Sponsored by Master Saddles

Brazilian saddlemaker Marcio “Master” Martins Cardoso de Lima has revolutionized lightweight barrel saddles. Here’s how he developed his iconic custom saddle brand and introduced the Master Lightweight.

When tenths of a second separate winners from the also-ran, the weight your horse carries can make a crucial difference. That’s why Marcio “Master” Martins Cardoso de Lima began crafting ultra-light barrel racing saddles. When barrel racers began attributing some of their successes to his designs, the Brazilian artisan saw greater demand for his work. But his rise to success has not been without challenges. Marcio is resilient, and his brand has continued to evolve to meet the desires of his customers.

Cowboy from the Get-Go

Marcio grew up in the town of Presidente Prudente in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and was raised working with and caring for horses on his grandfather’s ranch. His grandfather was very involved in rodeos, and Marcio would go along to many of the events from the time he was small. 

At age 15, Marcio began competing in English riding events, but was drawn to the cowboys at the rodeos he attended.

“I found that my real passion was riding Western style,” Marcio said.

Master Saddles logo

Later, Marcio successfully competed in team penning at local and national rodeos. He was a professional barrel racer in Brazil for many years. His wife Graciele is also a professional barrel racer, and all his children: Thalita, Marcinho and Murilo barrel race. The couple recently had a son named Matteo, and Marcio says he already has his own horse.

The Makings of a Saddlemaker

As a young adult, Marcio got a job working at a bank, and met a client who began teaching him how to rope. Marcio also started barrel racing and other Western disciplines.

“I was always interested in saddles,” Marcio said. “Every time I had a saddle made for me, I liked to follow how it was being made, from the very beginning, to the very end.”

Marcio then left the bank to start making saddles of his own. Opening a shop in Presidente Prudente, he drew on his years of experience riding to build functional saddles.

“I knew more or less how I wanted a saddle to be, how best they would fit a horse, and I learned by working with good professionals, and always innovating the models,” Marcio said.

Marcio officially started Master Saddles in 1989, and he worked hard to get his business off the ground.

“Every beginning is difficult, but with dedication, much love for what we do, and how we do it, plus good customer service, Master Saddles began to be well known, especially because of our detailed work on custom saddles, so we became different from other saddleries,” Marcio said.

Master Saddles is known for its custom-made saddles, so the shop doesn’t carry a large inventory of saddles on hand. Saddles are made to order in any size to fit the customer’s needs.

“Our motto is, ‘You dream it, Master will make it,’” Marcio said.

Master Saddles Warehouse
Courtesy of Master Saddles

Spreading Its Wings

For years Master Saddles was a popular business only inside Brazil. But when rodeo professionals and barrel racing champions began using Master saddles, Marcio’s reputation spread to the United States.

“We have been making trophy saddles for Brazilian associations since we started our business thirty years ago, and since our team also participates in these rodeos, when rodeo professionals from other parts of the world started to come to Brazil they began to see the quality of our saddles, the quality of our leather and our detailed workmanship, they asked us to build saddles for them,” Marcio said. 

In 2004, Master Saddles began making custom saddles for rodeo pros and trophy saddles for rodeo associations in the U.S. and Canada, and later, for other countries in South America and Europe.

“I would like to point out that one of the reasons we are very proud of our trophy saddles is that we make them with the same great care and top-quality leather and materials we make all our custom order saddles,” Marcio said. “By now it is well known that someone that wins a Master can be sure that he or she, will be able to ride that saddle for many, many years to come in complete comfort.”


Master Saddles have evolved in design, style and weight over the years to adapt to winning barrel horses.

“We are always changing the designs of our saddles, horses have evolved a lot in size and getting much bigger and competitors need agility and safety to compete so we are also evolving and adapting,” Marcio said.

Introduction of the Master Lightweight

Marcio started making lightweight saddles about 18 years ago, because barrel races in Brazil became very competitive, and competitors were looking for an edge. Marcio’s line of ultra-light saddles called Lightweight Saddles quickly became a favorite brand of professional barrel racers in Brazil.

“They are so light, at about 15 pounds, and they are also comfortable for the competitor and the horse,” Marcio said. “These are high performance saddles proven to help a horse run faster.”

When Marcio met Patti Wellmon, a barrel racer, the American competitor saw the merits of the Lightweight Saddles. Marcio credits much of the success of the Master Lightweights in the United States to Wellmon. She introduced the saddles to her friends and has worked tirelessly with Master Saddles promoting the brand.

Barrel Racer Emily Miller-Beisel and horse Chongo running barrel pattern
Emily Miller-Beisel

“Professional barrel racers have found that our Master Lightweight saddles help their horses perform better,” Marcio said. “Others that have horses difficult to fit, also started to run better with a Master Lightweight.”

Maggie Poloncic’s horse was hard to fit with traditional saddles, but has had good success with switching to a Master Lightweight—Marcio says her wins with the saddle hit $300,000. Master Saddles sponsors Poloncic as well.

Master Saddles also sponsors Emily Miller-Beisel, who’s horse Chongo was also hard to fit.

“This year will be Emily’s third year at the NFR running in a Master Lightweight,” Marcio said. “Her first year, she won the Reserve Champion title, last year she was third in the World and she’s currently ranking seventh in the world.”

Other sponsored riders include Ericka Nelson, Rookie of the Year Kylee Scribner and Amanda Welsh.

Some professional trainers have found Master Lightweight saddles to be ideal for training young horses who are still developing, rather than using heavy saddles while training.

Barrel racer Amanda Welsh at Pendleton Roundup
Amanda Welsh

Master Lightweight Saddles are particularly helpful with folks who have physical limitations and could struggle with lifting heavy saddles. They’re also becoming a preferred saddle for youth riders who want to saddle their own horses.

“It is very heartwarming for me to hear stories about elderly ladies who have stopped running barrels and even riding a horse years ago, because they couldn’t lift a saddle; and now after getting a Master Lightweight they can, and they do,” Marcio said.

Click page 2 to continue reading “Mastering the Skill”

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