The golden pads: an interview with Lori Heckaman

Photo courtesy of Lory Heckaman and Cathrin Gutmann. The beautiful photos of Lori´s studio were made by Megan Parks

If you want to be a winner you have to look like a winner. Showing horses is about details. Everything must be planned and prepared. You train your horse and yourself everyday, you choose your show clothes, your hair style and your make up. And the pad? Unfortunately too often exhibitors don’t focus on the pad. This is a big mistake! The pad is as important as all the other elements of the outfit. You wouldn’t show with a saddle full of dust or with show clothes that don’t fit… so why should you use a pad which doesn’t match your outfit? A good quality pad is a must have for creating a great overall impression. Be sure that it is oversize, that it is made with good wool and, most of all, that it matches your outfit and your horse color.

I asked the Queen of saddle pads, Lori Heckaman, some questions about the perfect pad. Lori, owner of the prestigious company Golden West Saddle Blankets, kindly accept to answer all my questions.

– Your saddle pads are famous in all the world for quality and craftsmanship. Which is the “building process” of your pads?

Every blanket we make at Golden West Saddle Blankets is completely hand made and one of a kind.  Before starting the designing process, I attempt to gather as much information as possible about the horse, rider, classes the blanket will be used in (Horsemanship, etc), hat and chap colors and outfit or shirt colors.  By working directly with many of the generous clothing designers, they are typically most accommodating in providing fabric swatches, sketches of the outfits and photographs of their works in progress.  It is most helpful to have more than just an idea of what I am matching, often before the clients have even seen it!  I then draw a sketch of my vision for the blanket as well as a very detailed written description.  After deciding upon the colors to be used, the design is assigned to the weaver most suitable to weave the blanket. I have a number of wonderful weavers, some of which have been with me 10 – 15 years.  Many have formal education with a degree in Textiles.

– Which are the characteristics of a good quality pad?

To produce the highest quality blanket, you must first start with the highest quality wool.  I have my wool custom made to my specifications, ordering thousands of pounds in an attempt to keep my costs in check.  Then it is custom dyed, also to my specifications.  With over 300 colors in stock, we try to keep up with the color trends.  We also do some custom color matching and dyeing at my studio in Texas.  Each blanket goes through a rigorous finishing process, wear leathers applied and preparation for shipping, pick up at the studio or a horse show.

– How did you start your business?

I represented Golden West for over 10 years before purchasing the business and moving it to Texas from California in 1998.  I immediately started making changes to the previous ways of doing business, including making each blanket a one of a kind.  Many new colors have been added, as well as new patterns and more developed weaving techniques.

– Which are the current trends about saddle pads?

The color trends in blankets tend to follow runway fashion colors and interior designers.  We have been using a great deal of silver or shades of gray for a few years now with no signs of slowing down, often used with bright colors.  We have also been using many shades of golds for a number of years.  Bright blankets have definitely taken over what used to be a preference for subtle, more conservative color schemes.

– How important is the saddle pad in the overall presentation of a rider in the arena?

I feel that having a perfectly matched blanket adds to the over-all feeling of being “ready”, you feel good and you know that you look good!  I have had a number of judges over the years comment on how many of my blankets they see in the arena, even when judging in other countries.  Often they comment on the fact that the rider has taken that extra step to complete their entire picture, especially in Horsemanship.

– Would you like to add something to the interview?

At Golden West, we strive to set the industry standard of the highest quality and individual designs.  We pride ourselves on customer service and built to last quality.  I have built this business based on the needs of my customers and what it takes to make them feel and look unique.  Many of our blankets have been in use for over 30 years.

I would like to thank Lori for her kindness and her availability to answer my questions, it was a pleasure to interview her!

Lori’s words explain clearly the importance of a good pad: the show blanket is not a secondary element.

Which is you opinion about that? Do you focus on the show blanket?