Vigor’s Horse Action Saddle

A few years ago I was hugely amused by this advert :

Advertisement for horse riding exercise machine

So, when I saw one at auction I needed little encouragement to buy it :

Considering its age (it dates from the 1890′s ) it’s in pretty good condition.
It has lost its handlebars, and is absolutely filthy, but looks like a fun restoration project for the next few weeks (or more likely months)

Vigor's mechanical horse

It has settings for Trot , Canter & Gallop and on a tentative trial ride still seems to work – watch this space for a clip of it in action once it has new handlebars….

Settings on exercise horse

Vigor & Company had premises at 21, Baker Street in London. They also produced other contraptions such as rowing machines and exercise bicycles. The British Library has a copy of one of their advertisements which promotes their “well ventilated private rooms” where one could make use of eight exercises for one guinea – you can see it here

I think mine could come into its own after Christmas , for the stimulation of my liver and reduction of corpulence

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A Pair of Hercules Bronze Spurs with a History

One of the frustrations of buying things at auction is that they often come without any history or provenance and I am left wondering how some piece of cowboy equipment ended up here in the South West of England.

Well, for a change I don’t have to wonder about these spurs

Hercules Bronze spurs on a board

They are a pair of Hercules Bronze spurs with horse head decoration. These spurs were made by North & Judd ( who had taken over Buermann ) and marked with the Buermann star by one button, “Hercules Bronze” by the other button and they have North & Judd’s anchor on the neck.

Hercules Bronze spur

Star stamp on spur

Hercules Bronze stamp

The plate on the board is engraved “Sir Robert Bellinger, GBE, D.Sc. from The Dallas Council on World Affairs, October 16 1967″

The World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth was formed in 1951 to promote international awareness, understanding and connections in North Texas.

Sir Robert Bellinger was quite a man.
He left school aged 14, and studied accountancy at night school while working as an office boy. With this qualification he started working for a wholesale grocery company, progressing to the post of chairman at the age of 36. He was active in the City of London and became Lord Mayor of London in 1966 – a real life Dick Whittington.

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Antique Saddle Engraving

Yet another mystery …
I am trying to find the source of this engraving :

Engraving of 18th century saddles

At first I thought it might come from Diderot & d’Alembert’s Encyclopaedia, but it doesn’t.
I have spent far too long looking for images of 17th & 18th Century saddles on the internet with no success.

I haven’t taken it out of its frame yet – I suppose that might be the next step – unless anyone has any ideas first ?

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Dogon Noseband

It probably demonstrates my ignorance, but when I think of African bridles I tend to picture rather severe-looking ring bits.

African ring bit

African ring bit

So the metal nosebands sometimes used by the Dogon people were a pleasant discovery.
They are used as a hackamore or bitless bridle.
I picked this one up at auction recently :

Dogon noseband

The images below come from Debbie Logan’s wonderfulMali Ride Blog. Sadly due to security concerns I don’t think any rides are running at the moment, however there is an online shop : African Desert Crafts

Dogon noseband

The T-shaped piece sits on the horse’s nose and the lobed loop under the chin

Dogon horse with saddle & bridle

Dogon horse with traditional saddle & bridle

My example is made of hand forged steel with brass or bronze decorative elements.
It came from a collection and has a label which reads “Mali XIX”, presumably meaning Mali 19th century.

Decoration on African noseband

Nosepiece of African bridle

Links of Dogon noseband

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Mystery Bridle

I have owned this bridle for a while now and it has me puzzled.

Ottoman bridle

It is made of dark brown or black leather lined with soft red leather.
It is decorated with ridged plates of gilt brass and gilt brass medallions which remind me of Ottoman bridles.

Ottoman bridle

It has a throat strap with a pendant in the shape of a crescent moon with a face. This is a little like the French military “sous gorges“, but not identical.
And would the Ottomans have used a face ?

Bridle pendant

The steel curb bit also reminds me of French and Belgian military bits.

Military horse bit

So, maybe European with Ottoman influences ? Could it be eastern European ? Polish maybe ? Any thoughts or information would be most welcome

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Hunting Whip Thongs & How to Attach Them

Googling “How to attach a hunting whip thong” can yield some interesting results and is probably better not attempted in a public place.
There are instructions on various websites but my inability to think in 3D makes them difficult to follow.

So I thought to look in some old books:
In “The Horsewoman – A Practical Guide to Sidesaddle Riding” Alice Hayes gives us illustrations of thongs that are properly attached, incorrectly attached and “Not quite right”.

Correctly attached whip thongs

Correctly attached whip thongs

Incorrectly attached whip thongs

Incorrectly attached whip thongs

I find her instructions a little difficult to follow :
“The thong is about three feet ten inches long, is furnished with a lash,
which is about a foot long, and is attached to the keeper, which is a
leather loop at the end of the crop. Men generally like a thong of white
pipe-clayed leather, but as the colour is apt to come off and soil one’s
habit, a brown leather thong is best for ladies.

The keeper of the modern hunting whip has a slit, near its end, through
both thicknesses of leather. In attaching the thong, the loop at its
upper end is placed over the end of the keeper, and it is then passed
through the slit and drawn tightly (Fig. 86). The old-fashioned keeper,
which is still greatly in use, is a simple loop of leather, over which
the loop of the thong is put, and the remainder of the thong is threaded
through the opening at the end of the keeper (Fig. 87). A wrong way to
put on the thong is, in the first instance, to pass the loop of the
thong through (instead of over) the keeper (Fig. 88). Some authorities
might take exception to the way the thong is put on in Fig. 89.”

Next stop, “To Whom The Goddess” by Lady Diana Shedden and Lady Aspley, who give this marvellous advice :
“With regard to hunting-whips – do not call them “crops”; whip is the older word. They should never be ornamented, except with a plain silver band on which it is useful to have your name and address inscribed. The “thong” should be properly put on to the keeper – a good groom will show you how.” Not fabulously useful.

So this is my technique :

1)Turn the loop of plain leather at the top of the thong inside out
2)Post it through the slot in the keeper
3)Fold it back over the tip of the keeper (so that it’s no longer inside out)
4)Post the lash end of the thong through the loop and feed the whole thong through
5)Draw it tight

Well, it works for me.

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Ranchero Ingenuity

This is an old Mexican ring bit

Antique Mexican Ring Bit

It was obviously much used, it has lost its chains and a couple of silver studs.
I love the fact that a previous owner or their blacksmith has replaced the rein loops with long nails bent into figure-8′s

Bit loop replaced by a bent nail

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A Devon Stirrup

You learn something new every day – today I learned that leather slipper stirrups were also known as “Devon” stirrups and I learned rather too much about Basil leather.

Leather slipper stirrup

This is a rather worn leather slipper stirrup – it was an early form of sidesaddle safety stirrup, the rider’s foot could not get caught in it in the event of a fall.

Slipper stirrup in catalogue

Slipper stirrup in catalogue

This illustration comes from a 1901 Bliss & Co Catalogue which gives various safety stirrup options

Catalogue listing

Various options are offered for the metal stirrups : “Malleable” (which sounds faintly alarming – who wants a bendy stirrup iron ? Maybe they mean something else), this could be polished or nickel plated, or else Steel, Nickel Plated Steel or Nickel.

The leather covered options could use Hogskin (today we’d probably say pigskin) or “Basil”.

I had no idea what Basil was, but found an excellent French website ( that gave an excellent explanation & history. It is a leather made from small hides such as sheep, tanned using plant based agents. Its reputation deteriorated from the mid 19th Century when the wool was removed from the skins by using bacteria, which also affected the quality of the hides. For this reason Basil was a cheaper option than Hogskin

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Miniature Stirrups

I recently bought a silver slipper stirrup from an online auction – I probably should have read the description more carefully, I was a little surprised when it arrived …

Silver slipper stirrups

My new slipper stirrup next to a full size example

I don’t know if it was made as a toy or a tourist souvenir, but it isn’t alone, I am forming quite a collection :

Miniature stirrups

Miniature stirrups

The other examples are Japanese stirrups or abumi

Full size & Miniature Abumi

Abumi or Samurai stirrups

And wooden stirrups from Chile

Miniature wooden stirrups from Chile

Wooden Huaso stirrups from Chile

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The Tailor of Leigh on Sea

OK, this isn’t exactly a John le CarrĂ© story – it is, however an interesting glimpse into someone’s life…

I recently bought a collection of cowboy / western gear – it’s always intriguing to wonder how it ended up here in the south west of England. This time I have at least part of an answer….

Early 20th century cowboy gear

Buermann spurs, stirrups and Romal reins

Packed in with the Buermann spurs, stirrups and romal reins there was a note to the purchaser :

“To the purchaser of these cowboy reins, stirrups and spurs.

They belonged to my Great Uncle Percy Brown who lived in Southend-on-Sea.
In the early twentieth century my uncle went to the USA to gain some experience of a different life before settling down to be a master tailor like his father.

He was in San Fransisco during the 1906 earthquake and later became a cowboy.
He crossed Death Valley in a stagecoach and shot a rattlesnake. The skin was displayed in a frame on his wall when he returned home.

When he returned home he married Miss Constance Fenton. They lived in Leigh-on-Sea where he had a tailor’s shop. Connie and Percy never had children of their own but adored their nephews and nieces especially my mother. He made the suit that she wore for her 1944 wedding”

Gosh… I’m exhausted just reading about Percy’s life, he must have been quite a man. And one couldn’t possibly separate his spurs, stirrups and reins

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