Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Mayhew Side Saddle

Thanks to the generosity of my friend Gill for taking me to the auction house after we both finished work (thanks Gill!), I finally got to get my "new" Mayhew side saddle!

I tell you what, it is in rough shape but it's so sturdy made that it is a testament to the workmanship that went into these old name side saddles. It looks like it was left in a barn somewhere as the panels and anything stuffed with wool, has extensive moth damage with old moth casings stuck all over it (I hate moths, they ruin antique and vintage clothing and side saddles). The saddle also had 70 years of dust and dirt stuck to it along with some white paint splattering.

My husband took one look at it and said "you ain't bringing that into the house!" so I took it into the kitchen to have a good look at it and then proceed to scrub it down. It looks to be from the 1930's due to the lack of handkerchief pocket on the off-side, a very wide and flat seat, the Ilsey foam rubber panels and the fact that the "Twin-Grip" leaping head was patented in 1928. The fixed head has the Mayhew brand and "Improved Grip" stamped on it while the leaping head has a very faint "Twin-Grip" stamp on it. I also found the Lissadell stamp on the saddle beside the leaping head!

Lissadells were substantial saddles made for hunting and jumping and were reinforced with metal.
Unfortunately, the Ilsey foam rubber panels so popular during the era, were crumbling "devil's dust" all over me and everywhere so I sat down on the kitchen floor and unstitched the panels myself.

It wasn't hard to do as I had watched my saddler do it when it came to reflock my old side saddle before I had a Wykham pad put on it. I finally managed to get the darn crumbling panels off (with most of the orange dust on me!) and put them in a garbage bag under the kitchen table where they still are now.

With the panels off, the saddle already looks so much better and you can see the iron hunting bar at the pommel of the saddle which kept the tree safe for jumping. There is rusting on the iron from years of storage so would not use this saddle for jumping but the tree looks sturdy for dressage or if you wanted a park saddle. I didn't see any insect holes in the wood at all, it seems that all the bugs were interested in, was the wool. I tested the tree the way Laura Dempsey showed me how a few years back as well as the tree points and all seems sturdy so that is good!

There is a white paper label on the underside of the seat but all the print is worn off which is very annoying as I would have liked to have known who it was made for and when.

The seat measures 13" wide and 21 1/2" from front of the fixed head to cantle (or 17 1/2" from cutback to cantle) which is my size. I put it on the back of the couch and sat on it and it seemed comfy! Unfortunately, some idiot during the past 70- 80 years decided that saddle soaping the doeskin seat and pommels was a good idea and they have lost their nap. I tried my suede brush on the seat and panels but couldn't bring the nap back.

The Mayhew saftey fitting still works but it's a bit stiff. I need to get some oil to put on it as the stamp says "Keep Joint Oiled".

Before saddle soaping it, I got the vacuum out and gave it a good vacuuming to get all the dust, moth casing, dirt and orange foam residue off of the saddle as I was getting very dirty handling the saddle. I put the hose in every crevice I could get to on the saddle and could hear all the dirt being sucked down the hose. Then, I got a bucket of nice warm water and saddle soaped the heck out of it. I had to change the water after doing the near side of the saddle as it was black and managed to get all the white paint specks off. The saddle soap did soften the leather a bit but I didn't have enough saddle oil to do the entire saddle.

Rats did manage to chew a small chunk out of the edge of the nearside flap and there is insect damage to the stirrup flap but all in all, it tidied up well!

I couldn't wait to try it on Hattie so brought it to the stables Saturday morning.

Without the panels, I can't get an accurate picture of how it would sit on her as without the panels, it sits too low on her withers, but wanted to see if the general width and shape of the tree would work for her.

The girth straps are set too far back on the nearside for Hattie's conformation..

But the offside has them placed a bit more forward...

and with a handy point strap as well!

Unfortunately, when I checked the width of the tree on Hattie, I think it's going to be slightly too narrow in the gullet and the wrong tree shape at the points.

As it is without any panels on it, the gullet fits her fine, just like a medium/wide width. However, with new panels put on or a Wykham pad, it will become a true medium fit and be too narrow for her chunky withers. Her off-side side saddle measures 5 1/2" in the gullet and is a medium/wide fit whereas this Mayhew measures 5" making it a medium fit (most narrow width side saddles measure 4 1/2" in the gullet). Hattie does tend to become a medium fit in saddles coming out of winter between March and May do I really need a saddle that I can only use 3 months out of the year? It's the crucial 1/2" that is needed for her for me to use the saddle for the rest of the year!

The shape of the nearside tree point is also wrong for her conformation. Hattie has chunky shoulders and although the tree does flair out enough at the top, it then curves back inwards at the bottom and digs into the side of her a little bit. With a panel or Wykham pad on, this would be excruciating for her when the girth is done up and the weight of the rider is on the saddle.

Thanking back out of all the saddles I have tried on Hattie and from riding in a Mayhew at a Roger Philpot clinic last year, I don't think Mayhews in general suit Hattie's conformation very well. They seem to have been made with curved tree points suiting less chunky horses whereas Owen style trees (which my off-side side saddle is based on), tends to have a gentler curve to them suiting the fatties.

I tell you what, with this side saddle business, you have to learn fast and on a steep curve!!!

Although I would love to get this saddle restored to riding condition as the tree seems to be fine, the saddler that is making my Manorgrove saddle emailed me today to let me know that my saddle will be ready in two weeks (yippee!!!!) and that he is going to call me next week with regards to having a new off-side side saddle made.

I can't afford to restore the Mayhew (especially now that I know it will not work for Hattie's conformation) AND save up to have a new off-side saddle made for me unless I win the lotto this week!

So I have to decide what I'm going to do....


  1. Oh gawd, this is the sort of thing I've been wanting to get my hands on in order to play with restoring a sidesaddle! You had the luck of the devil to find this saddle! Even if you cant afford to do it up just yet, I would be loath to get rid of it. After all, you may end up with a different sidesaddle horse at some point that this might fit!!

  2. I know what you mean. The good think about it is that it's a normal width instead of the really narrow side saddles that you often come across. It's Hattie that is the odd-ball fit!!

  3. Cant wait to see how you get on with your Manorgrove when it arrives. Hattie doesnt sound like she is the easiest fit!

  4. I have this exact model saddle the label on the tree stated it was made in June 1908 for a Mrs J Arthur, I bought it in a very similar condition (but also with a broken fixed head!)

  5. Replies
    1. Yes, but have a new job and a new horse now as Hattie passed away this past June. Will start working on the blog soon as I have an exciting news to come! :)