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3D printing preserves WWI saddles for Lord Strathcona’s Horse

WATCH ABOVE: The Lord Strathcona's Horse regiment has found a modern solution to a century-old problem. Sarah Kraus explains.

The Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment has discovered a new-age solution to a century-old problem.

The troop rides antique saddles in ceremonies and musical rides. Capt. Erik Giajnorio said they’re more comfortable than newer training saddles.

“When we go on the road, that’s when we use our 1890 and 1902 saddles. They’re our show saddles.”

But, like any other antique, wear and tear has taken a toll. The leather and steel are more easily replaced, but the wood panels are a different story.

“The panels themselves are what hold the arches’ shape together and then that’s what actually sits on the horse.”

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Their shape is so unique, the military was ordering replacements from New Zealand. But the fit was off and training time was being wasted boiling the wood to reshape it. So recently they opted for a more high-tech solution: 3D printing.

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“We came to him with just this single piece in hand, explained the problem and him and his team were actually able to replicate it via scanning and printing to what you see today,” explained Giajnorio, holding up a piece of white plastic.

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The man he approached for a solution is Steve Godreau, owner of RepRap Warehouse.

“Well, I’m ex military, so I was interested in the project right away,” he said.

Initially, Godreau just made a prototype, using around $40 worth of material.

“It takes us 12 hours to print it, but we can do the exact same thing over and over and over again,” he explained.

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“Or we can customize them a little bit once they’re in the computer. It’s a lot easier than doing it in wood.”

Godreau believes the plastic is more durable than wood, but he said even if it breaks, it’s cheap and quickly replaceable.

Over the summer, the soldiers tested a saddle fitted with the plastic prototype.

“They haven’t noticed a difference at all. The only thing that is different is it’s lighter, which just makes it easier for the horse.”

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That’s exactly what Godreau wanted to hear.

“We were just super happy to be able to help them out.”

He’s been asked to use his printers for a whole variety of things — from board games, to car restorations — but admits this was a strange request he didn’t see coming.

“There’s applications in every single walk of life that people haven’t really thought of yet.”

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Now, the military has him working on version 2.0 with a few tweaks.

“We’re going to look at recreating these, touching up the edges. Being a prototype, it’s a little rough, and we’re just going to print them in a darker colour, whether it’s a brown or a black,” Giajnorio said.

Though new saddles could be purchased, the old ones have both historic and sentimental value.

“Being able to preserve those saddles that were used in the First World War is an excellent way to preserve and maintain the sacrifice of the Strathconas that have gone before us.”