Saturday, February 28, 2009

Erin's parade saddle

If wishes were horses and money grew on trees, this parade set by Erin Corbett would belong to me:

I spent a day hanging out with Erin in her studio earlier this month. That was a real treat as I've only occasionally had the chance to watch another tackmaker work. Tackmaking tends to be a solitary pursuit, and it's hard to think of new ways to do things. Erin and I use a lot of the same techniques, but there were a few things she did differently and better. Most of these things seem obvious in retrospect and were immediately incorporated into my own bag of tricks. I hope I was able to provide her with a few similar light bulb moments.

Here is a picture of Erin's workspace after we had made a mess of it. The English saddles in the lower left hand corner are both made by Jennifer Kistler. The Western saddles are by Erin. Erin's Western saddles are hand carved rather than stamped. Each part of the design is cut into the leather with a small knife. I find this method of tooling incredibly intriguing, and Erin was nice enough to give me a lesson in the basics of carving. It will be a while, however, before I can produce anything that looks half as nice as this.
Here is another closeup of parade saddle parts. The poppies were carved by Erin but painted by Tracy Eilers. Tracy is Erin's best friend and one of the hobby's most talented resin painters. So neat to have the work of two top artisan's in one piece!Hopefully some lucky person will snap up this parade set soon--I guarantee that even the most discriminating tack collector will not be disappointed with it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A few small repairs

Unlike a lot of tackmakers in the hobby, I don't mind doing repair work on other people's tack. As long as the customer is realistic in their expectations, I'm always willing to do my best to fix or update their older tack. Because of this, I've been fortunate to have some really nice pieces visit my workbench over the years.

I came home from Portland with a pair of Western saddles that needed a bit of tlc. The first one was this beautiful pleasure saddle by Janet Edington. There's not much wrong with this besides a missing silver plate. That was an easy fix, and I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to study this saddle up close. The other saddle was a bit more challenging. This trophy saddle is dated 1993, and besides the missing stirrup it is old and stiff with age.
The breastcollar's black tug straps were thick and clumsy and the handmade buckles detracted from the overall look. I carefully skived the backsides of the fenders and billets and treated both with a non-staining leather conditioner. I continued doing this until the leather had regained its suppleness. At that point I reattached the stirrups and added hobble straps. The fenders now hang straight down against the horse's sides.
I replaced the breastcollar's black tug straps with some that matched color of the saddle, and I also revamped the strap that runs from the center ring to the cinch.
The result is a more polished and modern looking breastcollar.
I probably wouldn't take this vintage saddle to NAN, but I do feel that these small updates have given it a new lease on life. Hopefully the owner will agree!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another sneaky peek

Karen, this is your saddle.

I was really inspired by those lovely Jennifer Kistler saddles I saw in Portland earlier this month. One of the things I was particularly taken with was the contrasting piping between the seat and skirts. I decided to see if I could duplicate that look, and this is what I came up with.
Not too bad for a first attempt! Jennifer does it better, of course, but I'm still pretty pleased with my efforts.

The rest of the saddle is very much a work in progress. I haven't made the panels, and there's still a lot of shaping and cleanup work to do. Unfortunately, that will have to wait until tomorrow as the other people in this house seem to think dinner is more important than saddlemaking!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thinking ahead

So far this year I have been making exactly the same sort of tack I made last year--that is, modern, competition-style English saddles and bridles. This should come as no big surprise. I'm best known as an English tackmaker and most English tack is "easy" for me. I've used it extensively in real life and I know how it looks and feels. The vast majority of my orders are for some sort of English saddle or bridle.
Looking ahead, however, I do have something completely different on the horizon. You may remember a couple months back I traded a tack slot for an unpainted Dagmar Anderson Orgulhoso resin. Well, Dagmar's slot is nearing the top of my worklist, and I've begun to gather up my Portuguese tack reference pictures.
This will not be my first attempt at Portuguese tack. I made a set for my friend Regan about two years ago, and it has consistently placed well for her in the show ring. Despite that, I've never been entirely pleased with the saddle. I really wanted to build it around a metal tree, but try as I might, I just couldn't seem to make that work. In the end, I went with a hand-sculpted epoxy tree. It turned out ok, but I have always felt that was an imperfect solution. So, although I still have some English orders to work through, I'm thinking about Portuguese saddles again. I have some new ideas about how I'm going to tackle that tree this time, and I am optimistic that I will come up with something better.
I did not take any of the pictures in today's post. They were all provided to me by Regan who is my go-to person for all things Iberian. I am posting these pictures here in hopes that other tackmakers will find them useful. Google has made it (relatively) easy to find pictures of specialty tack, but detail pictures like these are still a rare commodity. Because I am obsessed with having my tack look and feel like the real thing, I find pictures like this that show the placement of the billets to be invaluable. I hate having to guess on important construction details.
Similarly, I always want to know what the bottom of the saddle looks like. This one looks pretty cushy!
Thanks (again) to Regan for such wonderful reference material and also to Dagmar for forcing me to revisit this particular tackmaking puzzle. This one is still just in the thinking stage, but I am delighted to be thinking about something other than English saddles!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Monday

It's Monday morning. The husband has gone off to work and the kids are in school. I'm home alone with my dogs, and I am struggling with those Pebbles scale bridles that I did not do yesterday. Probably I will have pictures of them later, but for now I'd rather show off these beautiful pictures taken by Kellye Bussey.You may remember the bridle from a recent post. I made the saddle last fall.
The horse is a Sarah Rose Deseoso resin painted by Kathleen (Kirch) Lindley. The doll was dressed by Sheri Wirtz.
Thank you so much Kellye--what a wonderful way to start the week!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Playing hookey

I had planned to spend today working on a pair of Pebbles scale bridles. That seemed like a do-able goal last night, and I had every intention of getting them done in record time. Unfortunately, I woke up this morning still weary from the previous days' event saddle marathon. I had absolutely no desire to sit down and work on tack. The weather was nice and it seemed like a much better idea to spend my day outside with real horses.

So that's what I did.This is why I don't often take pictures of us actually riding. The indoor ring is nice but it's also dark and dusty.I rode Punky first and then handed him over to his mama, Fran. Fran is the only person I know who rides in Crocs.This picture cracks me up. Punky is the kind of pocket pony who likes to be hugged. I don't know why he looks so cranky here.The barn dogs, Cue and Corona, keep an eye on us while we're in the ring.Cara and Allison heading out to the pasture with Cue in pusuit. Cue is a working dog. He doesn't like to miss anything.Fran's Great Dane, Shadow. We stayed a little while after our ride to chat and help turn out some of the other horses. This is one of my favorites--a big warmblood named Hagan.
This is Hagan's sister Triple Chick. She's checking to make sure I don't have any more cookies before she trots off to join her brother.
So, that's how I spent my day. I'll get to those bridles tomorrow--I promise!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sneak Peek for Kellye

This is pretty much all I've done for the past two and a half days...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Random collection picture

I have a soft spot for North Light models. For reasons I do not quite understand, I feel all warm and happy when I look into their strange, little, frog-eyed faces. The cob is one of my favorite North Light molds. Someday I would love to have a whole conga line of cobs. For now, though, I am content to own just this one. His is Punchline. Pretty darn cute, isn't he?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pebbles scale saddle for sale

You may remember that I had made up an extra Pebbles scale saddle to take to the Hearts N Horses show in Portland earlier this month.

So much for the best laid plans... I did manage to get that saddle to Portland, but somehow I forgot to bring it with me on the day of the show.If I don't sell it here,I am going to list it to MH$P later tonight or tomorrow. The price is $150 for the saddle, girth and pad. If you would like to have a matching bridle, that could be arranged. I take all forms of payment and some trades (although I'm very picky). Preference will be given to someone who can pay in full, but time payments may be an option.I do not make very many saddles in this scale and this is a nice one. If you are interested, please email me at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jumper boots

I get a lot of orders for "jumper tack", which I generally interpret as an English saddle and bridle with at least one or two jumper type extras. Probably the most common of those accessories is a full set of jumping boots.

If you've looked through a good tack catalog recently, you know there are a lot of different choices in equine leg protection. Open front boots, however, have long been the boot of choice with the jumper crowd. These boots protect the horses tendons while still allowing him to "feel" the jumps. They are commonly paired with shorter ankle boots on the hind legs.

Most high end jumping boots are feature a leather exterior and either sheepskin or neoprene lining. Front boots generally have three or four straps which may run parallel to one another or criss cross as in the picture below. You will also see some boots with just two straps, but these are almost always those that fasten with velcro rather than buckles. Ankle boots generally have two straps, although some of the velcro varieties will use just one. In this picture, Dos Equis is shown wearing full protective leg gear--bell boots and open front boots on his forelegs and ankle boots and pastern wraps on his hind. The pastern wraps are made out of neoprene and fasten with velcro.
Margie Goldstein-Engle is shown here competing in the Germantown Charity Grand Prix. Her horse is wearing fleece lined open front boots.
Margie again, this time on the well known stallion Saluut II. He is wearing neoprene lined leather open fronts and hind wraps. It is not unusual to see different styles of leg protection on the front and hind legs.Of course not all jumping boots are made of leather. Synthetic boots are also a popular choice due to their lower price point, easy care and durability. They are also better in wet, muddy situations as they do not get water logged and heavy. These boots generally do not fasten with buckles. The Roma boots pictured below use wide velcro tabs instead.Synthetic boots are available in a multitude of colors, but most competitors tend to stick with white, black or brown.
In this picture, Chuck Waters and Gold Card are competing in a pair of white boots decorated with an American flag. Note, the leather ankle boots behind.
Although less popular than boots, some riders do show their jumpers in wraps. This picture is of my friend Leigh showing her horse Montana in an Amateur Owner jumper class at the Kentucky Horse Park.
This Grand Prix jumper (Money Talks, ridden by Hugh Graham) is also wearing front wraps. The black stripes at the top of the wraps are electrical tape which makes the wrap more secure and less likely to come undone on course. This horse is wearing leather ankle boots on his hind legs.
Of course, there is no rule requiring the use of either boots or wraps in the jumper ring. I have a surprising amount of pictures showing Grand Prix jumpers doing just fine with little to no leg protection. This photograph shows Mafito clearing a big oxer in only bell boots.
And this is Pilot Point and Vicky Miller entering the Grand Prix ring in Ocala, FL completely clean-legged. This horse was an absolute superstar in US Grand Prix League competition in the 1990's, and he often jumped around without the benefit of boots.
The one thing you will almost never see in the jumper ring--at least at bigger shows--is closed front splint boots. As a model horse judge, I'd rather not see your Western boots on your jumper. That said, I don't think this is something that should be judged per se. The use of boots in the jumper ring is a matter of convention and personal preference. It's not governed by any show association and therefore there really isn't a right or wrong. If you have a judge tell you that the only reason your jumper didn't pin higher was his boots (or lack thereof), please feel free to refer them to this posting!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rolling along--still more on buckles

I am always trying to improve my tack. One of the best ways I've found to do that is to study as much tack--of both the real and model varieties--as possible. Real tack reminds me how things should look and work. I try hard to notice both the big picture things like general proportions and the more subtle nuances of style and decoration. Model tack is instructive in a completely different way. I am always curious to see how other people tackle the challenges inherent in creating detailed, small scale work.

One of my favorite model tackmakers is Corinne Ensor. Although she also makes lovely saddles, it's her strap goods that impress me the most. Her bridles and harnesses are amazing--elegant, in scale, and highly detailed. Over time, I've figured out how to incorporate some of those same details into my own work. However, it's just been in the past few days that I've finally unraveled the secret to successfully adding rollers to etched buckles. I have no idea if this is the method Corinne uses, but I think with some practice, I will consistently be able to achieve Corinne-like results. Hooray!

Unlike my previous attempts to make roller buckles, this time I did use either aluminum tubing or ferrule type beads. Instead I bought some very thin (.008") metal sheeting from a local hobby shop.I measured the inside width of a Rio Rondo buckle and cut a long strip of sheeting to match. Using my round nosed pliers, I shaped one end of the strip into a tight curl. I fit the curl around the buckle, squeezed it shut and snipped off the excess with my wire cutters. Of course, each roller required additional shaping and trimming, but that's pretty much the whole story. This particular solution seems so obvious to me now. I can't believe I didn't come up with it sooner!

The results of my labor--almost a dozen 3/32" tongue buckles with rollers.
And here they are in use on a pair of open front jumping boots. I still need to trim the buckle tongues a bit, particularly that middle one. I did not make the nifty rubber bell boots. Those are some of Jana Skybova's. She's yet another tackmaker whose work I greatly admire.The matching ankle boots. I am very pleased with these roller buckles. Not only do they make the boots a bit easier to put on, but they will also reduce wear and tear on the buckle strap.
Unfortunately, every improvement comes with a cost and that cost is usually time. It took me nearly two hours to prepare the buckles for these boots. Practice should reduce that substantially, but buckles with tongues and rollers are always going to take longer to make than buckles with neither. Wouldn't it be great to discover a way to add detail that didn't take more time?