The construction of this saddle was based on Sassanian & Roman Saddles representations in Sassanian and Roman Stone Art. There are slight differences in this saddle than other Roman Saddles that have been produced in the past, we addressed a few different issues in this construction.
There is a debate on the construction of the saddles, whether they were hard frame or soft frame saddles. I have chosen the hard wood framed saddle for this construction. I chose the hard frame development to accommodate the Sassanian Cataphract. We chose to build it on a Ash Wood base. The lower bars are solid Ash Wood that is carved to fit the flow of a horses back within reason. The differences from horse to horse will be accommodated for by appropriately padding the horses back. The front and rear panels are vertically laminated ash wood that is carved to reveal the appropriate and desired shape. The front panels have extra panels lamenated to accommodate the horse. As you can see, the horns on this saddle actually come back and wrap around the thigh of the rider as opposed to just having the pommel sloped back to angle the horns. These horns actually come across the front of the riders thighs and offer and anchor. The Pommel is also sloped back as well to flow with the riders thighs. The rear horns on this saddle are at the same hight as the front pommel. The joining arch between the rear horns has a gradual slope to offer a curved feel to the rear of the saddle and to form the dip that forms the seat. The ash is glued and lamenated with top grade wood glue that is resistant to moisture. All angles and curves were hand formed and sanded to fit for maximum comfort.
Second point that was addressed was one that I have noticed in the Sassanian Wall Carvings in Iran. There are three types of Saddles that I have noticed in use. 2 Horn Saddle, Four Horn Saddle and 2 Horn and Round Cantle Saddle. By round Cantle I am referring to the round Cantle that is similiar to lets say a western Saddle. I have never heard any other reference to these other two options in saddles. Only the 4 horn saddle. I chose the 4 horn saddle so that it may accommodate Sassanian Military and Roman Military uses. My interpretation of the 4 horn saddles use is for Military based use in combat oriented arenas. The 2 horn saddle use is only represented with respect to the Persian Sassanian Kings. This would offer the front support the riders need in aggressive riding, such as the hunt or other training activies, but would also allow an ease of mount and dismount that is more restricted with the 4 Horn or Rear Cantle 2 Horn Saddles. The rear cantle saddle is also only represented with the Kings as well in Court Attire and not Combat attire.
Finally the Coverings. I chose to felt wrap the entire saddle for comfort with wool felt about 1/4 inch thick. I have seen examples of wood framed saddles that have wool felt padding and no padding in Iran. Saddles over 200 years old and there is no consensus in why one is padded and the other not. So, I chose to pad my saddle. The leather is natural vegtable tanned leather, wet formed and molded by hand to form around the saddle. The suspension system that builds the seat area is made of natural rawhide leather. The stitching that is used to stitch the leather together is a synthetic sinew material with a wax coating.
1 - The Ash Wood is cut and carved into the four required pieces. Two under bars, Pommel (pront panel) and Cantle (rear panel). The front and rear panels are lamenated to make up the thicker base that is required and also to add strength to the cross bars that hold the under panels together. The horns are added blocks that are carved and sanded to form the curved arches required. The Pommel and Cantle are wedged and fitted in a step pattern to add strength to the joints. They are glued and pegged into place. Once the glue and pegs are in place, it is allowed to dry for 24 hours. Next the saddle is fit on a stand and filed and formed to fit my exact seating specifications. The side panels are carved and sanded, the thigh horns are carved and formed to fit my leg position and combat position when I ride. Leg position for riding is different than combat position in riding. My saddle accommodates for both. Bottom panels and wither arch is formed underneath to accommodate as best as possible my 5 horses. Extra padding is needed for my high wither thoroughbreds and less padding for my more round backed horses. This saddle is made to accommodate a medium withered horse
2 - Next is the fitting for the suspension system in the saddle. I chose to add a suspension system and not just rely on the saddles leather seat for two reasons. As leather is worn in it gives and forms and retains the form that it takes on. Rawhide is a bit more resiliant and will return to its original set position. Therefore, I soaked a large 6 inch wide panele, pinned it underneather the pommel facing backwards, went under the pommel and around the top, across the saddle to the rear and down and around the bottom of the cantle. Next, a center line was cut in the front half of the pommel rawhide and the two pieces were overlapped for a smooth curve in the front as the rawhide wraps around the front. Slits are then cut into the rawhide panel to accommodate the rawhide strips that run side to side on the saddle. Each strip is wrapped around the side panels so that the weight is carried on the edges of the rawhide and not the areas that they are attached to the saddle tree. They are then nailed in underneath the strap as they wrap around the tree bars. All of this has to be done with the rawhide wet so that it tightens into place. The rawhide was soaked in a bucket of water overnight.
3 - Felt is cut to fit from the front of the saddle to the rear of the saddle and around the bottom on both ends. Since felt is easy to form and pulls and stretches easily, you do not have to be as precise as you do with the leather or rawhide. For the raw hide, I cut a front panel, a rear panel, the top panel and two bottom bar panels and stitched them together with synthetic waxed sinew. They are pulled and stitched together very tight to form around all the curves and grooves without compromising the form of the saddle.
4 - This is probabley one of the hardest pieces of leather work I have done. As you can see in the fourth picture which has the natural color of the leather, the leather is very smooth and very form fitting to the saddle. This was done by wet forming the leather. The leather is soaked in water for about 30 minutes then draped over the saddle. A rough cut is made to accommodate the seat area of the saddle from underneath the pommel around the top to cantle around the cantel and underneath, then from side to side and around the bottom of both side bars and underneath. This is the most difficult process. Figuring out the exact amount of leather and where to cut is a matter of exact measurement per saddle. Once that is done, the leather is nailed in with a few nails in key areas, but not secured permanently. This is done on purpose as you need to remove the nails and continue to pull and stretch the leather to fit the saddle. Once the leather seat is pulled and stretched into place and around all four bottom sides of the panels (pommel, cantle, left and right bars) and you are happy with the placemenet and curves, then it is nailed in permanently. Then come the 8 remaining upper panels required to cover the horns. Pieces of leather are cut out, soaked and wetformed on the saddle per panel. For example the rear outer panel on the rear horn was wet formed on the saddle and cut to fit the existing edges that it was going to meet, then hole punched and stitched in to join the leather that it is fitting. The inner panel is then wet formed and cut to meet saddle seat and the rear panel and then hole punched and stitched in while the leathe is wet. This allows you to pull and stretch the leather in the stitching process to get a perfect match. Some of the holes will curve and thus cause you to restitch to a hole twice so maintain an easy flow as you can see. This is repeated four times. Finally on the front of the saddle, there was a split made in the front which is not visible in this photo but can be seen in the final photos, that displayes the split required to accommodate the leather folding in the front. The split requires the removal of leather so that to edges of the leather that are wrapping around the pommel and joining at the bottom are smooth and flush and do not have bumps or lifts. While the leather is wet, you take a smooth ended hammer and you hammer the seems and joins and curves that are not flat in a smooth and flat curve or joint or seam.
5 - Finally the finishing touch. The final color. This is the part that made me the most nervous. As I had achieved exactly what I wanted, now only to be potentially ruined by the finishing process. There are two choices in this process. Raw neatsfoot oil the natural leather and set it in the sun, this will darken the leather to a natural, very dark brown. A beautiful color and a perfect look. I chose against this for a simple reason. The amount of Neatsfoot oil would have soaked through to the padding underneath and compressed and soaked that padding in a manner that was not desirable for me. A light amount of neatsfoot oil would not have accomplished the look I needed. Therefore, I chose a dark brown and walnut stain which was mixed in with neatsfoot oil and applied. The reason for the neatsfoot oil in the mixture is that as it is applied it seals the stains in the pores of the leather. So the saddle is stained and sealed. This was all done and placed in the sun to bake the stain into the leather. When this was finished. The saddle was set in the shade to cool and set for 24 hours. Finally the saddle was polished with a natural polish that had a beeswax base in it to seal everything in.
6 - Final steps in making the saddle mountable on a horse was the decision of either use with an overgirth or a saddle mounted girth. I chose saddle mounted girth. A strip of leather was made about 6 inches wide. Slits were cut into the saddle and the leather was slid through the saddle on top of the rawhide under the felt and leather. This was then attached to the rawhide in the suspension system with lacing. On both sides, three girth billets were added. Two for a girth and one as a reserve or for use with a stirrup if a stirrup was chosen to be used. For certain performances and for safety reasons, this saddle has the option of adding stirrups to the girth straps. Then the girth was made to match the saddle. To flat panels of leather are glued together with the same leather as the billets running across the girth to buckle ends. Thise billets are copper rived to the girth belly plate. The girth is a perfect match for the saddle.