Monday, April 27, 2015

A birthday horse?

Every since I was a horse-crazy child, it's been drilled into my head that the real cost of a horse is not what you initially pay for it at the horse store, it's the daily cost of care afterwards.

"But mom, we have a barn right there, and there's grass to eat and we have an apple tree, and a bridle is cheap and I can ride bareback and I have my birthday money and allowance and this horse in the newspaper ad says "Free to good home!" That's a free horse! Mom, please!"

"There's no such thing as a free horse. It's not the price, it's the upkeep," she'd wisely (and heartbreakingly) say. "What about..."

And I actually never really heard anything more than that because I'd stop listening and start wailing.

Amazingly enough, my husband seems to have gone to the same school of economics as my mother. It's like they're reading from the same script of the new off-Broadway production of Making Wenny Sad For No Reason. 

So when I saw this ad on Craigslist, I laughed out loud.

This is a horse who has no continuing upkeep! I'd need to buy a pot of black paint to change his mane and tail to a bay, and to fill in his eyes, but otherwise -- no feed! No farrier! No vet!

Dave said, "Mmmhmm. And what are you going to do with it? You can't ride those; they're not built for it."

So I explained about how it's the perfect model to take sale pictures of the tack and saddles I restore and sell.

Me: "No more hooks or wooden stands -- I'll just put them on this tireless and patient horse and take as many pictures as I like. Ooh -- tireless? Not if I put wheels on his hooves! Then I can roll him around! And he'll look great in the yard. The neighbor kids will love it! And when people ask how to get to our house, what better way to end the driving instructions that with "..and there's a fake horse in the yard. You can't miss it."

Dave: "No. That's completely ridiculous. And how would you even get it here? You're not getting this thing."

Me: "Well, of course not. It's a thousand dollars. But picture this..."

And I proceeded to outline my plan of borrowing a friend's trailer.

Me: "Then I'll pull up out at the barn and come running in saying I finally got a horse, and who wants to come see it, and everyone will come outside. I'll open up the trailer and scream "OH NO IT HAPPENED AGAIN!" And everyone will see the statue and I'll say "DAMN YOU, MEDUSA! DAMN YOU TO HELLLLLLLL!"

...well, to end this scene, I'll just say that it's another birthday been and gone without a horse with a bow on it being presented to me. While that never gets any less disappointing, the disappointment at least is a familiar one, and not unexpected. And for those that would like to buy me a horse but have no idea what to shop for, here's a real life, honest-to-god piece of advice on how to do that: Ask my riding teacher to help you. She will know exactly the sort that will be best for me, with the right level of training, sound and healthy, and suitable for my intermediate riding level. She has a large network of friends and could probably find several suitable options with various prices points in less than a week. How you wrap it is up to you...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Visalia

Yep, it's another saddle post. I apologize for those of you that miss the pretty reenactment clothing and stuff, but this blog is about stuff I make and do, and I have a variety of interests. The saddle one just happens to be in the spotlight of my brain right now. Who knows what might be next?

Great Western Saddlery Co, pieced together for a quick pic, but not finished.

So I've been working away at the Great Western saddle and after two weeks or rubbing in potions and unguents, the leather feels amazingly supple. It still looks rough in spots, because cracks and pebbling don't go away, but overall the condition is much better. The neatsfoot oil darkened it a bit more than I would have liked. The original color was a regular dark brown, and now it's a bit of a deep black cherry which is very pretty in my opinion. Collectors prefer the golds and browns because it's easier to see the details. It's still in pieces in my shop, waiting to be re-fleeced and reassembled, but I put it on temporary hold because a new saddle needed immediate work.

Yep, another one. I was looking on Craigslist for a new pair of spurs and instead I saw a once-in-a-lifetime ad:   Antique Western Saddle $85.

If you know me at all, you know my ears went right up at that price. Then I looked at the listing itself which offered an antique Visalia stock saddle with a blanket and a custom stand made from old barn wood, "perfect for display" for less than a hundred dollars. The ad was only two hours old. I called immediately. The guy lived an hour and a half to the north of me, and I told him I'd be there in two hours.

Visalia Stock Saddle Co has been in business since 1870, and it's still around. The saddles they make have a reputation for quality and the vintage/antique ones are very collectible. In good condition and properly restored, they can sell for thousands. Finding one for $85? That's madness! The picture in the ad looked pretty good, but I wondered what I'd find once I saw it in person.

The Visalia. That stripey blanket looks great on my horse, by the way.

Well, here she is. The guy was really nice, an old buckaroo who had collection of old western gear he was selling down. He had some beautiful woolly chaps and jingly spurs that I would have loved to buy as well, but I had only brought enough cash for the saddle because I didn't want to get myself in trouble. (Hooray for tax returns, but let's not go crazy!) We talked for a bit and the guy liked me. He felt bad because I had to drive all that way and said "How about we call it $75 since you made such a trip?" And I said okay because my mama didn't raise no fools. He even carried it to my car.

You guys, every piece on that saddle is there. Nothing is missing except the horn covering, and that's not unusual and it's easy to replace. And it's all original. Even the latigo keeper -- that little pear-shaped jobber up at the front-- is tooled to match. Those usually wore out or got torn off pretty early in a saddle's life. The seat jockeys are lined-- which I haven't seen in a saddle this old before, but then I've never had one of this quality before-- and they need to be restitched. A pretty easy job. There was a patch repair done to the stirrup strap on one side, and I'll take it apart, clean it, and put it back together. The repair was done with original pieces and I want to keep as much of it as I can.

I've spent the last three days cleaning off the dirt and stripping the finish. Here's a pic so you can see the difference.

Those black spots on the clean leather -- I can't do much about those. Some I can go back and take out with a little more scrubbing (and I do) but others are caused by metal corroding the leather, and nothing will reverse that. Some things you just have to call character, and accept as part of the saddle's history. 

The piece you see in the top of the picture is the last bit I have to scrub. Once that's done, I begin the long slow conditioning process. I can't wait. It's gonna look so good when I'm done!