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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Secondhand Saddles

By Andrea Lehner, Aurora, CO

 

January 2013 issue

 

The journey through a lifelong love affair with horses begins with a used saddle

 

      This is my third saddle. It is used, although not very much by me yet. I bought it secondhand at the local tack store just a few days ago after spending several hours searching for just the right one. I tried out a different, forgettable, saddle only to return it the next day because it didn’t have right fit. Finally, I found this saddle—my perfect saddle.

      The personality, the feel, the look, the ride that is promised, these elements must all be married in a harmonious blend before one knows they have selected the correct saddle. A secondhand saddle cannot be purchased haphazardly. It must be scrutinized, analyzed, and considered lovingly.

      A secondhand saddle is more than leather and buckles; it contains the memories of the previous rider and countless horses that bore its weight upon their backs. It carries the spirit of its former horse and rider just as the winds carry the spirits of unknown men and untamed beasts across the desolate plains.  

      My first saddle was a well-worn, secondhand English saddle — a Christmas present accompanied by a package of riding lessons at a stable forty miles away.

      So overjoyed at just having a saddle, I was not even concerned with the fact that I did not actually have a horse to put it on. I was the only fifth-grader at school that had a real saddle in her room, a small piece of country life buried deep in the suburbs.

      My treasured saddle sat on a stand in my bedroom beneath a life-sized wallpaper mural of a white-faced chestnut looking over a stall door, which my mother had pasted onto my closet to satiate my constant pleading for a horse, flanked on both sides by shelves filled with Breyer models and Walter Farley novels.  

 

      Once a week I lugged my saddle out to the car and to the barn where I then hoisted it up onto the back of a tired, old dappled grey gelding named Chess.

      I soon learned the art of heaving the large, leather flaps over his back without getting hit by the swinging stirrup irons. I learned how to tighten the girth, then to tighten it again after ol’ Chess exhaled. I learned how to keep the hair lying smooth under the saddle so my mount would stay comfortable. I learned how to get on, off, and then back on again when getting off hadn‘t been done intentionally. I learned how to brush the sweat-soaked saddle stain out of his grey and white coat after the ride was over. I learned to look into his eye and feel his gentleness.

      When the lesson was over, exhausted, aching and exhilarated, I would haul my well-worn, secondhand saddle back into the car to go home; both it and I filled the old station wagon with smells of horse sweat, hair, and the finely groomed dirt of the riding arena.

      Later, I would pull out my tub of saddle soap and clean the chocolaty-brown leather as thoroughly as any kid could. Between lessons I rode within the confines of my bedroom and to the limits of my imagination, usually at a gallop along a beach, or through a flowery meadow, or sometimes on a racetrack, urging my champion through the pack of thundering hooves and onward to the winner’s circle.

      The first saddle eventually was replaced by the second, a brand new Western saddle with a basket-weave pattern and polished silver conchos. I bought it when I turned thirteen.

      My currency for such an extravagant purchase was a down payment of my birthday money, a heartfelt plea, and a promise to repay the rest through chores and babysitting. Mom agreed to lend me the balance, mostly because she felt I would be safer riding my newly acquired gelding in a sturdier saddle—one with a horn.

      We had learned quickly that this feisty youngster liked to buck, so having more leather around me would improve my chances of staying on him and out of the emergency room. The faux barn door in my bedroom had become a real one in the backyard, and my beautiful new saddle hung on its own rack in the tack room surrounded by the appropriate mix of bridles, bits, halters, bins of brushes, cans of grain, and accoutrements of every sort.  

 

      My new saddle was a rich mahogany color and looked stunning on the back of my fiery sorrel gelding. The leather was stiff and clean. Ornate details masked its lack of character, an unavoidable flaw common in new saddles.

      Eventually, however, after hours of massaging saddle soap into the unyielding leather, it began to soften, allowing its real beauty to emerge. The heavily tooled skirting curved to match the gentle line of my gelding’s back, the teardrop-shaped fenders plied to the natural angle of my legs, and the stirrups hung out-turned awaiting the toes of my boots. A thickly padded Navajo blanket became molded as perfectly to the bottom of the saddle as I did to the top.

      Year after year, season after season, the three of us grew together: horse, saddle, and rider. Miles of high desert were covered, trails cut over hills, through ravines, snaking through vast regions of knee-high sagebrush.

      Every teenaged hope, fear, frustration, and dilemma was easily resolved from the solitude of that supple leather seat.

      Years passed and college beckoned, until the day came when I had to part ways with my beloved gelding. I loaded him into the trailer that then took my old friend to his new home, where another young girl awaited the arrival of her new best friend.

      I gathered up my saddle and that old Southwestern blanket that was now matted thick with fire-red hair, and loaded them into my beat-up hatchback. I left the barn that day, not forever, but until I could one day return again to my equestrian lifestyle.

      For months afterward, my saddle sat in repose in the living room of my one-bedroom apartment, the last remnant of a dream on hold. Occasionally, I would find myself staring at the worn leather stacked upright just past the end of the sofa, and my mind would reminisce the kinship I had shared with my trusted steed.

      Twice I drove out to rural neighborhood I thought he had been moved to, wistfully hoping to see him frolicking about a pasture just one more time. Twice I returned home, pulled out a tub of saddle soap and rigorously polished the silent saddle until my tears dried and my heart numbed.

 

      The direction we travel in life is not always the path we think we will follow. Often, it is easier to forget a dream than to remember it. My horseless saddle accompanied me through many temporary homes, college roommates, and finally into marriage. The desire to own a horse again was one day surpassed by the anticipation of an unborn child.

      The excitement of beginning a family also brought the bittersweet parting with my saddle. A dozen excuses and promises of “someday I can buy another one,” justified the decision to sell it for money to buy a crib.  

 

      During the decade that followed, I found a chance to ride now and again. A borrowed horse and a borrowed saddle offered from one friend or another that remembered my lost love.

      Although I always enjoyed those fleeting moments, a borrowed saddle never fits quite the same. It is still full of the lifeblood and passion of its current owner. The leathers are trained to curve and bend to different legs, different dreams, and different desires. It serves its duty well under any rider, but like the untamed spirits of the whispering winds, it reminds the borrower of their transient position in the unity forged between horse and rider.

      The years have since taken me to a new country home with an old country dream. The grasses of the plains have just turned green, and the endless blue sky is crisp with the last memories of winter. A beautiful bay mare nickers at me in excited recognition as she watches me lug a heavy leather saddle toward the pasture, stirrups clunking awkwardly against my denim-clad legs with each step.

      My ten-year-old son jogs alongside me, struggling to match my stride while laden with a bucket of brushes, halter, and bridle. Reins, longer than he is, bob, dip, and drag in the dirt behind him. His eyes are wide and shining with the anticipation of his first riding lesson, the same light that sparkled in my eyes all those years ago.

      This is my third saddle. I bought it secondhand at the local tack store when the wild winds breathed life into a dimming flame. I have rubbed it gently with saddle soap, coaxing its past to the surface, enticing its supple leather to welcome a new rider, a new partner, and a new spirit.  

 

 

   

Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

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