Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three cool things about my saddles

I'll be the first one to tell you that my saddles aren't perfect. I try and I try, but there are always things that don't quite turn out the way I want them to. Sometimes it's a design issue, and I'm forever adjusting patterns, trying to make them just a little bit better. Other times it's the execution that's lacking. Every now and then I think I might have it all worked out, only to discover that fixing one thing has brought new problems to light. It's a ongoing process and sometimes a very frustrating one. Because of that, I occasionally need to step back and remind myself that even if they aren't perfect, my saddles aren't all bad without their good points. Today has been a rather long and frustrating day at the workbench, so instead of dwelling on what I can't do, I'm going to show you three things I like about my saddles.

If you've poked around in other people's tack boxes as much as I have, you've probably seen saddles stored around toilet paper tubes. The main purpose for this is to train the saddle's flaps to stay in a curved shape and lie flat against the model's sides. It's a cheap and effective way to do that, but something about the toilet paper tube seems so wrong to me... I just had to come up with a better way to get that shape.

This is what I came up with--I place a hidden wire in the small roll of leather that runs down the front of the flaps. This allows the saddle to maintain its shape without any special "training". In this picture the wire is holding the flap up and out.Since that's probably not the look you're going for, here's how to change it. Pinch the front of the flap with your fingers and gently bend the wire into the desired position. You can also do this while the saddle is on the horse. Ta da! The flaps on this brand new saddle hug the horse's sides, and you will not need to keep toilet paper tubes in your tack box!I am happiest when my model tack closely mirrors real tack in all particulars. However, sometimes less really is more. I used to put buckles on my stirrup leathers, but I didn't like the extra bit of bulk they put under the skirt. Now I use a different method that reduces bulk while allowing for adjustment.

To shorten your leathers, gently pull down on the free end.You can lengthen the leathers by pulling on the backside of the piece that loops through the iron.
The third thing I like about my saddles is that they're tough. Like the great tackmaker Susan Bensema-Young, I value the "playability" factor. I don't think you should have to worry about breaking things every time you use them. My saddles are built on a metal tree that is both strong and flexible. The interior sections are both glued and sewn together. Likewise, the padded flaps are secured with glue and thread, as are the pressure points on the girth. I'm sure it's possible to break a Braymere saddle, but I think you'd have to work at it a bit!
So that's today's happy list. Tomorrow I'll be right back at the impossible pursuit of perfection.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Finally--a saddle!

This has been a weird month. I've had a lot of trouble getting back into a routine after the holidays, and my tackmaking has suffered as a result. Oh, I've managed to make a few small things here and there, but until today, I hadn't finished a large order since the beginning of December.

So without further ado, here is the first saddle of 2009. This one did not come easy. I had to do the seat section twice. It's very discouraging to have to redo several hours worth of work, but I'm glad I did. This looks so much better than the earlier attempt.
One of the symptoms of crazy, obsessed tackmaker disease is wanting the saddle's underside to look just as good as its top. I also want them to feel like real saddles.
As is often the case, these pictures helped me see a problem that I had overlooked while actually working with the saddle. That right panel is set just a little further back than the left one. Luckily, that's a pretty easy fix. I've since removed the panel and reset it. Symmetry is hard!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mule show observations

Cara and I had a fun time at the National Western Stock Show's draft and mule competition a couple days ago. I went completely camera crazy and took about a million photos, mostly during the three draft classes (Feed Team Race, Eight Horse Draft Hitch, and Heavy Weight Draft Pull). I'll post those pictures along with class information at a later date. Today, however, I'm concentrating on the mule portion of the show. Because the indoor ring at the Events Center is a real challenge for my amateur photography skills, most of these photos were taken in the warm up arena.
I do not know what association's rules were in effect for this show, but the mule classes we watched were noticeably different than their horsey counterparts. The keyhole race looked like any other keyhole race, and the only difference I could see in the trail class involved the small jump. The mules were asked to canter toward it, slow to a walk a few steps out and then halt directly in front of it. Most walked over but a few jumped.

Some of the mules were turned out like the stock horses I watched earlier in the week. That is, they wore light oil show saddles with lots of silver and one or two eared silver trimmed bridles with split reins. In general these mules were in show coats and some even had full show tails. I'm assuming these were fake--it looks really unnatural to see a mule with a tail brushing the ground! Most of the mules had roached manes but a few had short pulled manes that were trained to lie over to the side. However, there were also a substantial number of mules decked out like this guy. Note the double rigged working saddle and crupper. This youth competitor had the most casual turnout of all. He rode in several classes with the saddle bags, Li'l Dude stirrups and halter under the bridle. He's also using an English pelham bit. Definitely not a polished look, but he seemed to have a lot of fun. Something else I noticed was a lot of braided rawhide trim bridles.
Most of these bridles were browband style and also featured horse hair tassels.
Personally, I find this type of bridle to be very attractive, more so than the bling-y silver bridles.
Quite a few mules had their heads clipped. This looked rather odd to me. If you look closely, you can see that he is also clipped along both sides of his crest.
I did take a few pictures of the costume class. About half the class was dressed in a semi-authentic historic manner. This mountain man was the eventual winner.
There were also some fanciful entries. This pirate ship was the crowd favorite. You can't see it here, but there was dry ice "smoke" coming out of the cannons.
Talk about a tolerant mule! He came in second.I'm not quite ready to switch allegiances from horses to mules, but I can see why some people do. This was a fun show to watch. There were instances of mule misbehavior, but none that were scary. I really got the sense that the riders and mules were out there having a good time. How often can you say that about a horse show?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kellye's bridle

This black, saddleseat style double bridle was ordered to fit the Sarah Rose "Deseoso" resin. I had not known this, but apparently Andalusians do show in saddleseat. You can see pictures of them in action at the Andalusian/Lusitano National by clicking this link:
Hope you like it, Kellye!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Round up pictures

Today is the last day of the National Western Stock Show, and for the first time in two weeks, we're having Stock Show weather. It's cold and although the snow isn't falling yet, you can feel it in the air. My young riding buddy Cara and I will be attending the finale of the draft horse and mule show later today. I've never been to either a draft horse or a mule show, so I am looking forward to it even if it means I need to break out the long johns!

We leave in about an hour and that's not enough to time to start a project so I've been amusing myself by scanning more pictures from the Don K Ranch. This set is from the round up that took place right after Cherokee dumped me in the mud.

The Don K was located in the mountains west of Pueblo, and to call it remote would not be an exaggeration. It was nearly fifteen miles from a paved road, and its two and a half mile driveway was a narrow, twisting path lined by steep rocky cliffs. It was not the sort of road you'd want to drive on if you were hauling a giant trailer full of horses, so every time Sombrero Ranch made a delivery we got to have a round up.

This first picture shows the wranglers riding down the driveway. I have to admit that I was pretty nervous to be back on Cherokee. I was a good sport about having been dumped earlier in the day, but I'd hit the ground hard and every part of me was sore. Round ups could be pretty exciting and I was worried he'd get scared and start bucking again.The new horses were unloaded at the bottom of the driveway and "pushed" up the road. The goal was to keep them together in a group behind the truck and point rider. It looks pretty calm and orderly in this picture,but that wasn't always the case! As an aside, aren't those cliffs amazing? They were full of caves, one of which was home to a mama bear and her cub.This last picture shows the back of the herd passing through the driveway's one wide spot. You can see the two wranglers riding drag at the back of the pack. Their job was to keep the horses moving forward. My friend Gina and I are on the right side of the picture. Our job was to prevent the horses from entering the grassy area and spreading out. I was so worried the giant herd of horses thundering past would set Cherokee off, but he was a good boy. Once the last horses went by, we joined the herd in the ride up the road.
It's hard for me to believe these pictures were taken twenty years ago. I have such vivid memories of my dude ranch summers. The hours were long and the pay was lousy, but oh, it was wonderful to live in the mountains and spend all day, every day with horses!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pride goes before the fall

I spent my twentieth summer working at a guest ranch located in the San Isabel Mountains in south central Colorado. The Don K maintained a herd of sixty five to seventy horses during the summer, but only 15 of those actually belonged to the ranch. The others were leased from an outfit called Sombrero Ranch which provides horses to guest ranches and camps throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Sombrero Ranch owns literally thousands of horses, and not surprisingly, the quality of their horses is all over the map. Some are your stereotypical dude horses--slow, steady and happy to plod along in line. Horses like that make a wrangler's job easy. We loved those horses. Unfortunately, we also received our share of unbroke, unsound and downright scary horses. My favorite of the problem ponies was this little pinto gelding named Cherokee.Cherokee seemed quiet enough at first but within a few weeks he'd bucked off two people. One was a guest, but the other was a staff member who had a fair amount of riding experience. At that point our choices were to send him back to Sombrero or assign him to a wrangler. Since we had a lot of horses that were worse, he became my mount.
It did not take me long to figure out that Cherokee's main problem was that he was very young and very green. He knew start and stop but almost nothing beyond that. I spent a lot of extra time with him and he rewarded the effort by quickly learning to respond to increasingly lighter and lighter cues.

Of course I was completely in love with him. I had a friend take these pictures of us right before a round up. It was rather chilly that day and I was wearing a warm but unattractive jacket. I didn't want the jacket to be in the picture, so I took it off and dropped it on to a fence.
All was well until I went to put the jacket back on. By this time Cherokee and I were working so well together that I'd forgotten how green he really was. I tried to pick up the jacket off his right side, and he totally and completely freaked out. He started spinning and crow hopping in an effort to get away from it. I thought it might be better if I just dropped it. Unfortunately that was more than poor Cherokee could handle. He went up like a rodeo bronc. I have ridden a lot of horses over the years but I have never ever been on a horse that bucked like that. His head disappeared between his knees, and I knew after just one jump that I would never be able to ride it out.

And I didn't. I landed headfirst in a mud puddle.
I did get back on Cherokee (after a shower!) and ride him in the round up. He behaved perfectly and I was willing to keep on with him. Sadly, my boss was less forgiving. She'd seen the whole thing and decided that he was a liability the ranch couldn't afford. Despite my protests, he went back to Sombrero less than a week later.

I try to remember this every time I start getting a bit too impressed with myself. I was so convinced I'd done a bang up job training that horse, that I stopped treating him like the greenie he was. If I hadn't wanted to look nice in that picture, I probably would have spent the whole summer riding him. It was a tough lesson.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself yesterday after I primed that Turtle Arab. I proudly posted pictures of her both here and on Model Horse Blab expecting nothing but praise. The first couple people who responded to my thread on Blab obliged me with some pretty over the top compliments. Thankfully, there are some hobbyists with both a critical eye and the ability to tactfully make suggestions. I'd been vaguely displeased with the neck, but it wasn't until Chelsea Nichols made a couple helpful comments that I was really able to see where I'd gone wrong. Of course, fixing the underside of the neck made me aware of other neck problems which led to notice that the right cheek didn't match the left cheek and... Well, let's just say she's back in the epoxy stage. It's kind of disappointing to realize that the finish line is still a ways off, but it's always better to find and fix problems than live with them for eternity. I'll post progress pictures when I get through the current resculpting stage, and please feel free to point out every last problem. Don't let me get too proud!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Home stretch

It's been a couple weeks since I've posted pictures of the Turtle Arab, and I'm pleased to report that she is rapidly nearing completion. Something about the front legs still looks off to me, but mostly I'm pleased with how she's turned out. Whenever I start a new custom, I hope to both improve the original piece and to change it into something I like a bit better. It's probably immodest of me to say this, but I do feel as though I've achieved both goals with this particular horse.

She's not quite ready for paint as there are still some prepping issues. However, at this point, I don't anticipate making any major changes. I like this side better.
I would like for her to be a flaxen chestnut with lots of chrome. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's a color I can pull off. I've tried it before, and the results were not pretty. It's quite likely she'll be in primer for a long, long time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kristie's barn

There is a part of the model horse hobby that has nothing to do with live shows. I tend to forget this since most of my hobby time is spent helping performance showers pursue their NAN goals. It's very easy to get tunnel vision and think that everyone is in it at least partly for the thrill of competition.

Occasionally, though, I get a happy reminder that this is not always the case. My friend Kristie sent me this picture of a one stall barn she's built into a bookcase.Kristie asked me if I could make a stall guard for Midnight's door. She sent me this picture for reference,and this is what I came up with.
I simplified the design a bit by leaving off the buckles. I hadn't originally planned to do that, but none of the photo etched buckles in my stash fit the ribbon properly. Sometimes you just have to go with what works.

One last picture of Kristie's barn. This sign hangs above a shelf in her tack room.
I'm so glad that this part of the hobby is alive and well and I have to admit that suddenly I'm looking my own bookcases in a whole new way!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tack Tips--more on buckles

Two weeks ago I showed you how I prepare photo etched buckles for use on various tack projects. Since then I've had a couple people ask how I make single loop buckles. The truth of the matter is that more often than not I still make those out of straight pins. There are a couple reasons for this. The first is that I like being able to fit each buckle precisely to its strap. I also like the way the buckles feel. Their round wire shape glides smoothly and easily over the leather and does not mark its surface in the way that photo etched buckles can. Because I've had a lot of practice, I don't have much trouble consistently producing the size and shape buckles I want.Sometimes, however, I do use Rio Rondo d-rings. I don't particularly like their shape for a hunter type bridle, but they look good on dressage bridles (particularly in the gold color), harnesses and all sorts of other things. Simply clip the d-ring off the sheet, sand off the stem and add a buckle tongue.One other thing I neglected to address last time is the proper length for a buckle's tongue. I often see buckles that look a lot like this when I'm cruising MH$P or eBay.Both those buckles are functional, but because their tongues are much too long, neither looks particularly polished. For comparison's sake, here are some close up pictures of full size buckles.Note the tongue length--it does not extend out over the top of the buckle.Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix. Here is a picture of the same two buckles after I've trimmed their tongues with my wire cutters. Not only do they look a lot neater, but they're also easier to use.
One last picture--here is a show halter I made last year that features buckles made from Rio Rondo d-rings on the chin section and properly sized buckle tongues throughout. As always, hope this was helpful!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Moving on

As I've mentioned on several occasions, I'm a kitchen table tack maker. I've never had a dedicated studio space in my home. Before I can start any project large or small, I must gather my tools and supplies and carry them over to the table. When the project is finished, I do the reverse. I've become pretty efficient at moving things around, but the constant shuffling of things one room to another does take its toll. If I don't have several hours of uninterrupted time to work on tack, I don't usually bother. It takes too long to set things up and take them down. This is the main reason that I do not work on tack during the weekends. By the time I've built my little work area, someone always seems to wants to use the table for silly things like eating lunch or dinner!

It appears, however, that this particular stage of my tack making career may be coming to an end. My husband works from home two days a week, and up until yesterday his home office was located in the small, spare bedroom upstairs. Unfortunately for him, that room is right in the middle of the house, and he's found the noise and activity of daily family life to be increasingly distracting. He decided it would be better to move his work computer downstairs into our quiet and isolated basement guestroom.

This was yesterday's weekend project. When he was finished moving things, the room looked like this except without the shelves. He asked me if I would like to use the space, and I said that perhaps I could put my tack making supplies in there. Next thing I knew he was hanging shelves and making a space for me. This is what the room looks like now.
I've filled those shelves with all sorts of tack making supplies,
and stored the most frequently used tools and products on the desktop.
There is even a small herd of friendly faces stabled nearby.
Honestly, I do not think this marks the end of my kitchen table tack making days. I am very comfortable working at that table. The light is good there and I can see the tv. However, it's nice to have an alternative workplace. I like that my supplies will have a real home where they won't be all jumbled together. Weekends might be possible again and perhaps I'll even stop losing things!

Now if someone could just do something about this unseasonably warm weather... It was in the mid sixties today! Who could stay home and work with temperatures like that? Not me, I'm afraid. I spent the entire morning at the barn and tomorrow I'm off to the Stock Show. Oh, what I need is a big snowstorm to keep me at home with my nose to the grindstone. This warm, lovely winter has been wonderful in many ways, but unfortunately my tack orders have suffered. It's just hard to stay focused when it's so nice outside!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Happy birthday to me

I know it's true, but I am having trouble coming to grips with the fact that this little kid is forty years old today.