Buying Your First Saddle

Juli Thorson tells us that in the unforgettable department, a first saddle, whether new or used, is right up there with a first kiss. The wonderment of it stays with you. (If you're still waiting for your first saddle, you?ll have to trust me on this.)
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Juli Thorson tells us that in the unforgettable department, a first saddle, whether new or used, is right up there with a first kiss. The wonderment of it stays with you. (If you're still waiting for your first saddle, you?ll have to trust me on this.)
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Do you remember getting your first saddle?

Silly question, I guess, because unless you were a toddler or younger when you got it (over-eager grandparents are nothing new), how could you not remember such an occasion? In the unforgettable department, a first saddle, whether new or used, is right up there with a first kiss. The wonderment of it stays with you. (If you're still waiting for your first saddle, you'll have to trust me on this.)

Subsequent saddles, well chosen, yield their satisfactions, too. Generally speaking, the more saddles you buy and use, the more you learn about their nuances, and the greater your appreciation of how this major piece of riding gear affects both horse and rider. I never get tired of looking at and comparing saddles, and I am pleased to pass that pleasure along to you this month, with the biggest guide to Western saddles that H&R has ever published.

But back to that first-saddle experience. Here's how that went down for me, and I?d love to hear your own memory if you have one.

SAVING, DREAMING

Though I grew up with horses, I did so in a family with multiple child riders and not a lot of money to spend on their gear. I first shared a small, secondhand saddle with three brothers and assorted cousins. (Given that math, I learned to ride bareback fairly early on.) Later, in high school, I competed in borrowed show saddles and rode a great-uncle?s old work saddle otherwise.

?Whatever?s available? was basically the operative motto until I was halfway through college.

By that time, earning the money for my own saddle had become a quest. Riding meant a lot to me. I?d spent most of my life to that point working at becoming better at it, and I?d come to crave the benefits to be had from riding in a saddle that suited me.

It had taken me two summers of riding colts for the neighbors to build up a newsaddle fund of $350. That may not seem like very much saddle money now, but at a time when candy bars were still priced at a dime, it was a lot to have set aside.

One thing?s for sure, the amount represented plenty of anticipation. For years, I?d studied every saddle ad in every horse magazine I could get my hands on, dreaming of the one I might buy. That was as close to Google? as a gal (or guy) could get in the early ?70s.

LOVE AT FIRST SIT

There was only one saddle shop for miles around, but I had its small inventory memorized and referenced against my collection of ads. When the day finally came for me to shop as a buyer, not a browser, I went straight to my initial top choice and asked to give it a sit.

I don't know which was more intoxicating: that first realization that there is a difference in how saddles fit and feel, or the knowledge that a saddle I loved was finally within my grasp.

The saddle (a Martha Josey signature model designed for Potts Longhorn) had a price tag of $325. That left me with enough money to buy a new pad to go with it. When I carried my new horse gear out to my dad?s truck, I was as proud as someone driving off a dealership lot with a new car.

Looking back, that saddle purchase could very well have been a turning point in my riding life. My riding improved instantly, simply because I no longer had to overcompensate for a saddle seat that was too small or too big for me. The more I rode the saddle, the more it conformed to my body, not someone else?s. My horse worked better, too, most likely because the new saddle kept me better balanced and was more comfortable on her back compared to the make-do models I?d been using.

My first-saddle experience taught me that good gear pays. It's a lesson worth passing on.

You can reach Juli, H&R?s editor and associate publisher, via e-mail at jthorson@aimmedia .com. Visit www.HorseandRider.com to read and comment on her blog, Juli Thorson?s Horse Talk.