Friday, October 23, 2009

Tack Tips--Protecting your models

Leah writes: I've messed around with tack making a bit, and here's my conundrum: how do you keep the horse safe (i.e. not scratched) as you work on custom fit tack? Especially if anything (like a saddle tree) needs to be sculpted (eek, epoxy!). I'd love to see a post on that :) This is exactly the kind of question I was hoping for when I posted yesterday. It's specific, easy to cover in one entry, and best of all, I have some good answers!

Every now and then someone sends me an expensive model for custom tack fitting. This is always a mixed blessing. While I find it easier to work with a model than measurements, I aways worry about damaging another person's property. So far that hasn't happened, and I have a whole set of safety protocols in place to ensure my perfect record stays intact.

The first and best way to protect a prized model is to use a body double. This is easiest with OF models. I usually do not collect more than one of a mold, but I own two Lonesome Glorys--a Mosaic and a regular run Seattle Slew. Mosaic is the show horse. Slew is here simply for tack fitting purposes. Of course, most people can't afford to buy doubles of their best resins or chinas. Fortunately, that's not always necessary. Measure your model (here's a link to a measuring guide that works well for me: and compare the measurements to other (cheaper) models in your own herd. You might be surprised at the results. I've found that tack made on a Lady Phase will fit Sarah Rose's Indy resin perfectly, and Dozen Roses and the Breyer Five Gaiter can share a double bridle with only the slightest of adjustments.

Of course sometimes a suitable body double can't be found and you're forced to work with the nice show horse. In that case, just be extra careful. Wash your hands between steps to prevent glue, dye or other products from transferring onto the model. I also guard against accidental topples by storing the model on it's side while I'm not actually using it.

I rarely sculpt saddle trees out of epoxy. My English saddles are built on a handcut sheet metal tree, and I use premade Rio Rondo trees for Western saddles. However, every once in a great while I will make a specialty saddle that involves some epoxy. Here's a quick look at that process.

Meet my victim. He's a Breyer Cigar slightly customized and painted by Chris Nandell. This horse has won several NAN cards and I would be most displeased if I damaged his pretty Appaloosa paintjob.
Like any project, the first step is to gather supplies and reference material. Here are the unassembled components of my future saddle (bass wood strips, wire, aluminum foil and Apoxie Sculpt) plus tools and Native American saddle reference pictures from The Mystic Warriors of the Plains.
The first stage of construction involves cutting the bass wood to size and wiring the saddle into its approximate final shape. I've found that Apoxie Sculpt sticks better to aluminum foil than bare wire, so I will cover all the wire with a couple wraps of foil.
Up until this point, I haven't been concerned with the safety of the horse. However, I really do not want to get epoxy on him, so it's time to take some precautions. I start out by covering his barrel with a single layer of cling wrap. This will allow me to protect his back without changing its shape.
I then cover the rest of his body with multiple loose layers of wrap and secure them with masking tape. His body is completely protected now. No matter how messy my hands are, I can still pick him up without fear of damaging his paintjob.
I've now started to layer the epoxy onto the saddle frame. I can sit the saddle right on the horse to check the fit. The plastic wrap keeps the horse safe and doesn't stick to the wet epoxy. I've also used this method to protect a painted resin while I repaired its broken tail. It worked just as well that time, too!
Hope this was helpful. Please keep the suggestions coming!


  1. I have a shelf full of 'bodies' to use for tack making. All are flawed, so making tack on them is no problem.
    I make all my tack on them unless, like you, a customer sends me a model to fit exactly.
    Most of my saddles are made on the LP or the Zippo since they are a universal size, at least for western
    I have used saran wrap to cover a body, but haven't gone quite as far as you But don't build trees, so don't really need to cover as much surface.

  2. Wonderful! Oh so helpful!