Tales of a Pony Club Saddlemaker-In-Training Part 3

Adrienne Hendricks, H-A graduate, Boise Pony Club, in the Intermountain Region has agreed to blog her journey as an Apprentice Saddle Maker. Follow along as Adrienne shares her highs and lows of becoming a Master Saddler

Here is an older saddle that needed to be re-flocked. This turned out to be a great way to show how to re flock a wool panel and also how the panels are attached to the tree. It helped that I needed to use white tread so you can see the stitching easier.

The term “reflock” can cause lots of confusion as adjustments often get lumped into the term “reflock”. An adjustment or spot flock is done with the panels laced onto the saddle. This is quite commonly done onsite. Flocking is added, removed or moved around so the saddle will fit your horse. A complete reflock is when the panels are dropped, all of the old flocking is removed and all new is added. This is done when the old flocking is hard or lumpy. The new allows for a much better fit to your horse and more cushion on their back.

Let’s take a few moments to discuss parts of the panel. It is basically the same shape as the saddle. You can see the pommel area and the cantle. Just behind and a bit below the pommel area you can see a little pocket on each side. That is the point pocket that actually holds the point of the tree. And below the point pocket you may see the knee blocks. They can vary from saddle to saddle but that is the area they would be. They have been removed from this saddle. Then moving back from the knee block area you have the sweat flap which protects your flaps from dirt and sweat from the horse but more importantly protect the horse from the billets and buckles from the girth. This is usually a fairly firm piece of leather. Moving back from the sweat flap you can see a thigh block. Not all saddles have a thigh block but this one does. Moving back up to the pommel, you will see slits or openings along the panel. These are called flocking ports. These are access points I will use with my flocking irons to add the flocking. Most commonly you will see two or three flocking ports on a panel. At the back of the panel you will see the gussets. These will vary in size depending on the purpose of the saddle and what shape horse the saddle is intended for. Larger gussets are generally found on dressage saddles. Smaller gussets are generally on jumping saddles. Novels can be written about gussets especially when it comes to the shape that will be best for the horse. Let’s just suffice today’s discussion to say that the gussets help how the saddle sits on the horse and supports the tree.

Here is a picture of all of the items I will need to reflock this saddle. You can see the big box of wool in the back. Then you can see the panel that we will be flocking. I removed all of the old flocking as this will be a complete reflock. You see my flocking irons. The one with the hook removes the flocking and the blunt end one is what I use to push the flocking in. You can also see my smasher. I use this after I have added the flocking. It allows me to push down the flocking to get a better flat shape on the panels.

I start by filing in the front of the panel.

As I fill in the panel, I move up and along towards the middle of the gullet.

When I get to the middle of the panel, I then turn it around and start flocking the back gussets and work my way toward the pomel.

Here is a view where you can see all of the wool in the panel. I have checked that it feels firm and there are no holes or soft spots. I then smash it with my smasher to try to settle the wool a bit more. When I like the feel of it, I repeat the same process on the other side. The real challenge is getting both sides to match.

This saddle has quilting stitches on the panel. Those are added to the panel for a variety of reasons. They help hold the flocking in place. They also allow for some versatility in fitting the saddle to the horse. The stitches can be made bigger or even removed to allow the panel to expand and fit differently. For example, for a Thoroughbred with narrow withers, you can remove some or all of the stitches and really fill out the panel to fit. If the horse is wider, you can remove some of the flocking and add the quilting stitches to open up that area to allow for more horse. In this picture you can see where I have the thread in place but haven’t tightened them yet. Sometimes you will see wool tufts under the stitches. That just helps alleviate the strain on the thread on the leather. In this case, there are so many stitches, strain isn’t really a problem.

Here are the stitches after I have tightened them up and tied them off.

To attach the panel to the saddle, I insert the points of the tree into the pockets on the panel. I begin the lacing process by sewing from the inside outwards to begin. In this picture you can see where in have laced around the flap, fore piece and panel. If you look at most wool flocked saddles you can see a little stitch in this area just above my finger. I never noticed it until I started working on saddles. This is how your saddle is held together.

Then I lace along back and forth moving along the pommel.

When I get to the other side, I repeat the lacing I did to begin, pull the thread tight and tie a knot. And that is how the pommel is laced on.

I then lace on the cantle. To begin I tie a knot in my thread and pull it from the inside of the panel to the outside where I will be lacing. I then follow the holes that were previously used and work my way around to the other side of the saddle.

Here is what it looks like when I have it all laced before I have tightened it. Loose stitches in this area or the pommel are things to look for when inspecting your tack. If the stitching starts to come loose, you can see how it can start to unravel across the whole saddle. A loose panel can cause all sorts of problems; the tree could be exposed on their back, the panels could be crooked, etc. Loose stitching in these areas are critical to look out for.

After I pull the cantle tight, I tie it off with a few small knots that will be tucked away so you can’t see them.

Of course I didn’t get a picture of the saddle finished but then again, I am pretty sure it wouldn’t be a surprise. We all are familiar with them when they are put together.