Never mind that you shouldn't have dropped the cash, that all five of your newly-acquired Barb horses were virtually wild. Never mind that you couldn't halter any of them, let alone test for saddle fit. Never mind that, for you, endurance racing was merely a pile of library books and a dream.
It was an endurance saddle, a Stonewall with centerfire rigging and fenders burnished by the rub of breeches over countless miles. It was a step -- one taken out of order, but a step nonetheless -- toward a cherished goal. The saddle was hope.
So I bought it. Six months later, I bought an Arabian horse called Aaruba. He cost little more than the saddle, as his breeder was eager to dispense with the energetic gelding who'd proved a poor example of the mellow temperment characteristic of his herd. Aaruba featured patchy groundwork, about 20 rides under a hasty trainer, and a reputation for bolting when mounted. But, after some initial adjustments, the Stonewall fit him as well as the sport for which he was chosen. After eighteen months of remedial training, I cinched up that comfortable, old saddle and started conditioning.
I never imagined that Stonewall Saddle Company would one day make the gracious offer of a sponsorship. And yet, as of yesterday morning, Aaruba and I have the honor of being sponsored by Stonewall -- and the special treat of a custom endurance saddle, complete with conformal foam over a tree specially made for Aaruba's back.
Jerry Stoner, the saddle's original designer, was both an endurance rider and a Space Program engineer. He knew that NASA had developed a material called conformal foam to line astronauts' seats, protecting them from from pressure points even through the high g-forces of takeoff. Seeing an opportunity to offer his horse additional comfort on long rides, he designed a saddle reminicient of the old McClellan (but much more comfortable for the rider!), with a layer of conformal foam between the saddle's bars and sheepskin lining. The result is a saddle that conforms to the horse's back, evenly distributing weight along the panels and allowing painless freedom of movement.
Step one in the creation of Aaruba's new saddle is for me to measure his back in two different ways. First, I'll make line tracings of his back as instructed by the Stonewall Saddle Company website. (Keep an eye on that website -- the company is under new ownership, and the website is slated for extensive remodeling.) Next, I'll use the Dennis Lane Equine Back Profiling System to give the saddle makers a 3-D model of Aaruba's back. This information will be used for macrofitting, that is, making the custom tree. Conformal foam will take care of the all-important microfitting that is impossible to achieve through tree design alone.
I can hardly wait to try out my new Stonewall endurance saddle. In the meantime, though, I'll continue to enjoy the used one I fell in love with amid the garage sale clutter. Every time I ride, it reminds me of the time, not so long ago, when I bought a saddle to ride a dream.
It was in those days that I borrowed the name for In the Night Farm from Longfellow's pen:
The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
I'm still at the trailhead of this exhilirating journey, poised now on the brink of my second LD. Many miles -- joyous miles, painful miles -- lie between here and my lofty goals. But every day I take another step, and another, and another...toiling upward in the night.