Monday, April 14, 2008

Win and Awesome

That's what I'm made of. No, really.

See, we went to a consignment auction Saturday, and in spite of freezing cold and high winds, I stood outside and stoically kept on goal.

And do you have any idea how hard it is to be stoic while you're hanging on to a steel trailer for dear life with your feet flapping above the ground? Let alone bid??

Well, I got a couple of good back cinches, and a couple of good leather breastcollars, and some quirts and bats because they were really cheap and honestly you can always use a beating stick.

Oh, and I came home with a Frank Vega handmade custom trophy saddle, too. It's a barrel saddle, which I didn't really want, but its construction is such that I could tie on to a small to medium calf to doctor it if I had to, without breaking the horn completely off.

I'm about to go into some detail about this that some of you may not get. Those of you who ride western or have ridden western will get it, and most of the things that anyone doesn't get should be explained when I get the pictures up, so please bear with me till then... and I'll be happy to answer any questions, as usual.

It's all hand tooled, full basket weave on the skirts with oakleaf accents, and matching flank cinch billets. Rawhide edged cantle and gullet, in a silver threaded cherry pie roll. Minimum "flash" with three conchos on each side and the silver on the cantle and gullet. I can pull the conchos later and put strings under them to make them actually useful, so I'm happy enough about that.

This saddle is probably worth upwards of a grand, at the low end of the estimate, and I won the bid at under four hundred and fifty dollars.

Sure, it's got writing and engraving on the stirrup leathers but that doesn't make a bit of difference to how it rides. This thing... I swear until I threw it on Monkey to try it out yesterday, it had never actually been on a horse. Brand new, stirrups weren't even turned.

Which means I've spent most of the weekend smelling like neatsfoot oil, as I very carefully condition the leather. Farmmom would beat me if I tried to put a couple of heavy coats of oil on it and call it good...

The fenders and stirrup leathers are roughout, which I like for riding, but hate for the first good conditioning... cause you have to go in from the back side (the grain side) to oil it... and to get the whole thickness of the leather moisturized you have to do very light layers. Over and over again.

Too much oil at once will saturate a few layers of the leather fibers, and that will block the oil from going any deeper, which results in leather that's nice and supple and shiny... half way through. And dry and cracking on the other half.

I've got a few more days of regular light oilings before I'll have it to where I'm satisfied I can back off on it a bit. It's good leather but it was built in 2001 (so it says on the stirrup leathers) and I think it's sat around without much care since then... which is fine, if all you want is an object de art.

But if I'm riding that sucker it's gonna be conditioned, and being Farmmom's daughter (she's dabbled in leather work most of my life, only dabbling from lack of money to buy the materials... shes good) it's gonna be conditioned right.

I'll try to remember the camera when I go to the barn today, and show ya'll how good Monkey looks in leather. He's not real sure about the creaks, it's been a while since he's had leather on, but he'll get used to it again. Just like I'll get used to a fourteen inch seat instead of a sixteen.

It is just plumb amazing what a difference two inches makes.


Funder said...

Eeeee, Farmgirl, I'm so happy for you! New tack is awesome - and a new saddle is awesome++! I've got a couple of requests. (I'm a wannabe cowgirl about to move out of Memphis down to Mississippi, and all I know about my horses and tack is what I've taught myself in the last two years.)

Can you describe how you condition your leather a little more? Like, how do you do a "light" coat of oil - rub it on with a rag? Do you think there's a functional difference between bar saddle soap and spray-on liquid saddle soap? Any products you prefer - 100% neatsfoot vs. a blend, for example?

Also, what kind of stuff do you tie on with your tie strings? I just tie down my water bottle holder but all I do is trail ride.

Farmgirl said...

Ok Funder, lets take those in order.

Conditioning leather: 100% neatsfoot oil. Blends are fine for maintenance but for a first conditioning you want the pure oil, it penetrates better. A light coat of oil... a true light coat of oil is done without the bottle at all, but with an old rag that's been used for a while and holds oil. Rub the rag over the leather until it gets a warm luster, then stop.

For first conditioning purposes, take your (highly absorbent) rag (new or old, doesn't really matter, and rags have to get old somehow) and cover the opening of the bottle of oil. Tip the bottle up, then down, then scrape the rag along the lip of the opening. Run the oiled part of the rag *lightly* over an area, then rub with a dry area of the rag to remove excess. Let that soak in for at least ten minutes before repeating. Yeah. It takes forever but it conditions more evenly and will maintain your leather's color better.

Saddle soap- You know, I only use saddle soap on pieces of tack that tend to get really grody. Flank cinches, breastcollar tie down straps, and such. It pulls the salt and grime from the sweat out, but you want to oil (medium coat.. a bit more than a light coat) right after, because the soap pulls the moisture out too.

I've had to soap an entire saddle before, and I'll have to do it again I'm sure, but unless you've bought, found, or been voluntold to clean a saddle that's been sitting in a dirty barn for a few years, you shouldn't need to soap a whole saddle. I prefer the soap in the round tin, personally. I can't call the brand right off the top of my head but it's black and white, and they make a bar too. In the tin you can run your rag around and get a good lather going, and use less soap. As for a functional difference between the solid soap and the spray... well. I've never used the spray. For control of where the soap goes, though, I think the solids would work much better.

As for strings... I have a set of saddle bags for packing things along on trail rides, and long days moving cattle (lunch is very, very important!) and those get attached with strings, and I've used them to tie down coats, slickers, hang ropes from (although I prefer rope straps by a long shot for that) and many a time to pull my tired butt back up into the saddle.

Funder said...

Cool, I'll keep that in mind. One day, eventually, I'll get a wonderful new saddle and I'll have to condition it from scratch. Right now I ride in a half-cordura gaited bars western saddle, and I just oil the leather parts about twice a year. (Cordura skirts and fenders, and I *definitely* love my cordura fenders!)

Spray soap is a little messier, but it seems faster for cleaning reins and breastcollars - like you said, the parts that get grody.

Any preference for nylon vs. leather billets and cinch straps?

Farmgirl said...

Funder, being an old fashioned girl, I like leather billets and straps, but living in a modern world with the price of good leather... I use nylon. At least on my front cinch. This saddle came with matching billets for the back cinch, so they're leather, but my off billet and cinch strap on the front are both nylon, at least until I can afford good quality leather for them.

mustanger said...

I tend to say "you learn something new every day". It's not that the info's new, but maybe new to whoever just learned it. I work leather and I just learned something... the way leather, saddle skirting in this case, absorbes neatsfoot oil... This is going to come in handy since I'm about to rebuild the fenders and stirrup leathers (they were in bad shape) on my cousins old Billy Cook barrel saddle. So, Farmgirl, thanks for posting this one in particular.

Farmgirl said...


Light layers of oil will also keep the leather's color more even. If you have the option, oil the leather before you put it on the saddle, and get the stirrup leathers nice and supple so that they're easy to change length on. This is something that a lot of saddle makers (and owners) neglect... but if the leather isn't conditioned properly and regularly it gets brittle where the leathers fold over the tree, and will break.

mustanger said...

I've noticed stirrup leathers decaying over the bars like you said too. And that on several saddles. My cousin's rig's just the latest to come in like that... the stirrup leathers having dry-rotted. I'm thinking a lot of folks don't fool with the stirrup leathers much because it's so hard to get to that part over the bars because they weren't conditioned like we're talking about in the first place. My old roping saddle, which I bought used from a friend with a tack shop... the stirrup leathers are plenty hard to deal with, so I'll have to just leave 'em run out where I can oil that part over the bars for a while. Good thing I'm not in a hurry to use that one right now.