Friday, June 22, 2012

King's Saddlery and Museum

From its street frontage, King’s Saddlery in Sheridan looks like any other tack shop. But entering though its front door is like going through the looking glass into a western fantasy world, with everything imaginable to do with riding, ranching or roping on offer. From a full wall of bits, to hand-crafted saddles, bridles, and hats to western trinkets, gifts and jewellery, this is cowboy nirvana, the ultimate place to consume all thing horsey.
But that’s just the shop. Keep going through to the back, cross over the laneway, and you get to King’s Ropes, which has over 30,000 ropes in its inventory. Each rope - whether nylon, rawhide or trick - is stretched, sunned, twisted, and tied straight on the premises by roping specialists, with many imported all over the world.

                                        (Don King Museum)

But it’s the room to the left of the roping barn which had me absolutely gobsmacked. This is the Don King Museum, the most amazing collection of western memorabilia I’ve ever seen. The museum houses 40 years of the King family’s dedication to collecting cowboy and equestrian artifacts, from perfectly preserved wagons and coaches, to stuffed animals (the two-headed calf is a perennial favourite), to an incredible array of historic saddles, There are Mexican wooden saddles lined with silver and gold, saddles worn by famous people from history, an Arabian headdress and saddle cloth (draped enticingly over a stuffed bear!), and even John Wayne’s stuntman’s saddle. The collection is enormous, and probably priceless - and growing all the time as people donate gear to the museum.

                                           (Arabian headdress on a bear)

                                           (two headed calf)                            

Born in 1923, Don King began his saddle making and leather tooling career when he worked as a ranch hand, trading his wares for other cowboy necessities such as clothing. In 1946, he moved to Sheridan and opened his own saddle-making business, focusing on highly ornamental trophy saddles. He developed his own style of tooling, with his signature ‘wild rose’ tooling coming to be known as the ‘Sheridan style’. 

                                           (A Don King 'Sheridan style' saddle)
This tradition is continued in the museum today, with custom leatherworker and painter James Jackson on hand to demonstrate his skill. If you want to order one of his pieces, however, be prepared for a long wait - there’s at least a six month waiting list for the waiting list! Unless, of course, you are Queen Elizabeth II, Ronald Reagan or the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia - they have all been recipients of a King’s saddle.
For guests at Paradise Ranch, a visit to King’s Saddlery adds another dimension to their western vacation experience. This is the real deal, the best of the west - and a fascinating excursion to boot.

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