Thursday, October 24, 2013

The beginnings

I am feeling significantly better today, but obviously, this recovery is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint.  Huge thanks to Erin Corbett for taking over today's blogging duties.  I really don't know what I'd do without the support of all my friends!

The Beginnings

by Erin Corbett

I'd like to talk a little bit about why I do what I do with the model horse tack. I get a fair number of questions from new or aspiring tackmakers, and I get the feeling that some might think there's a secret involved in saddle creation, or some sort of key that I have that will unlock the mysteries of how a saddle goes together, or how tooling works, if only I would tell them what it is! I am sad to say that there really isn't. It's just years and years of practice and refining skills and ENDLESS frustration. 
And a sharp x-acto knife! 
I started making saddles when I was a teenager in the mid/late nineties, and it was firmly coming from a place of wanting to show performance and do well. I saw amazing saddles in the winner's circle and NAN win photos by HAR Ranch, Susan Bensema-Young, and Darleen Stoddard just to name a few. 
The Elk saddle by Susan Bensena Young
I knew I very very badly wanted to own one of these gorgeous works of art... but for a 14 year old who made $30/month cleaning horse stalls, saddles that were hundreds of dollars might as well have been a million. However, a Rio Rondo saddle kit was $25!
I bought my first saddle kit and cried bitter tears of defeat trying get it put together with my dull box cutter knife and pair of kitchen shears, bent over an antique writing desk whose drawer I constantly banged my knees into. I'm not sure what happened to the first saddle I ever made, in fact - my memory of it is so hazy that I'm sure I probably gave it away. It was *not* pretty. Not even a little bit. 

But I didn't give up, and I kept beating away at it. I begged my parents for a Rio Rondo order every Christmas and birthday, and kept a hand written wish list that I would pine over. I am not over-stating it to say that I was *terrible* at making saddles for a solid ten years, on and off.
Photographic evidence of mediocrity above! Then I was OK at it for a few more. 
I've only been decent at it in the past few years now, and I am so thankful that I've had the time to keep trying for all those years. 
All around saddle owned by Jamie Stine
Some days though, I'm still terrible at it. My point in saying all this is to encourage new people to not give up. It really does take years and years to get good at something. 
Pleasure saddle owned by Tiffany Purdy
Try not to be too discouraged if your first efforts don't show or sell very well, because everybody doing well today spent a good chunk of time in the bottom of the classes until they figured out their craft.
Gaming saddle owned by Danielle Feldman
If you see amazing pieces winning that you would love to own but can't afford, then welcome to the pool of aspiring hobby artists - this is where a great many of us started! There is an overwhelming amount of information available to new artists now - blogs like Jennifer's here, tutorials both on Facebook and Model Horse Blab, and even step by step videos on YouTube. Everybody starts somewhere...
Working saddle owned by Erin Corbett
And if you keep working at it long enough, you may finally get to own the saddle of your dreams!


  1. Well this is timely. I just bought my first Rio Rondo kit and am having a blast with it! Cut out all the leather last night, and I love the way it smells. It was really exciting just draping the fenders over my wrist and imagining what it's gonna look like when it's together.

    I'm having to improvise a bit with tools and such--found out that flathead drill bits can actually work as a beveler for leather carving. Philips bits make nice little square punches, and the head of a screw can be angled and make nice little curves in the leather.

    I just wanted to say thanks, Jenn, and all the guest posters for the advice and the inspiration.

  2. My mother and I made a Rio Rondo kit in 1989 when I was twelve for the same reason you did--could not possibly afford professional Western tack.

    It's rough, but it still places on the rare occasions I show Western. We dyed it "saddle tan" (reddish) to go with Toby, my SR "Wild Scirocco Fire". It's older than a lot of the showers, never mind the other saddles!

    (The bridle originally had homemade wire bits and leather reins--the Rio Rondo cast bits and braided thread reins are later alterations. I'm a couple of years older than you are, I would guess--I remember when cast hardware was a really big deal.)

  3. "Try not to be too discouraged if your first efforts don't show or sell very well, because everybody doing well today spent a good chunk of time in the bottom of the classes until they figured out their craft."

    Truer words ever said... and it fits every section of the hobby.

  4. I love your saddles, Erin. The tooling is incredible.