Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ricky's Bridle

One thing about making a model of the bridle that Lil' Ricky Rocker was wearing at BreyerFest:  it's really easy to pick which horse to use!  Other tackmakers might be able to work with measurements, but I absolutely have to have a model.  Horse plus measurements equals tack; it's even easier with a model bridle right there, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I saw Ricky when I was over at the AllTech for the 5K race.  At the time I felt only the pleasure of seeing a nicely-designed piece of tack.  (I reached out and slid his cheekstrap keeper down into place.)  Later, after  deep discussions with friends, I put together several factors, including the success of the Guide, my love of drawing and my interest in model braidwork.  I decided I'd start off my long-delayed next book with a piece that was not too hard.  I remembered Ricky's bridle and started looking for pictures of it.  An old customer and great artist, Billie Campbell, gave permission to use these:
 This second one shows the copper mouthpiece.
What I liked was the contrast of colors between the straw-yellow of the keepers and the deep red-chestnut of the leather.  I liked the way the various uses of slit braid brought the bridle together;  three kinds were represented: continuous, tied brow and reversed.  The reversed slit braid on the browband, not echoed elsewhere, gave the bridle a quirky uniqueness.  When it came to building a model, I was stumped in only one place (it was the button and slit)... and I eventually solved even that.

What slowed me down was the drawings.  (Not to mention other things in one's life.)  It had been 28 years since I'd made up a plate, a page of drawings for instruction.  I knew from working with the Guide that I wanted to keep using vellum and drafting ink for the final originals -- these materials aged so well.  But I had much less vision for the book as a whole.  With the Guide I'd had a complete, finished volume.  For my next book, Braidwork for the Model Horse, I had a title and a rough list of contents -- that was about it.  There is definitely a casting-about quality to this project as I slowly get started on something that's been in the dream stages for at least15 years.

Ricky's bridle began with the bits.  I cut down some pewter bits, filed them a great deal, and added copper ferrules which I had made by scraping off the silver from some badly-plated silver tubes.  What jeweller hasn't run across such things?!
Next, I tackled the reins and curb strap.  From no less a person than Sheila Varian, I took the idea to make a very plain, buckled curb strap loop.  (Somewhere in her videos she puts her hand around a curb strap like this and says she just likes them this way.)  Normally I'd try for some kind of keepers, either braided or sewn, but Ricky's didn't have any; simplicity is a good thing sometimes!  So I shaped the little thing when it was wet and moved on to the reins. 
The reins were hot-oiled, the only parts of this bridle to be so treated.  It made them darker.  But Ricky's reins were darker than the rest of the bridle too.
I'm ashamed to say I didn't know what those tied-on rein loops were called.  Ricky's bridle clearly showed them.  I used my smallest needle chisel to pre-pierce holes, which I then ran through with my smallest needle and some thinned waxed thread.  I finally found their name in a National Roper Supply catalog -- thanks guys!!  They're called "water loops,"  presumably because a drinking horse would get them wet and they'd have to be easily replaceable... (?)

The button-and-slit fasteners at the bit heads had indeed stumped me.  After a few trials, I settled on using Twisted-Loop Rein ends, pulled hard and rolled to their tightest extremity.  I could not do these buttons as in full scale, rolled and pierced; the leather fibres were not strong enough at this scale.  Twisted-Loop was already in the Guide.
After that, the headstall was easy enough, and I showed off recklessly with my new Sheila.  Gotta hand it to sculptress Morgen; it's wondrously easy to use a great new horse to show off tack!
Something else was happening, something that hadn't happened to me in a very long time.... something I don't normally allow.  I was falling in love with a piece known to be a sales piece from the beginning...
You can't have this happen very often if you're a professional tackmaker.  Mastering it was something I'd done back in the 70s.  But here it was again, gnawing and calling, insisting that the situation was different, and that I needed to keep at least a copy for my personal tack museum.  Perhaps the fact that there was no individual customer for the bridle had some effect.  In the end I decided I'd have to make a second bridle.  (I used a different bit.)  Something that helped in this decision was that I'd made the cheekstraps with alternating grain-sides and flesh-sides-out... and Ricky's was clearly only grain-sides-out.  (Remember this if you think us pros are always perfect -!)

So I made a grain-side-out cheekstrap with kangaroo, that most wonderfully stretchy, strong, forgiving leather, testing my much-labored-over drawings and measurements -- and this happened:
Too short!!!!
Much too short...
Ricky's photos clearly showed eight passes of slit braid, so I didn't want to add more.  But have too little of that lovely cheek braid??  What was this bridle, if not that cheek?!  Where'd I goofed...?  I'd asked for the maker to cut slits at-need rather than use pre-cut ones:
I found it too exhausting to measure every little slit, and they weren't whole millimeters either, but fractions.  I decided I'd cut too cleanly and too close.  Roo leather is stretchy.  I made a 3rd and 4th cheekstrap with less tightness and perfection and went on.
The buckles are a large part of the soul of a piece like this.  These buckles are made of hammered wire (with a ferrule for the tongue base).  So little a thing as doming them makes a difference.  Can you see that they were domed: hammered into a circular hollow on a dapping block so as to have a little arching overall curve to them?  I am not speaking of the obvious curve, but the side-to-side...
This photo shows how small everything really is.  I aimed for 30mm from top fold to bottom fold and got about 32mm (count the bottom).  I think I changed the plate to 32...
Here we're starting the browband.  The only thing missing is the throatlatch.
A shot of the making of the browband.  This does show the throatlatch.
Browband-making viewed from the inside.
A tied-knot brow, and everything is finally done.
Now for the photo shoot!  Since many of these are on our FaceBook page I'm going to restrain myself to four.
She is so photogenic.  I went through my tack collection and came up with a blazing-chestnut-red saddle (by Terry Newberry).  The blanket is named Corngold (didn't you know I named even my saddle blankets?!  Y'oughta be glad I don't name the stable blankets!) and was finished by me in 2012.  The whole ensemble strongly suggests whoever gets this should stick with the color scheme--!!
Outdoor shot in hazy light.
Yes, this bridle, which has unaccountably taken so long to make, will be auctioned.  I shouldn't confess I'm somewhat afraid of cranking up my eBay skills, but I am.  It's been 7 years since I last auctioned tack there.  Even in my fear I want to tinker with the code and have it feature my familiar light-wheat-rawhide background shade.  I need to practice.  When everything's ready I'll notify FB and send out emails to my Notification List.  I am so grateful for your patience and support.

Having seen the Jennifer Show prizes, I can't help but think that red Rajah would look great in this bridle -- !!

Other news:
The next tack project really has to be TSII #456, the Star Wars set.  I've had so long to think about it, yet only barely designed it... ! After that I'd truly love to start working on various pieces either as part of the book (recreating existing ones for drawings and measurements) or following the elusive muse.  Blog subjects in the pipeline include Moody's Cave of Wonders, mending a blue-prism-tape saddle, a McGroarty saddle, a fifth installment of stable blankets (!) and more.  Stay tuned!





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