Part 2 The horse is the least expensive part
Okay, I’ve bought my horse, now I need tack. I decided to purchase a Western saddle since that’s what I was familiar with. (And, it had that horn for holding onto.) Someone suggested that I use a coat hanger to get the shape of my horse’s back at the withers. So, I found a relatively thin one that I could cut apart and bend easily. I took it to the stable and shaped it to my horse’s back.
Then off to the tack supply store with my hanger and my husband in tow. After browsing and listening to the sales pitches, I chose a couple of saddles to try on for size – my horse’s back and my backside. They had a nifty wooden holder that we “saddled up” and I climbed aboard. Of course the one that fit best was the most expensive. But after looking at my husband with my puppy-dog eyes, it was mine. (Man, that saddle sure was heavy to lug from the tack room and heave up onto a 15-hand horse.) And I also needed a bridle, reins, cinch, bit, lead rope, halter and grooming supplies.
The saddle seemed to fit pretty good, although, looking back, I wish I hadn’t gotten the square skirt. I think it went too far back on his back. Being the worrier that I am, I asked numerous riders at the stables if they thought it fit. I discovered that most people don’t want to express an opinion on saddle fit. I guess either they don’t know enough themselves or they don’t want to be blamed for making someone else’s horse miserable.
After a few rides in my new saddle, I asked the stable owner to critique my “style”. She suggested that I ride Mel bareback in the round pen to get a feel for his movements and to learn balance. The round pen had high solid wooden walls, so Mel wouldn’t be distracted. It also had a thick layer of pea gravel, so if I fell off, I wouldn’t get hurt too badly.
Now I wasn’t a young pup and my joints were a bit stiff. Climbing up on a horse with a saddle is one thing, bareback is something else. I tried a small stool – what a joke. I settled on a big muck bucket turned over. Still, I had to jump up and lay on Mel’s back on my belly and try to rotate my body around while spreading my legs. I put a horse collar on Mel to hold on to so I wouldn’t put undue pressure on the reins and his mouth.
So, I hefted myself up, and started to slide my body around – I kept right on sliding right off the opposite side of the horse!! Since I had a death grip on the collar, my upper body stayed high and twisted around so that I was facing the rear of the horse. My feet hit the ground first, but I was totally off balance so I continued to fall to the ground until I eventually had to let go of the collar.
There I am, lying flat out on my back staring up at Mel. He just stood there – what a trooper. Or maybe it all happened so fast that it took him by surprise. I started to laugh and he just lowered his head and looked at me as if to say “What an idiot!” I got up and tried again. Believe it or not, I did the exact same thing!! Once again, that look from Mel. The third time was the charm and I eventually got to ride bareback. I rode that way about three times a week for a couple of weeks. The stable owner was right, it did help my balance. I also enjoyed feeling the sway and movement of Mel. Without the heavy saddle between us, I felt more connected, more like his partner.
That’s why I decided to buy an English saddle, even though I am only interested in trail and pleasure riding. The Western saddle didn’t offer the same “connection” to Mel. Since I had spent so much on the other saddle, I used my year-end bonus from work to buy it so it wasn’t “our” money. When I bought my English saddle I took Mel with me to the tack shop. The owner let me try out some saddles right on him and made sure I bought one that fit. It’s lighter for me to lift and for Mel to wear – I know he prefers it to the Western because he stands better for tacking up and he moves better under saddle. I added a strap to the front to hold onto in lieu of a horn and I’ve purchased a “Tush Cush” to give me more padding.
See what I mean about the expense compared the purchase price? In Part 3 I encounter even more expense.