American Riding and Work Saddles and Horse Culture 1790-1920

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Pat Holscher
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American Riding and Work Saddles and Horse Culture 1790-1920
Ken R. Knopp
272 pages

Ken Knopp is a name that will be familiar to many of us here, and as a familiar name we'd expect that a book written by him would be one that would not only interest us, but live up the high standards that characterize those who participate here. This book does not disappoint.

Taking on the topic of saddlery and horse culture in the US is a daunting topic. Off hand, I can only think of a couple of books that have attempted it, and some have only attempted it in part. Beatie's Saddles is one, which almost all of us have, but as most of us know Beattie's book is a flawed if good text. Another that is in that category is the highly respected Man Made Moble: Early Saddles of Western North America, which covers principally the west. Beatie's book is a good book (and again almost all of us have it, I suspect) and Man Made Mobile is a superb book that all of us should have if we don't, but Beatie's is flawed and Man Made Mobile is more concentrated on the story of the saddle in the West. This book, on the other hand is much more like Horses in Society: A Story of Animal Breeding and Marketing Culture, 1800-1920 by Margaret Derry (which I also highly recommend) in its scope. Knopp has succeeded at the task in a richly a well illustrated book that takes the history of saddles and horse culture all the way from the early history of the country to the last days of the working horse.

Covering every type of saddle, to include even saddles like wagon saddles, in every region of the country, the book does an excellent job in detailing the evolution and development of the saddle throughout the history of the horse as a working animal in North America. The history of the saddle in this fashion in a single text is very interesting and for some reason, perhaps because of its diversity, rarely taken on. The book is well written and flows very well in an area in which the diversity of topics makes that task difficult. The illustrations are excellent and well chosen. The book is also timely, coming as it does after a considerable gap in a book of this type which means that it comes in an era in which it can incorporate the development of the history that came before it in a new text that's up to date and not burdened by the errors that came before it.

I'll give a disclaimer here that I was privileged to be able to read this book when it was in the pre production stage. But with that said, I'd recommend it without having had even that extremely minor role in getting to cheer the writer along a tiny bit. This is an excellent book and Ken has done a service in writing it. It's still early in its publication and well worth picking up.

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