar. They are made to fit a variety of horse breeds, and several users reported that these saddles could be fitted on multiple horses without difficulty. Their sturdy construction ensures that these saddles will last as long as the original Billy Cook saddles, while the beauty of their hand tooling and silver embellishments will continue to delight the eye long into the future.
Billy Cook Saddlery, Greenville, Texas
Action Company was originally founded in 1968. At its inception, it produced pad and steel cable goods but soon branched out into other markets. At one point they even carried a successful western apparel line, although that has been phased out today. They added saddles and other leather goods to their production lines in 1969, the year after opening their doors. In 1981, it acquired Simco Company, and in 1985, it acquired Tex Tan, both companies with reputations for producing quality saddles. In 1990, Action Company acquired Billy Cook Saddlery, including the original designs and name. More recently, it began production of the Abetta nylon saddle in 1994. Action Company changed its name to America’s Top Brands in 2012 to emphasize the wide variety of products it markets.
While most of their production lines are manufactured in McKinney, Texas, Action Company continued to produce Simco and Billy Cook saddles under their original manufacturing names in Greenville, Texas. Before his death, Donald Motsenbocker, former owner of Action Company, explained that their reason for maintaining these acquisitions as distinct separate brands was to preserve their success. Action Company’s stated goal is to manufacture a light, well-made saddle on a good tree in the right price range. Billy Cook Saddlery saddles produced by America’s Top Brands range in price from $900 to $2,000.
While Billy Cook saddles produced by America’s Top Brands have been disparaged as imitations, they are made using the design and patents of the original Billy Cook saddles. Unfortunately, these saddles are not created by the same craftsmen that once made Billy Cook saddles. America’s Top Brands produces a variety of Billy Cook saddles to fulfill a wide range of users needs and preferences, including trail saddles, barrel saddles, reining saddles and general-purpose saddles.
Features and Specifications
Many of the saddles produced by America’s Top Brands feature a Ralide or Fiber-tough tree. Trees made of plastic or fiberglass poured into molds are less expensive to produce and lighter-weight than the wooden trees traditionally used in saddle-making. Producers of these horns praise their product for being more uniform that wooden horns created by individual craftsmen and point out that they are waterproof. Their reputation among horsemen is more mixed. While some horsemen report that these horns can be as functional as the traditional wooden ones, several reviews indicate that there have been problems with horns made of synthetic materials cracking or breaking.
The consensus from reviewing several horse-riding forums is that America’s Top Brands saddles are less durable due to cost-cutting manufacturing methods and use of low-cost materials. While purchasers of saddles that are more than twenty years old are quite happy with their purchases, more recent consumers report less satisfaction. The most common complaint is that the Billy Cook Saddlery saddles produced by America’s Top Brands have loose stitching and similar problems. America’s Top Brand’s higher priced saddles use the wood trees and enjoy a better reputation than their less expensive counterparts. However, consumers should evaluate these saddles carefully before purchase to assure they are getting the type of quality in workmanship and materials that will provide the best chance of durability, fit and comfort.
The relatively low cost of America’s Top Brands saddles makes them very popular, and they are well-suited for the occasional or beginning rider. The reviews did not dispute that they are comfortable and they all feature the attractive tooling and silver embellishments that make Western saddles so sought after. The volume of saddles offered by America’s Top Brands ensures that a wide selection is available to meet any taste or need. While they may not be as durable as more expensive saddles, consumers that are willing to save money and only have light riding demands will likely find this trade-off to be acceptable. It is important, however, to be aware of the limitations of these lower cost models.
Hopefully, this article has helped distinguish among the different manufacturers of Billy Cook saddles that are available on the market today. The confusion is understandable, given the twists and turns in their respective stories. While America’s Top Brands may not be producing saddles at the level of craftsmanship offered by Billy Cook Maker saddles out of Sulphur, Oklahoma, they are able to produce a reasonably good saddle at a competitive price. For a casual user, their low-priced saddles may be the perfect solution, although they are not likely to stand up to the rigors that a higher-priced saddle will withstand.
The best choice for purchasers willing to spend the extra money would be a saddle produced at Billy Cook Maker in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Not only will these riders be acquiring a saddle they will be able to use and enjoy for many years, but they will also be getting an heirloom that they can pass along to their children and even grandchildren.