Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Side Saddle Rescue!

Not been doing much riding this week as the weather has been rain, rain, rain and Hattie pulled a shoe due to the soggy conditions.

I did upgrade my membership to the Side Saddle Association from "associate" to "full" as I think we are going to start trying to qualify for next year's show. There is a SSA qualifier for next year in August at the Rugby Riding Club show so we shall see...

Even though I have not done much this week, my friend Susan, who owns and runs, Beltane Equestrian, in Dumfries, has been working on restoring an antique side saddle she acquired. She plans to return it to it's original glory so asked her if I could chronicle her progress here as I know everyone would love to see this grand dame of a saddle, being rescued. With so many people wanting to ride side saddle now, it seems a shame to let well built saddles like these, go to waste.

It looks to be a late 19th century, probably made in the 1880's and lacks the cutback head like later Victorian saddles had. It also has a vestigial off-side horn left over from when side saddles had two upright pommels (also know as "cow horn" side saddles). Note the flattish seat which shows this saddle was one of the transitional styles to what we are familiar with now.

Look at the fancy stitch work on the safe and upright head...

The saddler was made by "Nelson Saddler and Harness Maker". I could not find any information on this saddler but if anyone knows anything about the saddler, please let us know. 

The panels look to be in ok condition (you can see how the quilt stitches have come out) considering their age...

but Susan removed them and is now taking a new template from them to make new ones with lovely brand spanking new Irish linen!

With the panels off, you can see the construction of the tree which looks pretty new considering it's 125+ years old. The chipped off tree points are common on side saddles and is an easy fix with some JB Weld. I like dropping the panels off of saddles as then you can vacuum all the years of crud that has accumulated and really get in there to clean.

A front view of the tree and you can see how the vestigial off-side horn sweeps out elegantly. Hmmm, the tree size looks like it would be a good fit for Hattie! The gullet, has a more "open" spread to it than what is usually found in saddles of this era, especially for a cutback-less head one. They tend to be really narrow but this one looks to be quite generous at the withers. Maybe it was built for an ancestor of Hattie, a horse with fat withers and fine shoulders. I like the pommel shape too, looks like it would be very comfortable.

The seat looks like it is covered in soft leather which looks really comfortable as well. Obviously it was a very comfy saddle, as shown by the wear holes in the seat caused by a succession of riders. Unfortunately, rubbish repairs, were done on the seat (is that electrical tape stuck in one hole??)....

that Susan has now removed to be repaired properly...

Along with removing the shoddy seat repairs, she also removed the fancy stitched safe to restore it as it had become dry and curled up.

Now, it's nicely oiled and flat, ready to be restored and eventually put back on the saddle.

The saddle originally had an off-side pocket which is now missing.

But how convenient that I have a photo from the 1880's showing a near identical styled saddle (even with the vestigial off-side horn, off-side short flap and cutback-less head) with the type of pocket that this saddle would have most likely had! 

There you go Susan, one for you to copy!

Edited July 11, with more notes from Susan about this project...

"The linen panels are not in as good condition as they may appear from the photo's and are completely frayed away around most of the seams and unbelievably delicate. The horsehair flock was rancid for want of a better term, and I'm pretty sure was infested with whatever as it made me scratch like mad so I decided I had no option but to remove it and replace it with new. Yes, I will be making a new pocket as well from recycled leather from a busted saddle as well so nice photo. The seat will be doe hide sourced from Scottish Estates once I have done the ground work. The leather on the saddle was very dry but after several applications of Fiebings Mink Oil Paste, is now more malleable."

Can't wait to see the finished result!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Off-siding Adventures

Well, this weekend was a washout. It has been non stop raining and lukewarm here in England since April so most shows have been cancelled due to saturated ground. We were supposed to go to the Burbage Riding Club show today and try to qualify for the Equestrian Life Summer Champs held at the Ponies UK show in August but the show was cancelled due to the horrible weather so that is those plans out the window as I won't have a chance to try and qualify again now.

I was so fed up yesterday that we went on a hack. My lovely and comfy "new" Mayhew has gone off with my friend Julia, who will be building up the near-side tree point for me and didn't feel like riding on my Whippy so hauled out my reversible side saddle and had a play with some pads to try and raise the back a bit to make it a bit more ridable until my saddler can come and collect it to work on it.

I have one of those LeMieux sheepskin halfpads with the riser inserts that you can put in at the withers and/or at the seat that I use for Hattie's close contact saddle. Since the seat on my reversible side saddle is symmetrical, the LeMieux pad actually fits it quite well so whacked 3 rear risers into it in the seat slot on the off-side to build up the right hip area. I did not put any risers in at the front as the sheepskin on the half pad along would be enough to keep it from dropping down on Hattie's withers like it did the first time I rode in it. 

I used my off-side cotton quilted pad under the half pad and the front of the saddle is perfect with no pinching and perfect wither clearance without sitting too high, even with me sitting in it with no rolling. This is good as that tells me that just some flocking will be able to lift the saddle up at the front.

The saddle sat a lot more level but even with the back riser inserts, the saddle still dropped down to the right a bit but it was much better with the inserts than when I rode in it the first time without any pads. My saddle will be able to flock the panels up no problems but at least the tree seems to be a good fit.

I used my big off-side queen on the saddle but think I will need to pad it up more. The pommels on the saddle seem to have been made for a larger thighed lady than me. The leaping had is very open but fits ok but the upright head needs much more padding as it's so thin. Julia took the remnant of the safe away with her too to try and restore it to it's original full length.

I also tried Hattie's new double bridle on her (I used it without the headslip to try it with her pelham) but I think I'm going to have to try a another bit as she hacked out ok in it but today she was sticking out her tongue while schooling so going to try a bit with a little port so there is room for her fat tongue. The bit, although it is a "KK" style lozenge mouth, it does have a rather thick mouthpiece which she tends not to like, so am going to try a thinner mouthed non jointed bit with a little port so that there is room for her fat tongue.

The weather held out for us so we headed towards the Ford river to cross the bridge so we could hack down the lane. When we were met with this....

It didn't look too deep and it's not far down the lane to get to the bridge so kept on going. Well, it got deeper and deep er as we got closer to the bridge and I was thankful that I was riding a 15.3hh horse and not a pony as the water ended up coming just over 3' high and just reaching the edge of my saddle flap (my right foot got wet). Hattie wasn't bothered and started eating some tasty hedge.

This is Hattie at the entrance of the bridge. I'm 5'9" and on foot, the ends of the bridge banister that you see in the photo, comes about waist height on me. Just beyond Hattie's head, but just out of the photo, is the Ford river where there is an upright sign letting people know how high the river was running. The water covered the 6' mark of the sign!!!!

It was a bit hairy but we made it over the bridge safely and continued on our way. The water seemed to get a bit higher on our way back home and my foot was sodden but we had a little trot as the water level got lower up at the top of the lane so that was fun!

It just amazes me that England is nearly underwater at the moment while North America is suffering a heat wave. I wish I ship over the excess water from here to cool things down there!!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

It's A Keeper!

I love my "new" Mayhew Lissadell. I mean I REALLY love it!!!

Hattie looking less impressed with it today however...

I rode in it Sunday to try it out and could believe how well it fit Hattie AND my huge arse. Kept thinking about how comfy it was to ride all day yesterday but couldn't ride as it was raining too much so decided to school today in an attempt to get ready for our show on Sunday and used it instead of my Whippy!

Unfortunately, the nearside balance billet ripped off in my hand as it looked to be the original one from 1913 but the normal billets look to be modern replacements. The off-side balance billet looks like it's about to go at any moment so have to be careful but can't help but riding in this saddle as it's probably the most comfortable saddle I have ever ridden in.

We did walk, trot, canter on Sunday to try it at the paces and Hattie did not buck. She seems to like this saddle so today we worked on stretching, transitions, 20 meter circles. Because it does not have a point strap on either side of the tree, the saddle did slide forward but once I get Roger to add point straps, that will sort that problem out.

It's in really good condition but will need the nearside tree point building up at the tip, all new girth straps, a slightly longer overgirth strap, flocking sorted out to lift the back (maybe a new linen cover as this one is rust stained so will get marked down in showing). These are the major things I want to get sorted out first to make it safe and ridable. The leather at the tips of the pommels has worn away but that can be patched any time and I can just Vetrap them any ways.

I love the mildly sweepy seat as it gives my right thigh something to press against and the wide pommels feel so secure. Whoever had this saddle before me, must have been the same size as the sweet spot fits me perfectly and makes me feel "locked in".

On an interesting note, I had a strange revelation today while riding in this saddle. When I asked for a trot and started trotting, I felt my right side tense up and my right hip kind of "cringe" for lack of a better word. I was pleasantly surprised that in this saddle, the seat is so soft- almost like I am riding on memory foam or something shock absorbing, that after I started trotting, I realized my hip wasn't in pain due to the comfy shock absorbing seat! I think subconsciously, my body was bracing itself for pain at my right hip as my Whippy has such a hard, flat seat that it jars and jolts my hip whereas, the seat on my Mayhew is like riding on a comfy couch. I did not even have to painfully "unclick" my hip when I got off today either. Hattie seemed happier on the right rein today as well and after realizing that I was tensing up on my right side, it was strange "letting go" of the tenseness and enjoying the ride.

I also like how the actual tree is built to lift up under the left thigh whereas on other saddles (my Whippy included), the seat is flat, comes out horizontally and needs to be flocked up to support the left side instead of the actual tree lifting upwards. Despite the flat, packed down panels which need lifting a bit at the back, the saddle did not tip to the left and I felt centered and secure. With the exception if it sliding forward a bit die to lack of point straps, the saddle actually stayed central on Hattie.

The tree is a good fit for Hattie and seems to fit like a glove. It has a rather open spread at the head without too much of an acute curve inwards like most Champion & Wiltons have so no pinching at the sides of the withers but then tapers inwards for the narrow shoulders of a Thoroughbred. This is the problem I have with saddles for Hattie, if they are wide enough at the withers, they are too wide at the shoulders and vice versa but so far over the past year, I have managed to find saddles that have an open spread at the head and then taper down at the shoulders.

Nice glove like fit...

Before riding...

After riding and you can see how the flocking has moulded itself to Hattie's shape. The above pictures were taken on Sunday, today when I put it on, it was better fit.

A nice fit, needs a little bit more of flocking on the serge part of the panel for a closer fit.

I think this is going to be a good one for us!

I also dropped the panels today to vacuum any junk out which had been hiding in it over the years and found the Mayhew label. It was made March 6, 1913 (the day after my grandfather's 10 birthday and the birth year of my grandmother, she would have only been about 1 month and 1week old when this was made) and the seat dimensions of 19 1/2" x 12 1/2", which as usual do not correspond to the actual seat which is 18" x 13 1/2"!