Sentimental Journey

Old saddles find new shoulders.

By L.A. Sokolowski

What could your tack room have in common with the Metropolitan Museum of Art? If you like to hold on to sentimental memorabilia, like a favorite saddle or bridle from a special horse or show season long ago, you probably share some of Met curator/conservator Ted Hunt’s reverence for the stories ingrained in the items that were once integral to someone’s life.

But what does one do with those heartstring mementos? For Ted and other conservators, it’s about preservation and finding new ways to share those old stories.

“My job is to protect it not to make it look brand new,” Ted said. “My job is knowing when to stop.”

It’s not unlike the goals of artisan Cassandra Severino. She too has learned to listen for the stories lingering inside saddles and tack—no longer functional but no less loved by their owners—that she transforms into totes, handbags and accessories at her Calyse studio in Candia, New Hampshire.

The results are weatherworn yet revived. Not new, but crafted with love and an innate sense of knowing where to stop.

Up with Up-Cycling

After their first lives as functional tack, too many saddles end up discarded to landfills, even when there might still be plenty of salvageable leather to put to good use.

“Upcycling is the art of breathing new life into something that served its purpose and may no longer be valued for its original use. That’s exactly what I’m doing here at Calyse,” said Cassandra, who estimates she upcycles several hundred pieces each year.

Calyse launched seven years ago as a combination of her first and middle names—Cassandra Lyse. As it turned out, it’s also Greek for “gorgeous woman;” Cassandra didn’t learn that until after her branding, but the double meaning is fine by her.

“I thought, ‘That works!’ ” Cassandra said.

In this former hunter-jumper rider’s hand, drab retired saddles begin their makeover by first being completely deconstructed.

“Each piece of salvageable leather is reimagined into pieces of a pattern that will end up as one of my handbag designs,” Cassandra said. “I strive to incorporate bits of the saddle in a creative way that nods to its original form.

It’s an idea Cassandra had while watching her boyfriend, Matthew Henrikson, reupholster car interiors. Inspired by the leather castoffs and her own concern over the destructive effects of fast fashion, Cassandra’s mind began turning. She wanted to find a use for those scraps and came up with a sketch for a bag.

“Matt helped me create it and stitched it, and something sparked. I couldn’t stop coming up with designs, and eventually I learned to do my own stitching and pattern making.”

Recycling reins and browbands into straps seemed like a natural step for the equestrienne. Eventually, Cassandra’s oldest sister challenged her to craft a bag entirely from a saddle.

“At first I thought it was far-fetched and likely not feasible,” Cassandra said. “But I couldn’t stop thinking of the idea and the potential outcome.”

So she took a knife to her childhood saddle and fashioned her first repurposed saddle bag.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2024 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.