Top saddlemaker rides high

Jean Pierre “Pedro” Pedrini, and his wife, Claire, sit in his Loma Rica workshop. A master saddlemaker, he was recently inducted into the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association.

Jean Pierre "Pedro" Pedrini of Loma Rica is surrounded by pieces of his life's work — handcrafted western saddles he is creating and others being repaired, tables full of tools, sewing machines — and space where he plans to soon teach others the craft of saddlemaking.

"It makes me happy that I'm making a piece of equipment that someone is going to use, not hang on the wall," he said about his western-style saddles. "Something that will be around for a long time."

Already well-known throughout the United States as a master saddlemaker — and a legend in Europe where the native of Bellegarde, France, started his career — he will display two pieces of his work for the first time at the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association's 10th Annual Exhibition at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla.

This month, he is also receiving the Will Rogers Award for Saddlemaker of the Year from the Academy of Western Artists.

"For some reason I fell in love with that stuff (western work) over there (in Europe)," Pedrini, 55, said.

The recently inducted member of the TCAA is exhibiting an elaborately decorated leather saddle and rope bag at the annual event — the saddle, with 352 hand-carved flowers and at least 350 hours of work invested, is worth between $25,000 and $30,000, he estimated.

Pedrini prefers crafting the workaday western saddle, making 25 to 30 saddles a year with his business, the Pedrini Saddle Co. The base price of a plain, sleek saddle with no carving is $3,500, he said.

"The collector-type saddle is extremely boring," Pedrini asserted. When a craftsman spends 300 or more hours on a saddle, "it drives you nuts."

He doesn't care for the English saddle, either.

Though very fine work, the English saddle is "fancy transportation," he said. "Western is very functional."

He said that, for a cowboy, "it's just you and your horse. For ourselves, it (the saddle) becomes a tool, not just a piece of equipment to look good."

The toughest saddle he's ever made was for a paraplegic child, Pedrini said. It had a high back, "like an armchair," he remembered. "It was not easy to do. Very scary."

The perfect saddle would be a perfect fit of the horse and rider, an impossible achievement, he said.

Pedrini began his career as a saddlemaker in 1975 with his first shop in France, moving to the United States three years later to learn more about the craft. Though he only spoke French, he traveled around the U.S., spending time with various western craftsmen, before arriving in the Yuba-Sutter area in 1987 where he first worked for Cotton Rosser.

He now plans to pass on his knowledge to others with a saddlemaking school on his property where he lives with his wife Claire, 37, and their son Tony, 8.

The art of western work is not dying out, Pedrini said, "but you still have to keep it up."

There is absolutely no secret to his work, he emphasized. "You're going to put out what you put in ... it's experience," he said. "I've got no secret. I show everybody what I do — no problem."

As a member of the TCAA, he is also available as a mentor for others. He applied for membership in the elite association, whose mission is to preserve and promote the skills and role of traditional crafts in the cowboy culture of the American West, "to preserve that lifestyle and improve this way of work and life (that) was very appealing to me."

Though well-known, Pedrini scoffed at being considered famous. Some guy in Wyoming buys your saddle and others hear about your work, he said.

"We don't make (us) famous," Claire, also a native of France, added. "The word gets around."

The family, with their chickens, cats, dogs, horses, sheep and goats on their property, doesn't have a fancy mansion or a new pickup. We "have a fancy horse, though," Pedrini said with a laugh.

"This is not a job where you retire. You do this because you like it until you can't do it no more."

Contact Appeal reporter Leticia Gutierrez at 749-4722 or lgutierrez@appeal-democrat.com

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