A Pony Express reproduction tree
A while back we were asked to make a reproduction of a Pony Express saddle tree to be used in re-enactments. They wanted it as close to authentic as possible, but to fit today’s horses. The problem is, there are no original Pony Express saddles left anywhere, so nobody knows for sure exactly how they were made…
The customer sent us some pictures of other reproductions
and a drawing of other options on how they may have been built.
It seems they weren’t all made the same way… Basically they were a tree with rigging, skirts and stirrups but no seat cover. They used a mochila – a large piece of leather with holes in it - to fit over the fork and cantle that had saddle bags built in to carry the mail. When they got to a station, there was a fresh horse saddled and ready to go. The rider got off, lifted the mochila from his tired horse, tossed it over the tree on the fresh horse, mounted and rode away. No fuss, no muss, no chance of letters blowing away during a transfer.
So, based on discussions with the saddle maker and what he wanted, this is what we came up with.
The cantle was way, way, way laid back – far more than any other cantle we have ever made. It seems that some of the Pony Express saddles had cantle slots and some didn’t. The customer decided they didn’t want cantle slots on this tree.
The cantle had to be dead flat across the front – no dish at all. Now, since cantles are complicated, and angles are critical to getting them to fit on the bars while keeping the bars at the correct angle for the fit on the horse we want, this took a little figuring…
They wanted no nails at all in the cantle, even in the front, so Rod drilled holes through the tree to use a rawhide thong to hold the rawhide down at bend between seat and cantle.
It turned out pretty well.
The fork was very slick on the sides, going down farther onto the bars than most forks which are this slick, so it blended into the bars quite smoothly.
It also had no real back cut, going pretty much straight down from the lip. This meant that it joined the bars well forward on the tips, giving the saddle maker less room to work. But hey, authentic is authentic, right? (Well, we hope so, not really knowing what authentic looked like for real…)
The horn is also shaped differently than anything else we had ever done, very narrow in the neck with an funny kink in it and very little pitch to the horn cap. Definitely not designed for roping…
The customer decided to go with stirrup hangers similar to what is used on the McClellan saddles, though it sounds like there was variation in how stirrups were attached on the original ones.
And to be authentic, they wanted no varnish or anything else on the rawhide to protect it from moisture, so it looks a little dull here. Being as this saddle will only be used for some re-enactment events, I doubt it will ever be ridden much the rain or swum through too many rivers, so it should be OK.
Overall, a really neat project to do. We enjoy taking a break from our “regular” trees and to do something a little different now and then…