The Farm Chronicles: Saddle Up

I was about 14 years old and Dad and I were at our first horse show of the season. I was all excited to get back in the ring and compete. At 13, I had won a lot of trophies and ribbons for showmanship, equitation and horsemanship. I was eager to get back at it. But there was this one small issue. Dad had bought me a new saddle over the winter because I had outgrown my old—and I do mean old—saddle. A friend who owned a tack shop gave Dad a good deal on this beautiful full-sized Simco saddle, dark leather, buck-stitched. I was so excited. Until I rode in it. For some reason, this really handsome saddle made the smoothest of horses feel like you were riding a wood beam on a road of potholes.

Needless to say, I didn’t win a thing that day. After the show, the judge came up to me asked, “What happened to you?” He remarked that last year I had rode so well, but at this show, I looked like a beginner. It was hard to take. When you are on a working cattle and horse farm, saddles are important. How the saddle fits the horse and how it sets the rider can make all the difference in function of both horse and rider. It is especially important when you decide to show horses because every little advantage is the difference between winning and losing. I told Dad that the Simco was the problem. He said that I didn’t practice enough and I needed to buck up and get better. I can still hear him saying, “We paid good money for that saddle and it’s fine.”

It was a tough show season. I learned how to sit that Simco through pure will and I started winning again. But I kept complaining about it. Dad was just as absolute that it wasn’t the saddle. His solution was to work harder, practice more. Then show season came to an end. Now, its spring. I’m 15 and going on 16. Not long before my 16th birthday, Dad asked me to ride up to Cleveland with him. We ended up at Schneider’s Saddlery. Dad knew everybody and he was friends with the founder Milt Schneider and his sons, Stan and Don. This place was like saddle heaven—hundreds of them. Dad told me that he knew how hard I worked to get better with that Simco and that he wanted to buy me a saddle that worked for me. Right in front of Milt and his sons, he told me to pick out any saddle in the store.

I must have spent hours, sitting on saddles, examining them, lifting them. It came down to two Billy Royal saddles—the most expensive in the store. Billy Royals were the Rolls Royce of western saddles. Hand crafted, lifetime guarantee. The one I picked was nearly $800 in 1971. Today, they have financing options. Back then, it was cash. And with a “friend” discount, Dad opened his wallet and counted out the Ben Franklins. On the way home, He told me he loved me and wanted the best for me. He also said, “No more complaining about the saddle.” Proverbs 3:12 says, “For whom the LORD loves He disciplines, Just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.” Dad’s discipline and love made me better. I won a lot with that saddle on many horses. Even today it sits in my office as a reminder of my Dad’s love and his example to me.

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Bill Wilson