Thursday, May 28, 2009

Side Saddles: Cautionary Tale

Not all side saddles are equal. Recently, I was having Normandie fit for a side saddle and as my regular status indicated, we had some fit issues with the cantle area or lack of one. Basically it was packing down too much and would slide. Fitting takes time. In any case, I remember someone had mentioned a side saddle on consignment at a local saddle shop. So, Gail, Sue and I took a quick road trip to take a look at the saddle. This is the side saddle up for sale.

If you do not know anything about side saddles or assume that they are fitted like other saddles, then you need to find an expert before riding or fitting one. The pictured saddle is an example of a poorly crafted saddle. Things you can't see in the photo: The tree is twisted and slopes off to the off side, the center line is "off center". The finger billets on on the off side have a huge gap that would allow for the installation of an extra billet, the padding as typically found in most English saddles which makes up for the bars of a western, is practically non-existent and allows the saddle to dig into the horse's back. When a rider is sitting on the horse, their left seat bone is hanging off the side of the cantle. There is no saddle beneath them. This is a poorly made saddle by a maker that clearly doesn't know the first thing about side saddles. Ebayers beware.

Oh, did I mention that the balance girth points in the WRONG direction? It angles toward the back of the horse rather than toward the front. If I can obtain the pictures from Sue that we took, you will see what we're talking about.

A Swing and a Miss!

Well this past Saturday, Gail and Sue made the trip north to try to help find a side saddle to fit one of my horses. After roughly 5 hours, we came close, but there were no carrots to be had. Sigh...these saddles are extremely hard to fit.

We tried a Wayne Steele on Normandie. It was fitted and Gail mounted up for an inaugural ride. Normandie walked off alright, but then got half way down the side of the ring and did a little cow kick, almost like he was swatting a fly. It might have been, but then he did it again...this time in protest. Apparently the saddle rolled a little and it started digging his withers. Normandie is stoic when it comes to a lot of things; however, he is quite expressive when something isn’t right.

Gail dismounted and we headed back for the aisle to try the second saddle, a nice Mayhew. Normandie was learning patience as he stood in the aisle and waited while the balance girth was set and then it was out to the ring for a second test.

This one fit him a little better especially in the withers. Bob helped with a “pony” ride; Normandie followed him allowing Gail to concentrate on fit and feel instead of worrying about what Normandie was thinking. The saddle had new flocking and the packing down caused the cantle to dip low creating an uphill slope on the saddle; back to the aisle.

We took the saddle off and bridle again and Norm stood on the cross ties while Sue, super saddler that she is, took the saddle to her car and opened up the padding and began adding more wool. She stitched it up, and we were off to the ring again for another test ride.

Another swing and a miss; it rode better, but the saddle would still roll to the left as you rode. So, the consensus was to wait and try it out on other horses to see if it was a fundamental issue with saddle or something else.

So, Jenn still has no saddle, but we’re still working on it. Sue is cogitating on the problem and we’ll see what happens.

Since they were up my way and I had heard that there was a side saddle at a local saddle shop, we took a quick road trip and it was quite educational. The side saddle is an example of caveat emptor (buyer beware). I will address this in my next post.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pisanello Bit Completed

We've always wanted to have a medieval bit made for presentations and to further our understanding of the medieval riding experience, and to improve the overall impression in the field. After looking at several bits and some of the best renderings from artists of the time period, we settled on the drawings of Italian artist Antonio di Puccio Pisano (aka Pisanello d.1455).

This first image is a sketch that detailing the action of the bit and the horse's mouth. You see faint indications of the shank shape. The mouthpiece appears to be a thick snaffle type. You can also see a very simple leather or fabric "curb" with a 'T' connection that goes through one of the bit rings.

The next image gives a clearer view of the bit's shape, purchase, and connections. It also shows the almost ubiquitous bosses. You can also see another example of a curb "chain". In this case it looks like a leather/fabric type that has chain on the ends. You can also see the two types of reins and where they are connected.

When working with the professional bit maker here in the US, I submitted outlines and original images and after a brief exchange of functionality, a price was agreed upon (this is a custom bit). Within a day of the final drawings being submitted, the bit maker sent the next photo. It details the shank lengths and he was offering me a choice of which length I wanted to go with.

The original bit was supposed to be 8" inches to fall more in line with Normandie's 7 shank Myler. However, the image that we provided suggested that the bit in the original art was a little longer. So, after a quick discussion, we decided to go with the longer shanks.

This is the result, the complete bit.

From the time that we designed, discussed, and had the bit in hand was 3 business days. One of those was the shipping.