Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On not being precious

Perhaps the best artistic advice I ever received came from an art teacher whose class I took some twenty years ago. He was forever encouraging his students not to be "precious" with their work. Nothing was ever so done that it couldn't be redone. It was always ok to go back and change things.

I made this saddle for my own show string in 2009. Although I was generally pleased with the way it turned out, I never really liked the cut of the seat jockeys. Those are the pieces on either side of the seat that cover the top of the fender. The top edge was fine, but the bottom was less satisfactory. I tried to convince myself that it was good enough--the saddle was finished and there was no need to take it apart to fix one picky little detail...You know where this is going, right?

Eventually I decided I was being much too precious with that saddle. It didn't represent my best work and it would be crazy not to fix the problem. Here it is now. I am much happier with the jockeys after the redo.
You may also notice that the stirrups have been "turned". Instead of hanging parallel to the horse's body, they are now in a perpendicular position as if held in place by an imaginary rider. To accomplish this, I used a trick that I discovered in the most recent edition of the KSmith Tack Makers Journal.
If you're not familiar with this ambitious new hobby publication, I strongly suggest you visit the KSmith Tack Makers Journal homepage. While you're there, be sure to click on the sneak peek link to view the first fourteen pages of the July issue. I'm sure you'll be just as impressed as I am, but you're going to have to buy the whole magazine to learn the turned stirrups trick!


  1. Wow, Jennifer that post just changed my life I think! LOL!! I just realized that half of my problem and the reason I am so slow at finishing my work all the time is that I am "much too precious" with my work. I think if I keep this in the back of my mind from now on it might help me "dig in" a bit more! BTW that saddle looks great, before and after actually! I think you are much too hard on yourself but maybe that's part of what makes your work turn out so perfect! *grin* ~Melissa Nei

  2. What, you can't hang the saddle from the rafters with a broomstick in the stirrups?

    (Actually saw that at one barn I was at. No clue if they did anything to the leather to help it along.)

  3. Jennifer, I followed your link and ordered a trail subscription to the Kimberley Smith's tack journal. I'm excited to get it! I also get Shannon Granger's Model Horse Performance publication. I find tack making to be both absorbing and relaxing, as well as useful. I no sooner got started again than I got too busy, but I mean to carve out some time soon. I agree that your new fender is an improvement over your old one! I would have never had the cohones to take apart a piece of tack that nice to try for improvement, but I've ruined things trying that in the past. I love your blog generally, and your tack causes me to have palpitations and and a bad case of wannbe-itis.

  4. Hanging from the rafters on a broom stick. Add that to the list of things you *don't* have to do to an english saddle!

    I plan on grabbing a copy of that, but I think I already know the trick!! I need to do that with my western saddles, need to find the time.

    Incidentally, I started "shaping" english saddles too. Involves a body horse and plastic wrap.

  5. I turn my stirrups with two fat paintbrushes, some embroidery floss and water. Maybe 3 hours for it to dry, LOL! I'm still interested in this new tackmaking journal though, I might have to at least sign up for the discounted three months...

  6. Melissa, I'm glad that resonated. It did for me, too. I barely even remember that art class otherwise, but I am constantly reminding myself not to be too precious with my work.

    In regards to the stirrups... Kim's trick doesn't involve broomsticks or paintbrushes or water or *time*. As soon as I did it, my stirrups were instantly turned. It's a wonderfully effective solution to a very common tackmaking problem!

    So, if I've convinced you to buy her magazine, be sure to tell her I sent you!

  7. You put the broomstick through the stirrups while it's on a saddle rack... no need to hang it from them.

  8. Hi Jennifer! I know this is really late, but I'm currently making a barrel racing saddle and was wondering how you made the horn like that. I've tried painting it to look like rawhide but it just doesn't seem right. It looks as though you've carved it; if so what tool(s) did you use?