Ain't nuthin like ridin' a fine horse in a new country - Augustus McCrae – Lonesome Dove

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Saddle History~

Saddles...  That somewhat critical link between the horse & the rider.  When I bought my first horse since childhood in 91;  I brought home the saddle that had belonged to my Grandfather.  It was the one hanging over the stall wall when I found the horse - in a double box stall, in the barn.  Actually, I heard her - before I found her!  Grandpa told me that when I could get the saddle down from the 5 ft. high wall & on the mare, I could ride!   It took me days just to get her calm enough to go into the stall.  But...  I had nothing but time!  Since the saddle was at least 50 lbs.  I decided to just ride bareback!  Worked!  
Connie on Topsy, Iowa 1964
Alexi with Grandpa's saddle~ 2/91
The last visit I had with Grandpa before he passed - he sent the saddle home to WA with me in the back of my bright orange Mustang!  I had the saddle completely reconditioned, new sheepskin etc. by Mike Wick, of Issaquah, WA.  Mike's shop is long gone, but he was kind enough to help me sell the saddle to a cowboy from Ellensburg, WA who planned to put it back to work~
Jentry showing Alexi with my new Bighorn Saddle June 91
This was the saddle that I started using for Competitive Trail in 91. Butch was riding too & bought a second one. They worked pretty well, until the distance & speed started going up. We started having issues, the fenders "sanded" the hair off the horses sides, so we had them lined with leather.  Girth galls, loin rubs, wither soreness.  Once we started riding Endurance in 95, it was interesting to see what other riders were using & we decided to try Marciante saddles.   
Glenda with my Marciante Saddle - July 2001
As you can tell from the above photo, by the time Glenda came along in 2000 - the saddle had years of riding - I loved it, but it was too wide for Glenda's high withers.  More shopping...
Ortho-Flex Cutback - August 2002
After admiring the looks of these saddles & riding in one, I was sold.  I think it was one of the prettiest I've owned.  The issues were numerous.  It was a "System II", that was supposed to correct the problems with the originals.  The saddle had pressure points & didn't seem to sit square.  I had computerized thermal imaging done - that showed uneven pressure.  I had the panel attachments completely re-set, but it still didn't seem right for Jas.  I sold this saddle to a gaited horse owner on the east coast, who was thrilled with it.
Specialized International after one 50-mile ride. October, 2002
By now, Specialized Saddles were becoming popular.  I ordered the "International".  It arrived just as we were leaving for Alpine!  At the end of that miserable 50-miles, miserable in that I could NOT keep my legs under me, they were behind me which makes it difficult on a mountain ride.  It seemed to work for Jas, but I didn't like the quality of the leather, or the craftsmanship.   Dave Kaden agreed to let me return the saddle & exchange it for a "Trailmaster".
Specialized Trailmaster Spring, 2003
This saddle worked, I added bucking rolls & had shorter fenders made.  I rode it many miles - it was a comfortable "no issue" saddle.  It sold to a rider in TX - for exactly what I'd paid.   Glenda was sold to Tiffany, I'd had my accident on Bo & she was gone.  Jas was retiring & Khari had arrived.  Dean began helping me with my mental recovery - while at the same time teaching me something about saddle ride-ability.  His saddles were the first I'd even ridden in that made it easy to ride!  My riding began to improve as did my confidence.  I was sold on the concept of staying topside on a horse.  If that required a western style saddle with a secure seat, so be it.
Meridian Saddle #101
I ordered the Meridian saddle pictured above based off the pattern of the one I'd been using while taking my lessons on Dean's farm.  They are great working saddles & fit most horses.  I rode it through the Bryce XP in 2007.   I was having problems though - the balance of the saddle somehow wasn't right for me.  I couldn't gallop!  My legs just couldn't get into the right position & I was so uncomfortable.  When taller riders tried it - they didn't have the issues.  Gary Mittliner the saddler who'd made most of Dean's saddles had retired.  Mike Bernhard worked with me to figure out what changes needed to happen & I ordered a second saddle.  (#101 sold & shipped to Mexico.) 
M. Bernhard Saddle #120
Above is the saddle on Khari the day we brought it home in 2008~  Modeled on the Wade design, no horn, slimmer pommel, shorter fenders & less weight.  It fit Khari perfectly the first couple years, while she was a fat rather than fit mare :-)  But... once she had slimmed down -  it was too wide through the shoulders, dropped in front & started to shimmy over the loin.  Months of trying shims etc., just couldn't fix the fit.   Finally - I contacted the saddle maker - who didn't want to tackle a fix & suggested I sell it if it wasn't working for me.  I had it shipped to Horsesaddleshop.com.
Meridian Saddle #120
It was there over a year & didn't sell, (small seat & no horn) so when Farah arrived in 2011- I had it shipped back home.  Again - it seemed to work fine at first, Post~ before Farah was fit.  But especially after our 2013 season & all the miles we put on riding in the Distance Derby - the issues became too numerous to ignore.  On a visit to Pilchuck Vet, I had Jim Bryant DVM check out the saddle fit.  The only issue he saw - was that it was sitting low in front & he felt that Farah's conformation might be part of the problem.  Post~

 We found a saddle maker in Ellensburg, Post~ who was willing to tear down, what looked to be a beautiful saddle...  Post~  Everett fit Farah Post~ for a new tree & we ordered it from Timberline Saddle Tree Co.   It took months to get back & in the meantime, Everett had contacted Mike at Meridian Saddle - who - after hearing about the poor quality of the tree we'd found inside - offered to put the saddle back together.  His leather work is quality - so we sent the saddle to him.  

When it came back, I was charged a fortune for things like new saddle strings etc. but it looked wonderful.  Sadly, it didn't have the wither clearance that I'd thought would be there?   Everett mistakenly thought that we were going to re-use the leather on the pommel.  The pommel was shaped to that & too low.  Not enough wither clearance for Farah's withers...  That, combined with the weight, 30lbs. when I was now getting used to the ease of just a 16lb. saddle - started me start thinking that the best thing was to try & sell it yet again...
McClintock, International Saddle
 March 13th of 2014, my friend Linda pulled this saddle out for me to borrow.  I was amazed at how little there was to it!  The Calvary style was simple, beautiful & functional.  It's light weight, at 16lbs. was so easy to lift up onto Farah's back.  The sheepskin on the bottom of the bars was completely worn away, what padding the seat once had - was also gone.  Linda's husband had bought it for her years ago - used, we think it's probably 30-40 years old.
Front of the saddle with bucking rolls~
  I put it on Farah & it seemed to fit!  I sat in it & it seemed to fit!  I loved the deep seat!  It became my saddle - with a good saddle pad under it & kept me top-side for over a year.  We were sitting out admiring it one evening in early May of 14, when Butch said;  "Why don't you try to find the saddle maker & order one just like it?"  I searched the internet, found the saddle-maker & placed the order.  (I also ordered bucking rolls, a huge improvement on steep downhills.)  (This was the saddle I used for Mt. Adams - the last two years.)

After almost a year of waiting, the new saddle that arrived was  far cry from the one above.  Post~  Wrong tree, poor craftsmanship etc.  Thanks to my credit card company, all but my deposit was recovered.  A very disappointing downturn.

November 30, 2015 - New Saddle!