My dad on his custom Justin saddle (in red vest) on his quarter horse, Waverly
When I was a girl, there was no question about what saddle I would ride in-it would be the saddle my father rode in, the saddle made for him. As he was well over six-feet tall and I was maybe five foot four at best, the one concession made was to add extra holes to his stirrup leathers. I still have my father’s saddle. It was made by H. J. Justin of the Justin Boot Company who was an acquaintance of my fathers in 1955. It has a silver plate on the back of the cantle proudly displaying that fact. I have spent a lot of time over the years, saddle soaping that saddle. I have ridden horses in four states in that saddle, broken bones falling from that saddle but loved all the times I have spent on the back of a horse riding in my dad’s saddle.
My dad in the saddle that is mine now and yes, those are all riders stretched out behind him.
It was a rite of passage in our family to be strong enough to lift the saddle, by yourself, up onto the horse’s back. It is a solidly built western saddle and weighs over 50 pounds. When I got my first horse at age 11, I had to use a step stool and really get some momentum going to get the saddle up onto the horse. I was a competitive swimmer and had pretty good upper body strength but don’t think I got that saddle on from the ground up on the horse until I was at least 14 years old.
I remember when we moved to Sugar Land, Texas and Ally was about 12 and Lauren was seven. Ally’s best friend Amy, stayed with us for a while and they all practiced lifting the big saddle. Amy got it on the horse first, then Ally and years later Lauren finally was able to throw the big saddle up on Kid’s back. Maybe that is part of why Lauren moved from western riding to English. From the beginning, Lauren could saddle her own horse, English, and get to the work of riding.
Since those days there have been lots of saddles, including lots of Christmas saddles. Lauren got her first English saddle the Christmas of fourth grade. She had just gotten Mickey that fall. She was so proud of that saddle. Looking back, it wasn’t that nice of a saddle, it was a Kincade brand, but it fit her and Mick and it was hers alone. I think Lauren has morphed through seven English saddles. Only three have been new, including that first Kincade. A couple she saved her money for, religiously hiding it from me and herself (in case she might spend it on something else), waiting for the right saddle to come along. The best saddle Lauren had over the years was given to her by one of her best friends. It was probably the nicest gift she has ever gotten.
The saddle thing is more complicated than just what is pretty and the most popular brand, it has to be a certain type based upon discipline, for instance hunters may use a different saddle than jumpers, and the saddle has to fit the horse and fit the rider. As Lauren’s abilities changed, the horses she was riding changed as well. What fit the quarter horse type Mickey, pinched the broad backed Irish Sport Horse but was too wide for the high withered Leo, the thoroughbred.
When our vet came to do the work on Leo, one of the first things that was apparent was his saddle was constricting his ability to move his shoulders. I know, this stuff is complicated! We have been looking for a saddle that is adjustable to the horse so Lauren can use the same saddle at least with Mick and Leo.
Spending a rainy Saturday, working our way home from Ally’s we visited a few rural feed stores. Often, people bring saddles in for consignment. In Texas, that usually means a western saddle. But tucked away in the corner of the little town tack shop was what we quickly identified as the French saddle, a Marcel Toulouse. It was Lauren’s size and it had an adjustable tree (so that it would fit all her horses with a simple turn of a screw) other saddles required you to turn the saddle upside down and remove and change the gullet that dictates the size of the saddle. The saddle appeared almost new. It had Sprenger stirrups that retail for over $200, just for the stirrups. The total price of this saddle was not much more. We asked the owner about the saddle and he told us some rancher’s daughter thought they would show their quarter horses English and then had gone off to college. BINGO!
What a thrill. I can only hope that one day Jordyn, Lexi or one of Lauren’s children has the opportunity to ride in this fine saddle. I hope that this is the “good one” that she will keep a long time. I mean Marcel Toulouse is not Johnny Justin, at least in rural Texas, but to us, it was a pretty magnificent find.