Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Continuing education

Years ago, a friend of mine went out of her way to show me a model horse saddle that she had just purchased. I took one look and immediately dismissed it. The workmanship was sloppy, the proportions weren't quite right, and even though I wasn't really making saddles at that time, I thought, "Well, I could make something better than that!"

Fran saw that I wasn't impressed and said "I know it's not wonderful but there are at least three good ideas on this saddle."

I looked again and, by golly, she was right. Closer inspection revealed a whole host of creative techniques and innovative ideas. Although I wasn't wow-ed by the finished product, I was able to glean valuable information by studying its construction.

That was a really valuable lesson. I love looking at other people's tack--good, bad and indifferent--and I am always on the lookout for the next good idea. Sometimes they come from the most surprising places!

Here's where I found my most recent good idea:Yep, that's Linda White's article on making an English saddle that was featured in the most recent issue of Model Horse Performance.

Now, I know how to make an English saddle, but in the interest of continuing education I read the article in its entirety. I was struck by the fact that Linda makes the seat section of her saddles first and then moves on to the flaps. I've always done it the other way around, and it occurred to me that Linda's order has merit. I often run into problems when I try to mesh a finished seat section to a finished flap section, particularly when I am working with a new pattern. Perhaps I should make the seat section first and then build the flap section around that? I decided it was worth trying.

Six hours later, my work desk is a disaster:but I have this to show for my efforts:
Long story short--the new order worked fabulously! In fact, it turned out to be a huge time saver. My original pattern for the flaps didn't fit the completed seat at all. Had I cut and detailed the flaps first, I would have undoubtedly had to go back and start from scratch.

Like all good ideas, this one seems totally obvious in retrospect. I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner, and I am grateful to Linda for making me rethink how I do things. I'm also grateful to my good friend Fran for teaching me to look beyond the finished product and see the value of its individual parts. That is perhaps the best lesson a tackmaker can learn!


  1. Jennifer I'm glad you found something useful from it - that pattern is well over 10 years old, when I was still experimenting (heck, I am STILL making improvements lol)with techniques and patterns for it. I knew nothing about saddle construction but managed to find an out of print book about making English saddles - I studied it as best I could and tried to duplicate it. The book left a lot of detail out so I omitted the stuff I couldn't figure out - luckily it left me with a decent saddle nonetheless.

    I am actually in the middle of some major "renovations" to the pattern right now, thanks to inspiration from the saddle I got from you!

  2. I think I've always made the seat first and then fitted the flaps to that, but never really considered doing it any other way. Just shows that many different techniques can work for different people. I think it depends how your brain works in general, as to how you approach little problems.

    Love the results of your experiment Jennifer!

  3. I think I've always made the flaps first because they're the slowest, most boring pieces. Better to get them done early while my enthusiasm is still at a high point. It never occurred to me to rethink that until I read Linda's article! Now of course I realize that I've been making extra work for myself for *years*. Oh well, better late than never!

    Linda, your saddle making process isn't hugely different than mine. The basics are all fairly similar, although I do use some different materials and I think I often go out of my way to make things as complicated as possible!

    Lauren, I wish you lived closer so we could make tack together. I have a feeling I would learn sooooo much from watching you work.

  4. I know what you mean Jennifer, I would love to see many other tack makers work, and be able share ideas in person. There just aren't many around in the UK! I got a chance to see one of your saddles in person though, one of Rosemary's dressage saddles, I think it was Stone pony sized and was beautiful. I learnt so much about photography from visiting Rosemary a couple of times, so I know it would be similar information sharing between tack-makers.