BY DORIS DALEY
“Make mine mohair.”
There’s no doubt in Pop Wagner’s mind that’s what horses everywhere would say if you asked them what kind of cinches they prefer.
Horseman, traditional master weaver, and renowned folk musician, Wagner offers a five-hour seminar in mohair cinch weaving from which participants go home with a new, 100 percent mohair cinch for their horse and the skills and knowledge to make more. Pop himself learned from renowned Arkansas cinch maker Darin Alexander and has been teaching others for several years on custom-designed looms. In October, when his life as a musician brings him on a rare performance tour to Alberta, he’ll be offering his seminar to 8-10 students in the Turner Valley area.
Why would anyone – pleasure rider to equine clinician – spend $150 to $500 on a mohair cinch when a $50 job from the local tack store keeps a saddle in place? Two simple reasons according to Pop: function and artistry. “Mohair is one of the strongest natural fibers on earth,” he explains from his Minnesota home . “Unlike cotton, it won’t stretch over time. Wool is not as strong, and synthetic fibers retain dirt and grit to the point where it’s like putting sand paper on a horse’s belly. In contrast, with use, the back of a mohair cinch felts to a soft, smooth finish. It wicks sweat and moisture away from the horse and needs very little cleaning.” In fact, when asked how he cleans and maintains his mohair cinches, one Wyoming cowboy answered, “I just ride through a river now and then.”
Whether you make your own cinch or not, beware of commercial varieties that are not always what the advertiser wants you to believe. Many “mohair” cinches are actually
a blend of mohair, cotton, wool and synthetic fibers. And don’t get Pop started on the “Contains 100% Mohair” labels. If the whole story were told, the label might say “contains some 100% mohair. …Oh and by the way, also contains some 100% cotton, some 100% wool and a nice dose of 100% acrylic yarn.”
And then there’s the aesthetics. A cinch is barely seen when in use. But it is an essential part of cowboy gear that can be enjoyed and appreciated for its beautiful design and construction as well as its function. Pop teaches many designs including some born of the Navajo cinch making tradition. Like bridles, halters, hatbands, lead ropes and saddles, the sky’s the limit when it comes to intricate designs for cinches. Pop himself incorporates his designs in other useful items: belts, guitar straps, hat bands, watch fobs and key chains. Participants in his five-hour seminar will complete a cinch in the traditional diamond-and-bar pattern.
“In the late 1800s,” says Pop, “a saddle from the Sears catalog sold for $40 and a mohair cinch for $4. A good saddle now costs $3,000 to $5,000 or even more. If inflation acts equally, then a $300 hand crafted mohair cinch in 2013 is right in line.”
Folk music fans, cowboy poetry fans and listeners to NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion will know Pop for his long, rich musical career that has taken him to 44 states and 11 countries. An art major in college, a horse owner and rider, and a gifted teacher of traditional cowboy arts, Pop’s cinch-making class is a rare opportunity to learn from a master. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a chorus of “Good Bye Ol’ Paint” thrown in for free.
Pop Wagner\’s five-hour seminar on mohair cinch making takes place Oct. 29 at Turner Valley, Alberta. Participants may register directly on Pop’s website: www.popwagner.com or for more info call 612-817-5898 or email [email protected]
by Pop Wagner
I tend to favor mohair
For saddle girths and cinches.
It’s strong, sheds dirt, wicks moisture,
It never chaffes or pinches.
Over time the back felts in
‘Til smooth as a baby’s bottom.
It’s luxury for horses,
Mules too, if you’ve got’em.
You can have your neoprene
And cotton, that’ll stretch of course.
Acrylics harbor dirt and grit
So I’ll put mohair on my horse.