I did the bridle first, and I really wish I had a "before" picture to show you, because it was so ugly. I got it in a box of other things from an auction, and it still had the original tags attached -- $79, if you're interested -- but the leather was painted this orange-y brown color. I almost threw it out a couple of times, just because I could never see using it for anything and I doubted anyone else would want it. I decided I had nothing to lose by experimenting, so I tried cleaning the paint off with this citrus-based biodegradable graffiti remover we had in the garage, and it worked really well! Smelled nice, too. It didn't remove all the paint, but it stripped the finish so that I could use some leather dye to change the color.
Then I started putting on the shiny bits. The tiniest ones are actually paper fasteners I found in the scrapbooking section of our local craft store. I got a bag of 100 for about three dollars. I ordered the bigger ones from a place in New Jersey. The shipping cost as much as the diamonds! But you can't argue the results: it looks terrific.
I needed stirrups, because the saddle was missing those. I shopped around and found that new ones are kinda spendy and used ones are hard to find. Until I found this item called "buddy stirrups" -- basically it's tiny stirrups on a strap that you can put on a regular adult saddle so that kids can use it. Seems like just about every barn parent in the county has at least one set of these, and they sell cheap. I got some for ten bucks, cut off the strap, and had my tiny stirrups. I made a pattern out of brown paper for some simple tapaderos, cut them from some leather in my stash, dyed them black, and added a liberal splash of diamonds.
When my little saddle arrived, it was in rougher shape than I had thought it would be. Still, leather has a remarkable capacity to amaze after some cleaning and conditioning, so I dutifully set to work with my saddle soap and sponge. The color was faded and patchy, so I gave the whole saddle a go-over with leather dye to bring it back to a nice even black. Then I rubbed in conditioner, all the while becoming more confused by what I was finding.
There were a lot of industrial staples holding the thing together. The felt on the bottom, which I had thought was probably put on to replace old fleece, was stitched on and seemed original. Staples held it to the saddle tree. All the conchos were also held in place with staples -- long, deep staples, but still. I was confused because the design and stamping made me think this was a catalog saddle from the 50s. It certainly looked like one. But some things made me wonder, like, what saddle maker would put diamond spots over his tooling? Were they added later?
And what were these huge holes in the corners of the skirt for?
And how exactly were these stirrup leathers meant to work?
Upon closer inspection, I found that the stirrup straps didn't loop around the saddle tree like a normal saddle -- they were riveted to it. That's kinda unsafe, I thought. But as they needed to be replaced, I figured I'd run the new ones up through the tree like they should be and-- wait a minute, this strap looks like it's to be buckled to something-- were the stirrups leathers buckled together under the horse? That's just weird.
Wait a minute.
This saddle is missing... the rigging. The rigging is what holds the cinch, which is what fastens the whole thing to the horse. Surely the intention was not to fasten this onto the horse by way of the stirrups, which were riveted to the saddle tree? That's like, Ralph-Nader-Unsafe-At-Any-Speed unsafe!
An awful thought crept into my mind, and I ran to my computer to do a Google search.
Yep. I was right. The first picture I looked at showed my exact saddle, and explained everything.
I had bought a mechanical pony saddle.
I laughed and groaned at the same time. I had spent $30 on a toy saddle. The holes in the skirting were where bolts held the saddle to the aluminum body. The stirrups also bolted on. The strap underneath did indeed buckle the stirrups together under the horse.
So much for my vision of selling this outfit to that guy at the barn for his grandkids. My only hope is to find a buyer that restores old coin-op horses, and from what I've seen, they usually just make a brand new saddle.
I'm hoping to sell the bridle. I got it free and have about eight bucks into it, so if it goes for the $50 I'm asking, that'll recoup my loss on the saddle. I've learned how to set metal spots, and I've found a new method to strip leather, and I've made some cute tapaderos from my own pattern, so it's not like I haven't learned anything -- oh, and I learned to check for rigging to make sure a saddle isn't a plaything before I buy it. If the bridle sells, I'll call it good.
I need to get started on a dress for a friend's wedding in May, so stay tuned for pictures of that.