Archive | November, 2012

Naming day

17 Nov

I feel that the saddle needs a name. Currently I call it ‘the saddle’ or ‘my saddle’.

Firstly I thought it should be called “Miss Piggy” because I think the seat and pommels are made from pigskin. But as the saddle has darkened it somehow doesn’t fit anymore.

Since it’s made on a Somerset tree, I think I should call it ‘Somerset’. Or, it came from somewhere west of Condobolin – but that’s a bit of a mouthful.  So until I think of a better name, it is Somerset.

Condobolin – miles from effing anywhere, and where Somerset was found

Source of all the dirt on Somerset. Endless, endless, red dirt.


The gentle moisturising and sponging is continuing, but I think I’ll only get the little flaps straightened out next year. I really want to save them and I’ll have to do it slowly and carefully.

In the meantime I’m preparing it for storage. I noticed that since I’ve removed all the flock and the panels (Linda Fleming informs me that it was wool roving, not horsehair in the panels, which is slightly less romantic) Somerset doesn’t sit on the purple saddle stand properly – all the weight goes through the gullet. That will not do.

In place of flocked panels….. silk cushions

I needed to pad up the other two bars somehow. I have silk cushions I brought back from Thailand. Two, safety pinned and knotted together under the central bar make pretty good padding. Really I should have found an old pillow or something, but this saves me packing the cushions up. And Somerset deserves some luxury after all these years of deprivation.

What luxury!

On top of my gold-striped maroon thai silk cushions goes a cheap lime green IKEA throw, and Somerset nestles nicely on top.

Introducing…… Somerset!

She looks so different to the saddle that arrived in the post.

I do hope that Wendy can re-use the safe, pommels, offside purse lid and both little flaps. Ideally the remaining leather from the seat can be reworked into the offside purse pouch too. And I also hope that she can rebalance the saddle so that it doesn’t place so much weight on the loins, which these old saddles did – because I do want to ride Somerset.

I have gingerly hovered over the top of her and I think she’ll fit me to a T. She won’t be for everyday riding, but for special occasions like displays and shows. I’ll have to get something newer and more rugged for bashing about in. One day……….





16 Nov

I’ve received some great encouragement and suggestions on what do to next with the saddle. The next step was definitely getting some oils into the leather. I went straight back to Horselands and picked up a tub of effax balm. It’s pretty much avocado oil and beeswax.

Erica cleaning while I take photos

Erica came over and gave me a hand slathering it into the leather, which instantly turned the leather a deep brown.

Deep, dark and handsome!

I can’t believe it, Here I was thinking that the saddle was a london tan sort of colour. It really was quite mustard-y yellow, and I like dark brown tack better.

Mustard yellow to chocolate brown

The safe is the most spectacular, it’s totally changed and I’m very optimistic that all of it can be saved.

Fixed head – taken with the flash on

Also, the embroidered leather on the heads has come up beautifully, and is slightly mahogany!

A different saddle now

The effect of all this is just a-freaking-mazing. It’s so satisfying to rub the balm into the leather. It also makes my hands smell delicious.

Bake for six hours at roughly 40 degrees calculus

Then after lots of balm, it went into the back of my car. I have a liftback car and it’s the start of summer in Queensland, and it’s cooks in there. I did throw a blanket over the top so it didn’t get any UV damage, and then went out for a delicious end-of-year lunch with my classmates.


Lillian Chaudry, sidesaddler extrodinaire from the USA, told me that I could seperate the panels further from the tree if I pull out some tacks and nails. So this was the next step.

The panel coming away from the front of the saddle

The nails and tacks were bloody hard to get out. Luckily I had a pair of needlenosed pliers in my toolkit.

Panels coming off the cantle

Even more debris came out as the panels came off. The vacuum cleaner made itself useful again.

And then they came off!!!

So just as Lillian said, the points came out of the pocket and the whole fell off the tree. Which was great, because I could then see exactly how everything was put together.

One undamaged piece of saddle

The nearside point pocket is really gorgeous, and is coming up pretty mahogany too.

The engineering of the seat

The gullet

There are some stitches in the gullet, up near the tree. Unsure what they are for.

At last – the tree!

The tree is sound and strong. 🙂

Nearside point

Offside point

So everything got a bit of balm, and then put away for the night. The next few days will be gentle conditioning of the leather before it gets packed into storage with the rest of my stuff. I have a lot of packing and cleaning to do in the next few days.






Post-exam celebrations

15 Nov


I came home from my exam and ate two bowls of vanilla choc chip icecream WITH Ice Magic topping. Then I got started on de-yucking the saddle. Yes, this is how I celebrate my end of year exams.

Post fumigation

It had sat overnight, sitting in a fug of flyspray (which was on the blue cloth). I opened the bag, opened the windows, turned on the fan, shut the door and ran away for a few hours.

Then it was time to get cracking on that horsehair flock, which was bursting out of the saddle all over the place. It smelt and the weight and weird shape it was in made it hard to even sit it on the stand. OUT OUT!

Looks like small intestine protruding through a laporotomy incision…… too much Surgery study

So I donned a handy pair of theatre gloves and got to work in the spare room. Erica told me to wear gloves and I’m glad I did.

The five layers of the safe – quilted leather, quilted fabric, jute, horsehair and leather

I started by pulling out the stuffing from the safe, since it was hanging out already. The horsehair was actually sewn in, you can see the big string threads here. I cut them with my handy curved nail scissors, which turned out to be a great tool.

The empty safe. Haha, an empty safe……..

Emptying the safe was very straightforward and satisfying, hehe. So then I started on the offside flock, and worked my way to the cantle. I hacked off the linen, pulled out the bulk of the flock, then slowly snipped the string stitches that held a tightly-packed strip of horsehair in around the raised rolled edge.

Hello! My first mouse poo

And Erica was right when she told me to wear gloves. Mice had obviously poohed, and by the smell, weed all through this. Yuck.

Lots of debris, dust and pooh

Dirty work

But what’s this? A scrap of paper????

I was really hoping to find a maker’s label pasted onto the tree somewhere. I know it’s a cheap old Somerset, not from a master saddler like the ‘Old Names’ but I thought there must be a label somewhere. Nope. There was this scrap of what seems to be newspaper though. It has the letter ‘s’ and the bottom of a word on it. My camera won’t focus on it, I’ll find one and post it later.

Teasing out compressed horsehair from the stitches around the edge of the cantle, so I can cut them

In a few places there were nails instead of stitches which was annoying. Where the horsehair was compressed it was really hard to get out, it’s nearly solid. But my trusty nail scissors turn out to be great at flicking and ripping matted horsehair apart. Who knew?

Half done!

I had built up quite a sweat by now! But I didn’t dare turn the ceiling fan on because the dust/micronised mouse pooh was so gross.

The nearside cantle flock

I love the horsehair – look, you can see a curl of chestnut, a bunch of black, and some greys in there. From moulting horses in England around 110 years ago. I couldn’t help but imagine the horses being groomed and someone collecting all their hair in a sack.

And out it comes! But wait… what’s the grey thing?

And what’s this??? It’s a leather dome on the edge of the nearside seat. There isn’t one on the other side

Any ideas?

But again, what is that weird grey thing?

No it’s not a pooh. It’s a paper wasp’s nest

AN EFFING WASPS NEST. IN MY SADDLE. So glad I fumigated it.

The underside, sans linen, horsehair, mouse poohs, debris, dirt, dust and wasp nest.

The linen from the nearside came off in one piece

Anyway, after a disgusting vacuming of all the debris, it was time to pay attention to the sorry seat.

The butchered seat

All the exposed jute was snipped off, and the horsehair came out in clumps. I got out as much as I could from the pommel but couldn’t get it all.

A slight snag – horsehair nailed into place

I thought this would be a quick job. What I didn’t count on was that there were lots of tacks in the seat. And some of those tacks had been hammered through a layer of horsehair, compressing it firmly. It took me forever to get the horsehair out, and I gave myself blisters and ripped my gloves in the process.

After vacuuming

Finally! there’s a few things about this which puzzle me. There’s fabric wrapping up over the nearside but not the offside. Also, the strip of dark leather on the offside continues right up towards the pommel. But on the nearside it stops abruptly and sinks down sharply. There’s also lots of extra tacks here.

All the flock out! And in the purple bag

The photo doesn’t show it but that’s a very big purple bag. The saddle looks deflated but SO much better! Now it was time for a proper clean.

Product placement!

I’ve decided on the effax range from Germany. This is a gentle cleaner with some moisturisers in it. Since Erica and I already sponged the leather off, it just needed a gentle clean. I had just done the leather around the leaping head for this photo. Gosh this leather loves moisture!  I also flicked off all the paint droplets, which made a huge improvement.

Now it won’t give me diseases

Clean and smelling faintly of avocado oil – one of the main components of effax.

Next step is to go back to Horselands and get the effax oil, which is beeswax/avocado oil/other stuff. I once had a stint selling a 100% beeswax/avocado oil polish and the stuff is magic. Smells divine and is a great hand moisturiser, so the effax range really attracted me.

Tomorrow will be a liberal coating of the moisturiser, followed by a baking in my car. Seriously the temperature in my parked car today must have been 40 degrees. That’ll make it sink in! Then thin layers daily until I pack my stuff into storage – that’s in 5 days sadly. I’m back in January, and I will plan on doing regular oilings, depending how the leather drinks up the moisture.


Early christmas

15 Nov

My sidesaddle arrived on the WORST day possible – the day before my awful surgery exam.

The moment the postie pulled up in front of my window, the dwindling motivation I had for study vanished completely.

I was as excited as a puppy! But then the postie pulled out the parcel and uhho……

The ‘She’ll be right’ packaging attitude

I assumed that the seller would ship it in a box. I even asked him to make sure it was well packaged so it didn’t get any more damage in transit…… oh dear.

Enough stamps??? LOL

He’s a junk dealer and I saw he had some stamp collections for sale. All the stamps were from 2010 and 2011 so I think someone’s collection finally got used!


And so began the nerve-wracking task of unwrapping the saddle.

Slowly emerging….

He’s wrapped it in an old feed sack, then plastered it with sticky tape…..


…. which included wrapping layers of tape directly to the fragile old leather!!!!


Very slowly and carefully I removed the tape. Luckily the whole saddle is covered in so much dust and dirt, the tape didn’t pull at the actual leather much. And it gave me the first glimpse of what the leather will look like once cleaned.


The other sort of tape he used did pull layers of leather from the seat, but that doesn’t matter because the leather on the seat is toast anyway. Thank goodness that tape wasn’t on the precious horns.

And more unwrapping

He did have the sense to unscrew the leaping head for shipping (which is probably quite helpful as since I have trouble unscrewing the petrol cap on my car, I would have found it hard work to do this) but look, more sticky tape on leather….. sigh.

Then the overall assessment began.

There was damage to the top of the fixed head, but it didn’t include the embroidered pigskin. Yay!

The nearside of the saddle, my thumb holding up the stirrup cover flap which is as hard as concrete and slightly cracked.

The stuff (and lack of stuff) on the nearside confused me for quite a while. There’s a basic stirrup fitting – not a safety one so I’ll need a safety stirrup, and next to it is one billet, I think. There is the remains of another next to it, sewin onto a piece of canvas and overlying a thick strap of leather. It’s been cut off. I’m thinking this was a sort of girth guard? And the other strap under the stirrup fitting was the 3rd billet? For the balance strap? Hmmm. The leather of the panels at the very base of all this is all wrinkled and hard, from being sat on the floor for many years.

This stuff is all visible because someone has cut off almost all of the flap. SOB. To the extreme right is the edge of the safe, which has become completely unstitched from the flap. Then there’s a narrow strip of flap with the rivet. At the very top of the girth billets is the other remnant of the flap.

Nearside point in it’s pocket

However the tree point on this side seems intact and the pocket is perfect. Win!


The shipper had also folded the precious, fragile, cardboard-like embroidered safe in HALF and tucked it underneath itself for shipping. !!!!!!! That crack was probably caused by the folding. I felt like screaming.


Luckily it was very easy to pull out – something I did very gingerly!

The unfolded safe

Phew. The tip of the safe is swept upwards from sitting on a floor, and it’s rock hard like that. Will take lots of TLC before it’ll straighten out.

Top of the safe

The only damaged-looking bit of the safe is up the top, where it looks like water or mould has grown.

Under the safe

The whole safe is coming unstitched from it’s backing and the edges are curling but that hasn’t really affected the body of it.

The inside of the safe

The top layer of pigskin was backed with this coarse wool fabric, and the embroidery was done through both layers. Then the leather backing was added, and horsehair stuffed between the fabric and back layer of leather.

The leaping head

There are paint flecks all over the saddle – someone must have been cleaning paintbrushes nearby in the shed it was stored!

Base of the fixed head

The sad thing is, I don’t think most of this damage was wear and tear – just being treated like junk after it was no longer ridden in.

The seat – or what remains of it

And then of course there is the pillaging. A big square of leather has also been cut off the seat, as well as both flaps. Part of me wants to murder the person who did this, but I’ve never lived through a depression and had to resole my shoes with whatever could be scavenged from other things nearby.

So the leather has been cut off, then the material (it’s like sack cloth) has either perished or been eaten by mice, exposing and removing a layer of horsehair padding. Then there’s another incomplete layer of leather, and under that are straps of the fabric, running across the saddle. Under that are layers running lengthways. This, I think, is to support the saddle so it doesn’t collapse when you sit on it.

The remains of the balance strap

And of course the balance strap has been chopped off…

The pocket

… but the lid of the pocket is still there! YAY! And it looks like the body of the pocket has been worn away instead of chopped off.

I forgot to take a photo of the offside billets, but all three are there if as hard as steel.

Underneath the pocket on the offside

And surprise surprise, the offside flap has been hacked off too. This remains of another strap on it confused me for a while, but after seeing a picture of another Somerset from the offside, I realised that they had ‘Y’ balance straps. The balance strap from the cantle met this one coming from the pommel on a metal ring, then continued as one strap under the horse’s belly.

The offside point

The offside point isn’t in such good shape as the nearside. In fact, a big bit got broken off in the post. I’d be really pissed off but it already had a matching piece broken on the right, so needed repairing anyway.

Washing around the leaping head site

Then out came a bucket and cloths, and my friend Erica helped me sponge off some of the thick dirt and dust. The leather just LOVED the tiny amount of water it got. Look at the beautiful chocolate brown of the wet patch compared with the seat!

The nearside after a spongedown

Looking better already! But while doing this we found mouse poo and spiderwebs, and the dust and smell was awful. So before any proper cleaning and conditioning happened, it HAD to get fumigated. If it’s survived 50+ years of neglect in the outback, it can survive another day.

So it was with great sorrow I soaked rags in flyspray and put them in the gullet area, and the whole saddle incased in two big black rubbish bags overnight. At least that meant I couldn’t play with the saddle anymore, and had to return to my textbooks!!!

My dream is a wreck – literally.

11 Nov

I’ve always wanted to have a pony, everyone knows that! Even though I’m 28, it’s still what I ask my parents for every year, without fail. And specifically, I want to be able to ride sidesaddle.

Why sidesaddle? Because I got the chance to ride in one when I was in Cornwall back in 2006.

Bad position with hunched shoulders, and my right shoulder needs to go waay back!


My lovely horse was Badger, the most patient kind mount who took very good care of me

I thought it was amazing. Also, the history! The costuming! The corsets! The hats! The elegance! And I actually found it very comfortable and secure. I thought that perhaps this was an area I could throw myself into, and be kinda good at.

Turns out that sidesaddles are hard to find, and incredibly expensive. Decent ones were made from about 1880-1930, and after that most got turfed or abandoned in attics. Nobody (yet) makes a new decent, basic sidesaddle because they are hard to make well.

So I’ve been learning all I can about saddles and riding and habits, while procrastinating from studying more important things like medicine.

Sidesaddles are even rarer in Australia and New Zealand. I guess less were made, less were shipped over from Mother England, and our pioneer women didn’t care so much about propriety. And we aren’t very good at looking after our historical artifacts.

I have been keeping my eye on all the second-hand sites, and op shops just in case something turns up. I hear stories of how people find amazing saddles on rubbish heaps or in attics. And since I can’t afford $2500-$3000 for a good saddle down here, I have to consider rubbish ones that might be able to be restored.

The first one I found, the guy wanted $350 for.

It was a very old saddle, probably 1910s

It looked pretty intact, if incredibly dry and cracked

But he couldn’t tell me if the tree was sound or not. The tree is the most important thing, without it the saddle is useless. Leather and flocking can be replaced, but the tree must be sound.

Also, shipping would be around $100. I wasn’t prepared to pay $450 for very sad sidesaddle that may end up being worth nothing. I offered him $50 but he didn’t take it, and it didn’t sell. Que sera.

Then this tattered piece of rubbish appeared.

Oh lordy

What….. on earth……

There’s more missing from the saddle than what remains!


I posted a link to the international SS riders facebook page, hoping someone else would buy it for restoration. And secretly I fell in love with it. I mean, that quilted safe! The design on the horns!!!! And how sad and injured does it look?

Some research uncovered this, from a USA Montgomery Ward catalog from 1895.

Ermergard. It is this saddle! The quilting pattern is exactly the same!


This saddle is over 100 years old! It’s a ‘Somerset’ which is a saddle made for export. Makes sense that if they shipped to the USA they’d also ship to other colonies. It’s not exactly a ‘modern’ sidesaddle, it lacks a cutback head, rides slightly uphill and will be narrow through the gullet. But it does have a leaping horn so it’s not dangerous to ride in like even older sidesaddles.

I found some pictures of other Somersets, they were in the same catalog.

Another Somerset sidesaddle, restored by Lillian Chaudry

This one belongs to a lady in the USA, and is featured in the same catalog


I couldn’t stop thinking about this sidesaddle. And in a moment of sheer lunacy, I thought ‘screw it!’ and used nearly the last of my money to buy it. Yip. It’s mine. I now own the tattered remains of a 1895 victorian catalog sidesaddle.

It’ll cost probably around $2000 to restore. I don’t have that. Hell, I don’t even have a horse!!!!!! But I’m not sure if one of these would ever come up again. The plan is to get it, photograph every detail, rip out all the flocking (which I’m sure is rancid) and spend at least a year cleaning and conditioning the remaining leatherwork.

Then once I have a job and an income, it’ll be off to a professional sidesaddler for an awesome restoration. I think only the tree, heads and the safe will be recoverable. But still I will be riding in a piece of history!