Fort Pierre saddlemaker Dave Dahl has provided leather for world champions and many more
Dave Dahl has had his hands on more championship saddles than he can keep track of.
Actually, they’re not saddles he’s won, but saddles that he’s made that champions are using.
At this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), six of the top fifteen saddle bronc riders were riding Dave Dahl bronc saddles.
The newly crowned world champion Zeke Thurston, along with CoBurn Bradshaw, Cody DeMoss, Clay Elliott, Chuck Schmidt and Jake Watson all rode Dave Dahl’s saddles at this year’s WNFR.
And they’ve carried saddle bronc riders in the past, too.
World champions Tom Reeves (2001), Glen O’Neill (2002), Jeff Willert (2005), and Taos Muncy (2007 and 2011) have all used Dahl’s saddles.
For Keldron, S.D.’s Chuck Schmidt, it’s because Dahl is a former saddle bronc rider. “He used to ride broncs,” Schmidt said, “so he really does know what you need in a bronc saddle. It’s all about where your hips are setting, and how it feels when you’re spurring, and how it’s set up.”
Dahl grew up in Keene, N.D., graduating from Newtown High School in 1962 and working in the oilfields of his home state for a couple of years. But it wasn’t for him, so he went to Dakota State College in Madison, S.D. for a semester, transferring to Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., where he joined the rodeo team. He rode saddle broncs and won the College National Finals Rodeo in 1967. He graduated with a degree in education and spent three years teaching before he got into the saddle-making business.
Dahl, who won the South Dakota Rodeo Association’s saddle bronc title in 1968, joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association. He wanted to make his brother a saddle, and a fellow bronc rider, Dick Jones, had the equipment and the know-how. Dahl asked Jones for help, and the two began a partnership in a saddle shop. Jones “knew a little, and I didn’t know much, and he showed me (how to make saddles.) One thing led to another,” Dahl said.
They worked together for years, till Jones decided to get out of the business.
Dahl’s shop, the Diamond D Saddle Shop, is on the main street of Ft. Pierre, where last week he started creation of bronc saddle number 1652, his fifty-second saddle of the year. “I try to average one a week,” he said, depending on if he can get the trees. It takes him about four days to make a saddle, in between fixing used saddles, making chaps, and running his western store. “I work it all in,” he said. “The week goes fast when you’re trying to accomplish something like that.”
Dahl’s saddles differ from other bronc saddle makers in several ways, including the swells and cantle. “They’re drawed in nice behind the swells,” Dahl said. “They have a nice swell on them, and have a nice dish in the seat and a nice cantle.”
Thurston, the 2016 PRCA saddle bronc riding champ, said using a Dahl saddle changed the way he rode. This spring, with a different brand, he wasn’t riding well. When that saddle kept needing repairs, he decided to give Dahl a phone call. Dahl had a new saddle to him within five days, and Thurston took it to the Guymon, Okla. rodeo. “It took me a few rodeos to get it dialed in,” he said. “Once I broke it in, my spring skyrocketed. There were probably four weekends in a row where I won $12,000 or more.” He credits the saddle with giving him better spur outs and better upper body control.
Jake Watson from Hudson’s Hope, B.C., finished the 2016 season in fifth place in the world. He speaks highly of Dahl saddles. “The way the swells and cantle are shaped, the structure of them, they have a lot of forgiveness in them,” he said. “If you lift on your reins, you can turn loose and the saddle will do its job and keep ahold of you.” The swells and cantle are shaped differently in the Dahl, he said. “Say you’re getting bucked off, and you’re still trying to spur, more often than not, you’ll end back in the saddle and regain your position in the seat, which is definitely what you want.”
Watson has used a Dahl saddle since June of last year, and it has made a difference for him. “It changed my career, honestly, from the very first horse I got on” he said. “I was having hell. I had won $2,000 that season (up till June), and from the end of June till September I ended up winning $20,000. It was a big turning point in my bronc riding.”
The list of cowboys who have won championships on Dahl saddles includes more than at the WNFR. Wade Sundell, Coleman, Okla., rode one to win the $1 million at the American Rodeo this past March. Cort Scheer, Elsmere, Neb., won the inaugural Elite Rodeo Association title on one. Thurston won $100,000 at the Calgary Stampede this year on a Dahl saddle, and Jeremyx Meeks, Belle Fourche, won this year’s Indian National Finals Rodeo on one. Clay Elliott, Nanton, Alb., rode one when he won the Canadian National Finals, and eight-time Linderman Award winner Kyle Whitaker uses one.
Dahl celebrated his seventy-second birthday this week, but he has no plans of slowing down. “I have a lot of work to do,” he said. The man who supplies the d-rings for his saddles is 95 years old, and still going. “I’ll have to work a while to catch up to him,” he said.
And saddle bronc riders hope Dahl keeps stitching.