Italian handcrafts: Grosseto Saddles
- WTI Magazine #139 May 22, 2021
The first “horned saddles” or “buttera saddles” date back to the second half of the 16th century, during the period of Spanish influence, with the establishment of the State of the Garrisons in Tuscany, in 1557, at the behest of Federico II, King of Spain.
The saddle had a very robust structure. It was constructed around a wooden frame made from fig (a very pliable wood) and reinforced with iron braces; the saddle was attached to the horse with a double anchoring system, with buckled supports and a leash.These saddles were used by “butteri” (cowherds), hence the name, in their arduous work with the cattle herds of the Grosseto Maremma.
The name buttero derives from the Latin “boum-ductor”, ox driver, or from the Greek “bùteros”, ox goader, and the buttero was in fact a herdsman. Butteros were very important figures in the local area, as they were able to manage herds of untamed livestock in the vast, inaccessible areas of the Grosseto Maremma, mounted on Maremmano horses. This saddle was used for “short work” when, after a buttero on foot had caught a cow using a “lasso”, it would be passed to a buttero on horseback, who would fix the rope to his saddle horn.
Production of this type of saddle still continues in the province of Grosseto, not only because the ancient profession of the Buttero still exists, but also because the saddle is used in equestrian tourism, which is highly developed in the area.
The “Maremma saddle” or “scafarda”, on the other hand, was the regulation saddle for cavalry troops and is also known as the “Del Frate Italian military saddle”. The design of the saddle is attributed to Settimio del Frate, a colonel in the Italian cavalry forces in the early 1900s. It was a saddle designed for military activities and built to carry the cavalryman’s entire kit, including military and field equipment. This type of saddle underwent important modifications over time, and in 1916, the saddlebow, which had consisted of 4 components, was replaced with a single one with 9 interlocking parts.
The saddlebows came in various sizes and two different versions: “narrow” and “broad”, depending on the size of the arches and the inclination of the cantle on the gullet. The other significant change was in the shape of the cushions, which were lengthened at the front to provide a better hold on the horse’s shoulders. The saddle was destined to be phased out at the end of the second world war, but instead, it began a second life when it was adopted by the Royal Deposit of Army Studs, now the Military Veterinary Centre, based in the outskirts of the city of Grosseto.
During this period, the saddle began to be used by the butteri for their work with the herds in the Maremma.In the 1950s, a buttero called “Aglietto” proposed a modification, replacing the buckled girth with a looped cinch, considered more suitable for their work.
Local saddlers became familiar with it and it is still made for working use and equestrian tourism, as is also the case with the buttera saddle.
The Buttera Saddle
The horned saddle, or buttera saddle, is unique, particularly due to its predominantly “orange” colour. It is also distinguished by its robust tack, made with a double layer of thick leather. The distinctive features of this type of saddle include some subtleties: the “bardellino”, a kind of pad placed under the crupper to avoid bruising caused by the rubbing of the tack on the horse’s rump; “front buckle flaps”, which are protective leather guards beneath the breastplate buckles; and the three padded “cushions” in the girth strap.
Another important part of the saddle is the “berta”, a looped leather strip sewn to the horn and held against the saddle by the rider’s body. The stirrups are small and made of wrought or cast iron.
The Scafarda Saddle
The scafarda is unique due to its saddlebow, which, although designed in the early 1900s, has remained structurally unchanged as the masterpiece of Colonel Del Frate’s design. The saddlebow, made with hardwood, is designed to support the two cushions on the undersides, which distribute the rider’s weight evenly on the horse’s back, while its upper sections allows for the circulation of air.
The saddle is made of heavy cowhide, with cushions padded and covered in leather, and can be completely dismantled for ease of maintenance. It is widely used today in equestrian tourism and trekking events.
By Camera di Commercio di Grosseto with Unioncamere