Bill was born into the vaquero tradition in the magical country of the San Antonio Mission. His grandfather was a rancher in the central coast of California where his family ran cattle.
Huston grew up with his uncle, Lawrence Huston, who rode a mounted horse patrol for the Forest Service from the Carmel Valley over to Big Sur through the Lucia Mountains. The route covered 86 miles and took ten days.
By the age of eight or nine, Huston would ride in and meet his uncle coming out. Thus began his life as a horseman.
Even as a child Huston was a gifted sculptor—and the biggest thing that needed sculpting was horseshoes.
Then Huston discovered saddles.
“I started taking them apart and seeing how they worked,” said Huston.
He would grease them up a bit and put them back together.
“I was encouraged because everyone liked to have their saddle cleaned up,” said Huston.
But it was the horses that touched him.
"My personal career was influenced by saddle sores and scuffed up horses," said Huston.
Huston remembers rubbing bacon grease on horses and mules that had sores on their shoulders, withers and belly. Sometimes they cut holes in the saddle pads in an effort to relieve the animal’s pain.
“I often wondered what to do about that, so 52-years ago I made a primitive saddle,” said Huston.
He took the skirts off an old saddle, stuffed two barley sacks with straw—one for the pommel and one for the cantle—laced it together and rode.
For the first time Huston really experienced the movement of the horse. He felt the spine flexing and twisting, the back contracting and expanding, and muscles bulging.
"I sat there and felt the movement of the horse and it never went away," said Huston.
Huston's primitive saddle notably lacked a tree.
"I kept thinking--this is a way I could ride without the harshness of the saddle tree galling the horse," said Huston.
Huston attended saddle school in Wyoming. A natural artist, he excelled at his craft. Huston began making custom western saddles for people all over the world.
One client ordered a saddle lavishly embellished with Arabic script that told the story of an Arabian war horse. Many ordered saddles embellished with custom silver and elaborate leather tooling.
Huston made over 1,000 saddles and repaired or rebuilt hundreds more.
But he never forgot the primitive saddle he made as a boy with barley sacks and straw—the saddle without the tree.
Traditionally the saddletree has been four or five pieces of wood nailed together and wrapped in rawhide.
Huston realized that a saddle built on a rigid tree does not adapt to the flexion of a horse in motion.
He knew that a saddle tech gauge—used to determine proper saddletree dimensions—could measure the static position of a horse’s back.
“The flaw is, the horse moves,” said Huston.
Huston began work on the concept of a soft saddle made to adapt to the movement of the horse.
“I made a saddle that moves,” said Huston.
Today, Huston has a model of a horse’s back in his shop. On it sits a treeless saddle he is making for a woman in Bend, Oregon. It is one of the many soft saddles he has made for Western and English riders—including 200 Grand Prix style dressage saddles.
Huston runs a weathered hand along the model of a horse’s back and identifies what muscles bulge out during movement.
“This is from years of walking a horse’s back with my fingers,” said Huston.
One benefit of a soft saddle is the adaptability of just one saddle from horse to horse.
“An equine is an equine,” said Huston. “Muscles all erupt from the same point on the skeleton whether a big Friesian or a small Quarter Horse.”
Huston attends to the comfort of the human as well.
Women and men have distinct skeletal configurations and approach riding differently. Huston carefully shapes the saddle seat including carving out slots for those all-important pelvic tips.
“We are comfort seekers, both horse and human,” said Huston. “We avoid things that are scary or hurt us.”
Huston makes his saddles with an eye for human and equine comfort.
Bill is passionate about his craft and loves to teach. If you are interested in apprenticeship, give him a call and start the conversation.