Along for the ride:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Poignantly Positive

I rode in my own saddle today, for the first time in three decades. Originally, when we moved to America, it was intended to be a two year escapade, so our personal belongings were in storage, in France. After several postponements to our return, we decided that we would ship our stuff to California.

Naturally, our container was loaded onto a truck that overturned between Los Angeles and San Francisco and everything was spilled across the freeway, in a rainstorm. Broken shards of a baby mobile that my parents had chosen for our daughter; Miscellaneous clothes and furniture, much the worse for wear. All were finally delivered and trashed, rather than included in our new lives. One of the few survivors was my saddle, given to me by my last employer, before I teamed up with The Artistic One on our life together in France, prior to the decision to export ourselves.
When I left my position as groom to the show-jumpers of the owner of an equestrian center near Nice, my boss cut me a deal on a retired Event Horse named Hardi Petit. 17 hh, big liver-chestnut, with white blaze and socks. We built a stall in back of our farmhouse home, and I rode Hardi Petit through the vineyards and past tourist campgrounds every day; sometimes stopping to collect Thyme on the hillside, and whistling loudly during hunting season so as not to be mistaken for a target, by gun-weilding locals who embibe a certain quantity of locally made alcohol, from their hip flasks, to help pass the time spent waiting for a wild boar to wander across their sites. Hardi was also a convenient height for the collection of apricots from the branches of the trees planted throughout the vineyards.
Hardi Petit turned out to be my last "own" horse. After a couple of years, we undertook a joint business venture, which led to a move and no free time. Hardi was sold to a great home but I still cried for weeks. It was a pragmatic decision, not one from the heart.
The saddle, which was already old when it came to me, has side flaps that are worn through at the bottom, from repeated friction of thousands of stirrup-leathers, and some stitching that needs repair. There's a drip of dark green paint on the cantle, the color of the old tack room trim and a brass number on the back, so that it could be matched up with the right horse. There's some scuffing that I don't remember, that is probably road rash from its tumble on Intersate 5.
Quite some while ago, I brought my saddle into view. It's been sitting on a railing that divides entry from living-room. My talisman; my promise to myself that I'll never again give up on such an important part of who I am; to serve notice to those around me also, lest they forget.
I had to modernize to new stirrups that have a safety release on the side, protocol at most riding establishments and I've been oiling and nurturing leather, grown stiff with neglect, all the while questioning myself, whether the saddle would be a good fit for a horse I might ride and whether it would still be a good fit for me.

When the stables, at which I've been riding, moved to a new location this year, there was a transition of ownership of horses and tack. There was some temporary downsizing, which worked to my advantage. I bought a full size Stubben saddle, in fine condition, for $250. It now sits on another railing, on the way to our master bedroom. Writing this has reminded me that there was always a saddle in my bedroom, as a teenager. That last one must have moved on with Trescoe, the horse of that era. 
I love leather and saddles and horse gear. There was a tack shop in a little alley way, in the town where I attended school in England. After class, I'd often visit with the saddler, before catching the bus home. Enjoying the quality of hand stiching and the perfume of neatsfoot oil, I'd put purchases on lay-away and bring in my earnings from my weekend or summer jobs, until whatever I'd been coveting was mine. The saddler told me that I could take my purchases and pay him later but I preferred my way and it gave me an excuse to stop in often.
My old French saddle made it out to my car recently, with its shockingly shiny stirrup irons and the leather girth that came with the Stubben saddle. I carry a spare leash in my car, in case I encounter a dog, why not a saddle in case of a horse?
This morning, I knew I was to ride Patrick. He's quite a fancy, spirited chestnut sent over to be tried out as the new addition to the school-horse herd. I rode him on Friday already and he had a lot of good aspects for the advanced riders. He's "forward", not a slug by any means, with a huge canter stride. Quite a sophisticated ride. The negatives, and the reason he's been sent home this afternoon are that he dies over poles and showed a tendancy to rear. I felt that the rearing was something we could fix. He chose a rear as an evasion today when I wanted a left canter lead and asked him three times in a row to pick it up correctly, after being perfect on the other rein. My secret weapon in a situation like that, is my voice. Rather than get into a fight, which he stood a good chance of winning, I touched him between his ears and roared like a maniac. "OMG, Dragon on board!" flashed through his head and we were suddenly moving forward rather than up, with all four feet on the ground.
Patrick's reaction to poles was inexplicable. He didn't evade or try to avoid them, he stepped on and stumbled through the poles on the ground and ploughed through the small cross pole jump, which he could easily have taken in his stride. It wasn't like a young horse, who doesn't know better. It had the feel of a learned behavior or panic attack. It could be really dangerous to horse and rider. That being said, I had a great, interesting and exhilarating ride, except for the poles. 
My old saddle has been put back to work, it was as if I'd not missed all those years. I felt right at home. I did feel a bit nostalgic when I remembered that my last ride on that saddle had been the last time I rode Hardi Petit. That choked me up for a moment.
There's a saddler, I have discovered, whom I have yet to visit. Saddlers are a rarity here. Even the tack shop could only advise taking my saddle to a shoe repair person. I heard about this guy through the grapevine of riders. The saddler is an import from France, himself. He learned his trade working for Hermes, in Paris. Now I feel it will be worthwhile getting some repairs done and I have high hopes that I've found a new source for my leather fantasies.


  1. I love saddles too. Even like cleaning them. Your saddle sounds like it has a lot of memories attached to it. I'm sure it felt good to ride in it again.

    Too bad the new horse didn't work out. Sounds like with time he could be retrained to be a nice horse.

    1. Grey Horse, I like cleaning saddles and bridles too.

  2. My uncle owned a ranch and I loved going into the barn and smelling the saddles, but not the horses.

    1. Stephen, I'm 55 and I still inhale horses and sunshine on my forearm, as I drive home from the stables.

  3. Leather and wood , when they're cared for , just get better and better looking .

  4. Herself is back in the saddle. Woe betide any wayward horse; that roar is something to be obeyed, instantly.

    I love it that you are happy with your horses again.

    1. Friko, Thank you. I have some lost time to make up for.