My new saddle.
This is the first time I've ever had a NEW saddle. I bought one a few years ago that was like-new and that was a thrill, but it had been somebody else's saddle first. This sucker is NEW.
When I brought saddles home this summer for trial that had never been sat in, I wrapped the stirrups with vet rap to keep them from getting scuffed and put my own straps on them so they wouldn't get marked, and barely breathed on the thing so it wouldn't be damaged. I always keep my saddles covered but I was afraid my cats would jump on them and scratch them so I double covered them… basically having a couple thousand dollars worth of new saddles in my barn was nerve wracking.
Most of the stuff in my life is second hand, or just plain ancient, and for the most part, I'm okay with that. I've owned four vehicles in my life and none of them came to me less than ten years old. I don't care. I've never had a car loan in my name. My saddles have been of mysterious background and well worn in, and that's good too. My clothes? Well, we have a joke in our family that our clothes come from three sources: the thrift store, the feed mill, and the merch table at rock concerts. In my case, there's another, which is hand-me-downs from my friend's teenagers. My iGadget was new. That was a big deal. For once, I got something that wasn't damaged or full of the quirks of wear and tear. I only got the new one because the one I had, which used to be Jethro's, just Up And Died one day. Luckily there was some kind of warranty or something or I'd have been Gadgetless. The young fella in the Apple store blue shirt grinned and said, "Guess what? Mom's getting a new phone," and I was thrilled. It was MINE and everything worked!!!
I like old stuff. I like old furniture. I love old tack.
I can honestly say that I never thought much about owning a NEW saddle. It wouldn't have been necessary. Well, this summer, it became desperately necessary.
With Copper recovering from an injured leg, Phoenix was doing all the lessons -- and he was doing it with a saddle that I suspected didn't fit quite right. He got more and more miserable and reluctant and stiff and sore and sad. Long story short, after a couple saddle fittings and a heck of an education for me, none of my saddles fit his unique (and incredibly handsome) shape.
Alright, I figured. Okay. So my income is way down, both horses off, plus a vet bill, and a load of hay coming, and I have to buy another saddle. Alright. I'll sell the two that don't fit either horse. Hopefully I can get enough to buy another one. Geez, I might have to spend… gasp… $500 on this. Maybe even $600.
Well, the prices just kept going up. $750. $695. $900. Panic sets in. None of them are right. One feels pretty okay to sit in, but Phoenix pins his ears and stumbles along like he wants to get this over with. And they all slide back, which is a problem I've always had with this horse.
I like it, it's pretty, maybe prettier than I'd have chosen (because apparently I don't think I deserve anything that new and pretty and fancy, ahem, deserve!!!) but there's no denying that after 20 minutes of riding, this saddle looks like I strapped it onto his rump. This isn't the right saddle.
I tell the nice man at the tack shop down the road that I'm accepting the fact that I will have to go into debt for this. He's got one more in the shop that he didn't send home with me to try, because he knew it was out of my price range.
But what's another few hundred bucks after that? I stood there looking at this gorgeous Circle Y barrel saddle, feeling like I got kicked in the gut and the butt at the same time. I also kind of felt like I was about to jump off a cliff.
It is the eighth saddle I've taken home from the tack shop. I still don't think it's perfect, but if it slides back, it's only a finger width. My horse will move. He's not recovered yet either, but I think now I'm working on his soured mind. That could take longer than healing his sore back. And it's silly that this horse, this solid, thick necked, mellow, laid back gentleman of a horse, is wearing a barrel saddle. He's no speed demon. But the thing is, he's got a very short back, and this was the shortest skirt I could find, where any other saddle wide enough for his shoulders was also long enough for a normal wide horse with a proportionately long back to match. This one sits there politely and doesn't dig into him anywhere. At first I didn't really like sitting in it, until I realized that NEW saddles are kind of a pain, literally. The leather is really stiff and the fenders aren't shaped yet. The fenders hang straight down and the stirrups are totally in the wrong position for your feet. So my knees and ankles were aching after 15 minutes of riding. I'd heard of this but never experienced it. The shop let me try it out for a couple weeks (because they're very kind, and also because I've been buying stuff there for 25 years. Also, they know where I live!!)
And it took me that long to decide. Yes, despite the budget problems, and my deeply bred Mennonite tendency to deny myself of anything too flashy, (not to mention be extremely tight with my money!) this is the best one I found.
Seriously, the Mennonite jokes. One day at the tack shop, a student of mine showed up while I was talking to the owner. All of us happen to have Mennonite surnames. I told my student I was gonna stop being so Mennonite about it and buy that fancy saddle. I promised I wasn't gonna paint all the chrome flat black. Snort haha!
So I put down my deposit last week.
Now I've been setting it on the saddle rack with the fenders twisted around and a broomstick through the stirrups to get the fenders to stay turned the right way. I've been using the latigo keeper and the cinch keeper, which I wasn't before it was mine. Whoa. It's mine.
I go out to the barn and pull the cover off this saddle and just stare at the thing.
I never. I just never.
It's carved everywhere except for the rough out seat and fenders, and the rawhide covered stirrups. Everything is carved and tooled and fancied. It's carved behind the cantle, even. It's got silver on it. I've never, in three decades, had a saddle with silver on it. I don't NEED silver or tooling. It doesn't make the saddle fit better.
But it's pretty.
And I'm a girl and I like pretty things.
Is that enough to justify going into debt for it?
Well the truth is, if this thing was plain dark brown with nothing pretty on it but it fit my precious prince of a horse, I'd buy it. Even at this price. He needs to be comfortable and happy. That is the bottom line. I'm doing this for him.
And if I need further justification to make myself feel better, there are much more expensive saddles out there. And fancier.
But this is the one available to me. This is the one.
Twenty-one year old me would have kicked a puppy and stolen a Bible to get my hands on a saddle like this. Back then, I had visions of some serious barrel racing with my hot little red horse. Of course, I was impoverished back then (hmm, nothing's changed except we're all older…) Then I had some babies and just kept on barrel racing in the same saddle I did my western pleasure classes in. (And we weren't awesome at any of it, but we did okay and had a good time.) Then I quit showing.
Well folks, I got my barrel saddle.
I have wished this happened under happier circumstances rather than feeling like I didn't really have much of a choice in the matter and had to do it NOW. (I felt like this two years ago when Jethro bought his gorgeous new VW.)
But whatever. This is the way it is. I'm allowed to saddle up my horse and take a second to look him over, get used to how he looks with it on him, and yes, notice the way the floodlights on the barn wall make the silver sparkle. Do I deserve this? Does Phoenix? Does it matter?
A special thank you to Sprucewood Tack Shop for all their hours of help with this. If you're in Southwestern Ontario, go take a drive and do some shopping!
And also if you end up at the New Hamburg Fall Fair this Saturday afternoon, go watch the western horse show. Just do it. I'll be there with a clipboard.