Restoring Vintage Western Saddles
By Alain Eon
$45 ~ Softcover ~ 64 pages
Reviewed by Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
Alain Eon’s passion for vintage saddles began in 1969 during his six month stint working on a ranch in Wyoming. Just 22 years old, he had left his native France to fulfill his childhood dream of being a cowboy and experiencing firsthand the culture of the Old West. One day, the ranch boss asked Eon to clean a collection of old saddles that were being stored in the tack room. “Discovering the fantastic work of the saddle makers of the past century,” says Eon, “I was immediately conquered, and that passion never left me.”
Returning to France in 1970, Eon began working on his first saddle making project, which he completed in 1972. Over the years, he honed his leather working skills, building 20 or so older style saddles for friends. Then, in the 1980s, he made the transition from saddle making to saddle restoration. Now, with more than 60 saddles in his collection, Eon hopes to share his passion and considerable knowledge through his book, Restoring Vintage Western Saddles.
With detailed, easy to follow step-by-step directions, the book follows the restoration of two vintage saddles – an Aniser from St Joseph, Missouri, circa 1920, and a Steel Fork N°320, circa 1900 – from cleaning and reconditioning to repairs and re-assembly. The less than perfect English translation in no way detracts from the clarity of the instructions, which are thoughtfully laid out and expressed. The highlight of the book is undoubtedly the 340+ beautiful photographs that do a wonderful job of illustrating each step in the restoration process. Rounding off the book is a “before and after” gallery that shows the dramatic transformation of five raggedy, musty-looking antique saddles into shining specimens of truly spectacular craftsmanship – each one clearly a labour of love for Eon.
A desire to try one’s own hand at saddle restoration is by no means a pre-requisite for the enjoyment and appreciation of this book. Eon’s enthusiasm for illuminating the technical skill and artistry of the saddle makers of past times is contagious, and even readers without knowledge of, or even a particular interest in, vintage saddles will still find themselves enthralled by the fascinating process involved in breathing new life into these tangible pieces of history.
For more information, or to purchase Restoring Vintage Western Saddles, please visit http://alain.eon.free.fr.
This review originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.