My first hurdle was that I have never built a saddle before. I have ridden most of my life and I have owned (and currently do own) horses. Through this process, I am rather familiar with equine tack, however, I have never dismantled a saddle further than changing a gullet and I have never taken the raw materials and formed something for me to use on my horse.
The second hurdle was that I have only seen photos of Mongolian Saddles – period or modern. I have no concept of fit or design of either.
These two hurdles would have likely stopped my foolhardy attempt from gaining momentum if it had not been of an Australian bushman named Ron Edwards. Mr Edwards was a prolific writer of self-published books and booklets. He was also a saddle maker, horse breaker, poet, and artist. In 1986 after over 10 years of travel in Mongolia, Mr Edwards published a book entitled The Mongolian Saddle and how to make it.
In this booklet, Mr Edwards discusses the mounting of the modern Mongolian saddle. In this booklet, Mr Edwards voices the opinion that these saddles have a superior design and could be converted to Australian use easily because they are sensible saddles and easy to make, they require little or no leather work skills and are inexpensive. He does mention that he feels that the Australian Stock Saddle is superior but that the Mongolian Saddle will do. He also gives a detailed set of directions and patterns for building your own Mongolian saddle.
His patterns were directly mocked up off of a saddle he purchased new in Mongolia on one of his early 1980’s trips. From his drawings, the saddle seems to be proportionally and over-all designwise, similar to several of the extant saddles from the Yuan Dynasty. I will not know how similar the saddles actually are until I have made my mock-up and am able to compare its angles and lengths to the documentation on the extant saddles. Depending on the differences, I will be updating the pattern and resizing it for my horse, Anabelle, for my next iteration of the saddle.
Throughout this building process I will be using the assistance of two people. The first is my husband, Rob, who is offering support, detail checking, editorial assistance, and mathematics sanity checks. The second is my good friend, Pete. Pete is helping with the actual saddle construction. He is a far better wood worker than I and I am learning a heap from him. I would like to take this few words to say ‘thank you’ to both. This project would not be happening without their support and assistance. They totally rock!
So, what are the steps to creating a Mongolian saddle masterpiece? Here’s what I have done so far.
Step 1: Find the booklet in the local library: for me, it was simple. I went to the Australian National Library and requested the booklet. Copious notes and a few photocopies later, and I what the starting details that I needed.
For my ‘real’ saddle, I will do more research into the timber used and send to Sydney to have it milled for me.
This last Sunday, I ventured to the farm again to see just how well the wood was setting. It had been a week and the glue sets in minutes and dries in hours, so all should have been good to go.
We divested the timber pieces of their various clamps and both now laminated pieced looked great. I, following the directions given by Mr Edwards, cut out the pummel pattern and taped it onto the wood. Pete then outlined it and we went to cut it out. And here is the sad outcome of the day. None of the powered conveniences in the workshop would do the job. They were either too short bladed or not agile enough. ‘Well, my dear, what we need is a bandsaw.’ And this is the one piece of machinery I have not seen on the farm. Multi-fold dilemma: 1) No bandsaw 2) A bandsaw? Really? I recall this machine from year 7 woodworking. To my mind this contraption was akin to a rabid dog on fire. I watched as one of my classmates, intent on making the perfect curve for the laminated lid of his games box, sliced open his finger…exposing the bone and a lot of blood. He missed a couple of weeks of school thanks to recovery from the surgery. I remember then having to use the bandsaw to make my own project – a much more sedate napkin holder. The machine left an imprint on my mind that has not fogged with all the years in between: the whirring of the blade as it rolled through the enormous metal housing; the grinding of the gears and growling hum of the engine; as I slid my timber towards the blade, the scraping of wood against metal; the booming voice of Mr Adair, ‘Natalie, keep your fingers clear and let the blade do the work.’; and the ripping sawing of that toothed blade as it bit into the wood. As I have said, I passed because I still have 10 fingers. But I also swore never to take woodworking again because of that hell-bent machine. I am not sure that I held my panic in check because Pete reassured me that it would be fine. However, he still did not possess a bandsaw.