Did You Know? Part 1
In Part 1 of this series, learn the stories behind some of the common products you use every time you go horseback riding.
July 20, 2014
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
Who figured out how to use an ultrasound in mares? How long have ranchers looked for safer fencing? The Journal staff dug up some unique stories and facts behind some of the everyday items in our American Quarter Horse world, and we thought you’d like to hear them.
The next time you step into your western stirrup, take a peek under the fender and see how it adjusts. Chances are there’s a Blevins’ Quick-Change Buckle there (or a copy of it). Have you ever wondered where it came from?
The Journal called up Kevin Bryant, owner of Blevins Manufacturing Co. Inc., to find out. He said it all started when Earl Blevins, a steer wrestler from Wheatland, Wyoming, was drafted into the Coast Guard’s horse patrol during World War II.
In the old days, stirrup length was adjusted with lace-up leather thongs. According to Russel Beatie in “The History and Development of the Saddle”: “The leathers could be repaired in the field without tools, an especially importance advantage to cowboys and horse soldiers.” It worked just fine when only one guy was using the saddle and rarely had to adjust the stirrups.
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But it was a hassle for Earl. Every time he had to go out on patrol, he had to re-lace and adjust those stirrups from the last soldier who used the saddle. The resourceful bulldogger went on to work on the problem and fashioned a unique, flat metal buckle with blunt pins and a sliding cover that made adjusting those stirrups easier.
After the war, Earl saw a place to market his buckle.
“He had rodeoed,” Kevin says, “so he went around to different saddleries and shops trying to sell the buckles. And he showed them off to his friends in rodeo. He kept at it from there, building them by hand at first.”
In 1949, Earl started his business in Wheatland, manufacturing his buckle. And the rest, as they say, is cowboy history.
From Saddle Horns to Laced Chaps
Chaps have seen a lot of changes over the years. Don Reeves, curator at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, says that, “Prior to the mid-1880s, chap belts were usually made with a strong thick belt across the front,” much like you find in some styles of today’s work and farrier chaps.
But suddenly chaps changed to being laced together across the front. You might not think the reason for the change had to do with the growing sport of rodeo. In “The Cowboy Encyclopedia,” author Bruce Grant writes that “Chaps are held up by a belt which is usually highly decorated … and laced together with a thin lacing, which will easily break if a cowboy gets ‘hung up’ or caught on his saddle when thrown.”
But Don suggests that the reason for the change goes back farther than this and is actually related to another invention: the replaceable nickel or steel saddle horn. As early as 1877, saddle makers such as brothers Theodore and Frank Meanea and L.D. Stone Saddlery were patenting saddle horns made of steel to replace more easily broken wooden horns.
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According to “The History and Development of the Saddle,” 1981: “Steel horns were standard on saddles by 1890. With the use of steel horns, it was no longer necessary to use a wooden fork that could be shaped into both the fork and the horn as a single unit. The fork could be designed by itself and the steel horn attached to it in any size or shape desired.” It was easy to replace if broken, without having to discard the entire tree.
It also led to a smaller saddle horn design. “The earlier saddle horns were large, several inches across in diameter,” Don says. “With the steel horn, they went to one much smaller, and the neck became smaller, too.” He suggested that it might have made getting hung up easier, hence the shift to “breakaway laces” on chaps.
Of course, today’s chaps are typically connected with a thin leather strap and buckle, not laces; but that strap will break, too, if needed.
In the second half of this series, learn the story behind an early search for horse-safe fencing and how the ultrasound was adapted for use in horses.