The Way Things Used To Be, Part 2: Saddles

Mar 29, 2019 - 7:17 AM

As her 60th birthday approaches, the ever hilarious Jody Lynne Werner is reflecting on the evolution of all things horses. First up was boots, and now the about-to-be sexagenarian rider tackles saddles.

THEN

Reluctantly decide it is time for a new saddle when the flap on your current one falls off as you attempt to mount. 

Reconsider: Saddle is only 10 years old. Find duct tape; reattach flap. 

Trainer lectures you sternly that duct tape is not for repairing saddles. It is for boots and chaps. 

Resign yourself to purchasing a new saddle. Steel yourself and shake off traumatic flashbacks of breaking in the last one: You can do this.

Go through cabinets, shelves and tack room at the barn in an attempt to find last-known edition of Miller’s catalog. Search all bathrooms at home. Make list of everybody you can think of you may have loaned it to. Call each one and make them search while you are on the phone. Finally find it propping up the leg of the wonky nightstand in your bedroom.

Jody Lynne Werner Illustration

Flip to saddle section and muse over three selections: flat, flatter, or flattest? Split the difference and go with flatter. Add new stirrup leathers and girth to the order. Complete order form; write check for $175, and send the order out with the mail.

Four weeks later…

Awaken to find the box you’ve been waiting for on your doorstep. With the excitement of a kid at Christmas, rip open the box and behold the beautiful Oompah-Loompah orange saddle nestled within wadded up newspaper packing.  

Regale yourself with poignant memories of all the horses you’ve ridden and shows you’ve gone to with your old saddle. Raise a glass and shed a tear for your old, battered friend. 

Throw old saddle in trash can.

Remove saddle and stirrup leathers from box. Wedge saddle flaps apart. Pin sweat flap down with knee, pin top flap up with elbow. Attempt to put stirrups with new leathers on new saddle. Saddle leather is too stiff to get stirrup leather through stirrup bar. 

Wedge flaps further apart with knee and elbow.

Make additional attempts to get stirrup leathers under stirrup bars. 

Leathers will not budge.

Pound stirrup irons against saddle for tenderizing effect. Leathers still will not slide under bar.

Jump up and down on saddle flap.

Leathers still will not go under stirrup bar.

Curse, fling stirrup leathers/irons across barn aisle.

Hear crash and howl.

Clean up broken wall clock. Try to coax barn cat down from the rafters. Cat will only hiss at you. 

Attempt to work saddle flaps back and forth to soften; get tired of them popping back and slapping you in the face.

Leathers still will not go under stirrup bar.

Beat saddle with a mallet.

Leathers still will not go under stirrup bar.

Tie saddle to trailer hitch and drag it behind your truck.

Leathers still will not go under stirrup bar.

Toss saddle into the gelding pasture and let them play with it like a big orange Jolly Ball.

Leathers still will not go under stirrup bar.

Cry. Have a beer. Feel empowered.

With renewed confidence, give it one more try.

One stirrup leather goes partway under stirrup bar and gets stuck sideways.

Attempt to pull stirrup leather off of saddle.

Leather will not budge.

Put foot on saddle and pull again.

Leather will not budge.

Go to tool shed. Clamp stirrup leather into vice and try to pull saddle away from leathers.

Leathers hold fast.

Take saddle back to barn. Soak stirrup leather and stirrup bar with Hydrophane oil. 

Try to pull leather out again. 

Hands slip on oily leathers and stirrup iron bonks you in the head. 

Take aspirin; affix ice pack to the side of your head with bandage wrap.

Wonder what return policy on slightly battered but un-ridden-in saddle is. 

Make one final attempt to get leathers onto saddle.

Oil has done its job and leathers slide through stirrup bars. 

Angels sing.

Pick your least-reactive Thoroughbred gelding for maiden voyage of new saddle. Rest saddle on horse’s back. Saddle flaps stick straight out and saddle resembles a manta ray with rigor mortis. Stirrups dangle off sides and threaten to bonk horse’s barrel. 

Take new girth out of box where it pops open to its full length like a spring-loaded snake. Lean it against the wall, out of curiosity. It stands up by itself. Wield it like a leather baseball bat and take a few practice swings. Try to bend it into a “U” shape. It snaps back open and buckles whap you in the shin.

Howl and curse. Cat, still in rafters, laughs at you.

Attach girth to billets on the right side of saddle while deftly avoiding swinging stirrup irons. New girth resists all efforts to bend it around horse’s belly. Horse becomes increasingly suspicious of the stiff waggling thing hanging from one side of its saddle. 

Finally get girth bent around dancing horse’s belly. Hands slip when trying to buckle girth onto stiff billets. Girth slingshots away from you like a leather trebuchet. Buckles whap horse in ankles.

Your brain registers fleeting image of flailing hooves and flying tack while you duck and cover.

Pick saddle up off ground; follow skid marks to hay barn and retrieve horse. 

Call friend and between the two of you, get new saddle girthed onto now mistrustful Thoroughbred gelding. Maneuver horse to mounting block while dodging bouncing saddle flaps and swinging stirrup irons. 

Mount carefully, with assistance, while horse gives you the stink eye. Saddle feels like greased glass. Recalcitrant saddle flaps push your leg out to a 45-degree angle and refuse to make contact with horse. This is not a bad thing since horse is no longer in the mood for you to put your leg on. 

Realize your stirrups are too short but fear that if you take your leg away from the flap, it will spring up and launch you like a James Bond ejection seat. 

Suffer butt-battering, thigh-tiring, slippy-slidey ride with minimal embarrassment. Somehow manage to have a decent school over fences while demonstrating the “no point” position.

Take saddle with you into shower hoping the hot water and steam will help soften it. 

Apply entire quart of Hydrophane.

Repeat process daily for six months until leather yields and saddle becomes an acceptable shade of brown.

Be thankful you won’t have to do this again for another 10 years.

NOW

Your perfectly good, practically new, very expensive saddle does not fit your new horse. Neither does anything else since he is the size of a stegosaurus. 

Research saddles online and call reps for every company in the state. Line them up at your barn like planes waiting to land at O’Hare and test ride every available model. Finally decide the one you love is the first one you tried, four hours ago.

Spend additional hour deciding on the wide tree, narrow twist, low pommel, sloped seat, round cantle, forward flap, removable knee roll, low-profile billets, buffalo hide, tooled inlay, patent-piped, monogrammed, security-device enabled, weather-resistant, custom-flocked saddle in size 17.

Suppress disappointment that there are only two color choices. Settle for dark havana.

Add custom matching stirrup leathers and extra long girth.

Write a check for the equivalent of a year’s college tuition. Gleeful rep throws in a free saddle pad and leather conditioner and makes you an appointment with the saddle fitter.

Saddle fitters arrive at the appointed date and time with more people and equipment than the Star Trek “away team” descending on an unknown planet. Discussions ensue. Copious notes are entered on a laptop. Photos are taken from more angles than at a crime scene. While your horse stands forming a disinterested ribbon of drool, a laser-scanning device is passed over his back. A 3D image of the contours of his topline is recorded. 

You are told to expect your new saddle to arrive in seven months.

You ask if there’s any way you can get the saddle in time for the first show in five weeks.

A man in a blue shirt frowns and tells you he’s a saddle fitter, not a miracle worker. 

Ten months later…

Saddle arrives packed in a box strong enough for a Tasmanian devil and enough bubble wrap to survive Armageddon. 

Spend 45 minutes unpacking it carefully to reveal a beautiful, satiny, chocolate brown thing of immense beauty.

The beautiful supple stirrups leathers slide right on to beautiful, soft, supple saddle. As if by magic, the stirrups adjust themselves. You swear you can hear the saddle sigh as you place it on your horse’s back. 

Sitting in it feels like coming home. Last time you felt this comfortable was in the womb.

Spend the next hour walking around and showing new saddle to your friends. Take selfies and post to social media. Garner hundreds of hearts, smiley faces and thumbs up emoticons. Validate your belief that retirement funds are overrated and this is money well spent.

Clean saddle thoroughly with special leather cream, seal saddle in padded, monogrammed saddle carrier and place it carefully on apadded saddle rack in locked, climate-controlled tack room. 

Pay $300 to get old (translation: had it for 23 months) saddle cleaned and reconditioned. List it for sale online. Get half what you paid for it. 

Hope you get to keep new horse (and saddle) longer than the last one.


After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now she’s an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle’s first writing competition. Her work also appears in print editions of The Chronicle of the HorseRead all of Jody’s humor columns for coth.com here.

 

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