As a kid, I had a lot of happy Christmases. When I was 5 I got a tiny little bird's nest with eggs that I could hold in one hand. When I was 7 we got an Atari, complete with Pacman. When I was 8 or so, I got a Snoopy Snow Cone Machine. When I was 9 or 10, I got this thing called the Animator (that I had wanted for ages!). All little material things that made me so happy as a kid. But none of those could touch the magic of the gift I got when I was 13. A gift that wasn't even a surprise - I'd gone myself to pick it out and be fitted. At Dominion Saddlery I'd swung my leg over saddle after saddle, settling in to feel the fit and decide if it was right. We couldn't afford the esteemed Crosby saddles, but I hoped to find one that was well made and comfortable. I finally found one that was just right, by a newer brand called Collegiate. It was an all-purpose saddle - perfect for hunters, jumpers, eventing or lower level dressage. In a dark chocolate brown, I breathed in the sweetness of leather as I ran my hand gently over the perfectly sloped soft back. After six years of intense horseback riding the day had finally come that I was going to have my own saddle. My parents let me pick out stirrups and leathers to match, and saddle soaps, sponges, and this magical oil called Hydrophane. And then, all that was left, was to wait for Christmas.
On Christmas morning while my brother demolished the living room with his various Star Wars characters, I lovingly applied coat after coat of Hydrophane to my new saddle, watching in awe as the leather drank in each drop of oil, darkening from the moisture. The smell of the leather was more beautiful than gingerbread men or sugar plums or pine trees that year. I ran the stirrups up and down, I sat in the saddle over the arm of the couch. And finally, we took the saddle out to the barn to put it on my horse, Chico. No longer would I have to borrow the beat up, ancient and cracked-leathered schooling saddles. Finally, I had my Collegiate to place in my tack locker.
The saddle was a perfect fit for me. Over the years, it went to more hunter shows than I can count. It went on trail rides and cross country eventing. When it came time to leave for college, my saddle traveled with me, still supple from the oils I'd applied, still lovingly tended and polished. In Texas, even though my friends rode Western, I stuck with my Collegiate, a second skin to my riding - without my saddle I felt unbalanced and uneasy. The Collegiate rode in parades and through gravel pits, it was witness to rattlesnakes and broken ribs and on one occasion an attack by hundreds of angry swarming bees. And after each ride, it was tended and oiled and properly stored away. Toward the end of college, it again traveled to a few horse shows, and once even went to the beach.
When the sojourn in Texas came to an end, the Collegiate returned to its roots in Virginia, a little more scratched (a certain wayward horse tried to take a bite out of it), the threading a little more worn. But still it was loved and cherished. And still, it came out of the tack shed for rides - sometimes through the mountains, sometimes for lessons, but mostly just for rambles about the arena.
The Collegiate is still in use today. Although I have a dressage saddle, and a Western saddle (from my Texas days - they made me
!), the Collegiate All Purpose is still my saddle of choice. I can't think of any other gift I've received that was so dearly loved and still holding strong, some 23 years later.
What was your most memorable gift?
This post is linked with Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop