Glenn's Hometown News: A professional French saddlemaker shares - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Glenn's Hometown News: A professional French saddlemaker shares his story

Posted: Updated:

PENDLETON, OR - Tonight, we begin a new segment called Hometown News. Our own Glenn Cassie will be traveling to different communities each week to learn what makes your hometown unique. Perhaps it's a restaurant that's been in town for generations, or maybe a church that was built by the Spanish who established the first settlements there. 

This week's travels took Glenn about an hour's drive south of our studio in the Tri-Cities, to the town of Pendleton, Oregon, which is situated by the Umatilla River and is the cultural center of eastern Oregon with a population of just over 15,000. It's old town section is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but what it's best known for is the Pendleton Roundup: a world-famous rodeo. And with rodeos, come horses and saddles.

This led Glenn to Hamley & Company, a business that has stood in its current location for more than 100 years. But it was who he found in the back of the store that intrigued him the most: a French immigrant saddlemaker by the name of Pedro Pedrini, who fell in love with horses at a young age.

"A friend of my dad started a little dude outfit," Pedrini began his story. "Trail riding and all kinds of stuff up the mountain, up the hills, so that's when I discovered a horse."

He grew up in France at the base of the Swiss Alps, but it wasn't until his late teens when he first discovered the intricacies of leather carving...while strolling the streets of Geneva.

"And I walked by a gun shop, and in that window was a holster with a replica of a western gun in it," Pedrini said.

It was love at first sight. He walked into the store and begged the man who designed the leather holster to teach him the craft of leather carving, and his passion was born. However, his parents weren't too pleased with his choice, and he certainly didn't look the part either.

"Music, long hair, wondering about Indians, Sioux Indians mainly," said Pedrini. "And all that stuff, they thought I just stayed in the sun a little too long, you know?"

So he went to work at a foundry, making metal castings. But an accident that nearly left him dead changed the course of his life.

"Big foundry, and I flipped over and forklift fell on me, put me in the hospital for a long time," Pedrini recalled. "Legs broke, spine, ribs. I mean, almost dead."

Once fully healed, he knew he wasn't going back to the factory, so he began working at saddle shops in Europe. But eventually he felt he wasn't learning anything new about his craft, so, in 1978, he headed west.

"Well, when I ran out of people to help me, there was only one option," he admitted, "to come over here."

But the road was challenging.

"And we sent about ten letters to different places, saddle shops and schools and such," Pedrini said. "Of course, not speaking any English, I only had three response."

Pedrini was determined, however, to make a living here.

"It didn't stop me. I says, you know, I go and I go and knock on doors and we'll see what happens."

Ultimately, he landed a job in Nevada, and from there went to California...where he says he truly honed his skills. But to master anything takes a lot of effort.

"And write notes and start to practice. And get better, and that's just step by step, a little bit every day," said Pedrini. "A month here, a couple weeks here, you know, travel around, go back to France, make some money, come right back."

Make no mistake, this is a time-consuming process. The labor hours spent on each saddle can be anywhere between 40 and 1,000 hours on just one saddle. One of his more recent high-end pieces sold for $76,000. But what makes him most proud?

"The face of the customer when he gets it," Pedrini admitted. "And, seeing a saddle I made 25 years ago still in one piece on the horseback."

When Glenn asked him why he still builds them by hand when we live in this day and age of automation, his response is something we should all take note of.

"That's a new generation type of thing. They want it yesterday," said Pedrini. "In Europe and other parts of the world, I talk about Europe because I know pretty much about Europe...the success is the journey."

Definitely words we should all live by.

If you're interested in learning about saddlemaking, Pedrini will be teaching a four-week course at Hamley's, beginning in April. And if you have something going on in your hometown that's unique and interesting, send the information to Glenn at glenn.cassie@nbcrightnow.com or message him on Facebook.

HD DOPPLER 6i
/