Readers of this blog and farm visitors may have guessed this by now, but Dan and I love old stuff. Honestly, when I look at a list of events for a “living history” festival, usually the only activity I haven't tried my hand at is spinning wool (although I would love a spinning wheel...it's on the buy-it-someday list!) I guess it's because we truly live history every day here at the farm...it kind of comes with the territory when you choose to work horses. But in addition to that, we just love being as self-sufficient as possible, and that frequently means doing things the old-fashioned way, whether it means making gate latches in the blacksmith shop or preserving food the way our grandmothers would have.
Many times, the best tools are the old ones. So, not surprisingly, we would much rather shop at an auction or flea market than the mall or Wal-Mart. Besides the utility, the old stuff has character. They are things that were made to last, made with pride by real American craftsmen (and women!), not disposable junk from some sweatshop overseas. Preserving this stuff, along with the knowledge of how to use it, is an incredible honor. A few weeks ago, we spent the day at a rather large area flea market. Dan was looking for specific items for the blacksmith shop, like vices and hammers. I had some cash in my pocket just for whatever we might come across. I was excited to find some glass beads that looked like they had been taken off an old chandelier, as I have a stained glass project I'd like to try which calls for them. Then I came across a very reasonably priced trunk. For some reason, I have a weakness for old trunks, and picked this one up. I'd like to try my hand at restoring it over the winter, cleaning up the metal parts and replacing the dry-rotted leather straps and handles. Dan found some tools, and we had a fun day, but had seen most of what was being offered and were heading back to the car with our treasures.
As we were walking back, we walked by a booth that had lots of horse stuff- saddles, saddle pads, bridles. I need more of that like I need a hole in the head, as I already have eight saddles in the tack room, and only four horses in the barn! But I can't resist looking, and something caught my eye immediately. It was a large, English-type saddle, but with what looked like two horns at the front. It was obviously old and in need of repair work before it would ever be usable, but you could tell it was well made. I had never seen a saddle like this in person before. I asked Dan if he knew what it was, and after giving it some thought, he admitted he was stumped. I knew that what we were looking at was an antique ladies' sidesaddle, the kind women riders would use before it was OK for women to wear pants! I just had to ask what the woman wanted for it. She replied “Make me an offer.” I threw out a pretty low figure, not knowing if she put any value on this old saddle, obviously in unusable condition. “I've had far higher offers than that!” she replied. She went on to say that she knew the woman whom the saddle had been made for, that she had gotten it after the woman's death, and that it was over 100 years old. She went on to tell me what she thought she could get for it on eBay, which was far more than I had to spend on a whim.
But then she said how that, more than the money, she just wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it, who would treasure it, and would care for it like the piece of history that it is. I replied that I understood, as we farm with horses and antique machinery, and that our team is a pair of girls that both were born right here on our farm. “Then you know” she said. “I farm with horses, too. So you obviously know what it means to give something a forever home. That's what I want for this saddle- a forever home with someone who will take care of it.” And then she let me have it for about a quarter of what she thought she could get for it on eBay.
I've never ridden sidesaddle, so part of me wanted to take it home and just sit on it, just for a minute, just to see what it felt like. But with the hole Sara's passing has left in the barn, it wasn't possible. Dixie and Dolly are just too tall, it would have touched the ground on Ponyboy, and I wasn't putting it on Montana, since he isn't broke to ride yet. Although he is a sweetheart and likely wouldn't have minded, I'm not ready to trust him with an irreplaceable antique just yet. Regardless, it is something I treasure. I hope to get it professionally restored someday and try it out. It has a stirrup on the left side only, the right leg is placed between the two horns in the front. The seat and the place between the horns was once upholstered. It has billet straps underneath to accommodate an English-type girth. The only thing I'm a bit unsure of are the two straps, the one on the left being just behind the stirrup, and in the same spot on the other side even though there is no stirrup on that side. There are no holes in this strap, but I thought perhaps it held some sort of overgirth, to keep the flaps tight to the horse's body, keeping the woman's dress from getting under the flaps and getting full of sweat & horsehair. But if that were the case, I would expect to see wear marks where the strap would have attached. There are none. My next guess is that they might be for mounting. Getting on a sidesaddle has to be a bit more complicated, so perhaps the one on the left is like a handle for the lady mounting, and the one on the off side would be for a stable hand or riding partner to hold while she got up, so the saddle wouldn't slip off-center. Or maybe they're just decorative, I really don't know. Feel free to leave a comment here if you know more than I about this!
Isn't it a beautiful piece of history? I just love old stuff!