Out West

Saddled with a Purpose

The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara focuses on the collection and celebration of the region's western antiques.

The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara focuses on the collection and celebration of the region’s horse-drawn vehicles and the California Stock Saddle — many of which are still used in the annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade.

Less than a quarter of a mile from the Pacific Ocean, the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara celebrates and actively conserves the “trappings of transportation” from before the 1900s — specifically, horse-drawn vehicles and saddlery of the region, and most especially the California Stock Saddle. And since its opening in 1972, it has served double duty as, on one hand, a museum, and on the other the storage and rejuvenation site for a number of very special, vintage wagons and carriages used each year in the annual “Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade.”

It is an event unique to Santa Barbara. Descendants of local Native Americans, Spanish pioneers, the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, and local service clubs and organizations all reenact historical scenes. It is one of the nation’s largest equestrian parades, featuring more than 600 horses, as well as many antique carriages, coaches and wagons. The parade travels along the coastline near SB’s harbor area and always attracts a huge crowd looking to see one of America’s largest equestrian parades. And next year promises to be something special as the event is sneaking up on its 100th anniversary in August of 2024.

A 2005 trophy buckle featuring the Old Spanish Days logo. Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

The coastal town has long been proud of its origin from Spanish founders and from the Spanish, Mexican and North American pioneers who first settled here and built the city. The tradition of colorful music, dance and song together, with a spirit of friendliness, hospitality and tolerance, are part of this heritage that “Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara” seeks to preserve and perpetuate.

Looking at a short history of the event, in early 1924, a parade committee formed and headed by Dwight Murphy, an important regional civic leader and a fancier and breeder of Palomino horses. Approximately two months before the parade, Murphy was invited to attend a meeting with the city and was asked to arrange the details of the parade. The type of parade was left to Murphy’s discretion, and he was allocated a budget of $200. He called together a group of community members among others. The committee ultimately designed a parade structure that would feature local horses and riders along floats built on wagons used historically by ranches within the region.  The group agreed to a historical parade presenting a living portrait of old Santa Barbara. And to a large degree, that concept has been maintained — certainly with the horses and wagons exhibited.

The parade is held in August and one surely wonders where do all the wagons – and many historic saddles live during the rest of the year? Enter the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara. In speaking with the museum’s longtime executive director, Tom Peterson, he gave us a little background and shared with us his current exhibit.

“I was invited to join the Carriage Museum in 1995,” Peterson tells me during a tour, “and ever since then, I’ve hung around.” He’s actually done quite a bit more than just hang around; over the last 30 years or so, he has added to the museum’s stunning collection of mainly California Stock Saddles from some of the region’s most important makers. The collection reflects the local vaquero heritage in both style and use as the Central Coast was ground zero for the vaquero culture prior to California’s statehood in 1850.

The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara focuses on the collection and celebration of the region's western antiques.
Portion of painted surround frieze by Edward Borein from the Tecolote Ranch. The entire frieze encompasses the main gallery ceiling edging. Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

In addition to the saddles, most of which came from families within Santa Barbara County, the Museum turned out over 20 wagons in the 2023 Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade. A large part of the saddle collection features saddles from the Spalding family from their Tecolote Ranch up the coast from Santa Barbara. During the 1920s and ’30s, the family was quite active in the parade and had works for the ranch commissioned from local artists, including Edward Borein and Charles M. Russell’s only protégé, Joe De Yong.

The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara focuses on the collection and celebration of the region's western antiques.
This museum display shows a portion of their saddle collection. Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

Recently, the museum held an exhibition celebrating the region’s saddler style with saddles used in the parade as well as a group of trophy saddles that were coveted prizes for the Old Spanish Days Fiesta Stock Horse Show and Rodeo, held after the parade. Many were made by the Visalia Stock Saddle Company that had a satellite shop in downtown Santa Barbara. Visalia was the first company to make the event’s trophy saddles, and it did so until 1949, when local maker G.J. Jedlicka Saddlery made them until 1953. The saddles were then made by Dick May Saddlery in 1954, 1955 and 1956.  The trophy saddles continue to be awarded but are made by a variety of current saddlers.

The Stock Horse Show and Rodeo started as a one-day Saturday afternoon event in 1924. The show was a classic stock horse event that involved some cattle work — roping and boxing — all that replicated ranch work and the skills needed to doctor cattle outside. Most all of the trophy saddles awarded featured the event’s logo tooled handsomely on the saddle’s fenders. The earliest saddle in the collection was a Visalia made for the 1933 event.

1933 Trophy Saddle —Visalia Stock Saddle Company

Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

This 1933 trophy saddle is currently the oldest trophy saddle in the Carriage Museum collection. Although the saddle was heavily used and repaired after the event, it is a great example of the quality of Visalia saddles of the time.

1935 Trophy Saddle — Visalia Stock Saddle Company

Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

The Visalia Stock Saddle Company made this saddle for the 1935 Stock Horse Show. They issued three saddles as prizes and used the same serial number on all three saddles but added an “A,” “B” or “C” after the serial number.

1946 Trophy Saddle —Visalia Stock Saddle Company

Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

This 1946 Visalia trophy saddle is currently part of the Carriage Museum’s permanent collection. Saddle expert Griff Durham found the saddle at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held in Elko, Nevada, each year and made arrangements for the museum to purchase the saddle.

1954 Trophy Saddle — Dick May Saddlery

The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara focuses on the collection and celebration of the region's western antiques.
Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

The Dick May Saddle Shop made Fiesta trophy saddles from 1954 through 1956. This one was won by JJ Hollister of the Hollister Ranch on the coast north of Santa Barbara, and he donated it to the museum.

1956 Trophy Saddle — Dick May Saddlery

Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

Fred Soria of Santa Barbara tooled this saddle for Dick May; he was well known for his hand tooling and leather craftsmanship. This 1956 trophy saddle has almost no signs of wear and is practically unused. It was acquired from a relative of the winning owner.

1975 Trophy Saddle – Jedlicka’s Saddlery

Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

This nicely tooled Jedlicka’s trophy saddle was created for the 1975 event. Jedlicka’s made trophy saddles beginning in 1949 through 1953, then resumed making saddles in 1957. This saddle was won by Tyke Minetti and ridden by his father, Santa Maria cattleman Clarence Minetti.

As stated earlier, prominent Santa Barbara individuals who rode them from time to time in the parade owned many of the saddles in the museum’s collection.

1926 Visalia Silver Parade Saddle

The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara focuses on the collection and celebration of the region's western antiques.
Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

This stunning saddle was made for Caroline Spalding of the Tecolote Ranch. The silver corner pieces on the saddle feature a Sunburst pattern and were made for the saddle by the Schaezlein silversmiths of San Francisco.

In addition to the extensive collection of saddlery and wagons, the museum features artwork by local artists including works by Borein, Nicholas Firfires, Joe De Yong and Alexander Harmer, among others.

1927 Visalia “Visalia Supreme” Stock Saddle

The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara focuses on the collection and celebration of the region's western antiques.
Courtesy of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara

This saddle, known as The Visalia Supreme, was made for Silsby Spalding in 1927. Spalding’s family owned the Tecolote Ranch in Winchester Canyon up the coast a bit from Santa Barbara. This was his personal parade saddle that he rode for many years in the annual Fiesta Parade.

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