I still remember unwrapping the bulky box under the Christmas tree when I was a teenager. And what that first whiff of new leather smelled like as I peeled open the box. The only gift I was more excited for was the actual horse, which came the year later.

It wasn’t my first saddle, but it definitely was the nicest one I’d ever owned. I’d break it in quickly as an aspiring junior with dreams of competing in the Big Eq rings. It’d get me through high school and come along for the ride through college. I’d put in on the back of my own horses most often, but still slap it on the school horses for lessons with the ISHA college team and the few other horses I’d ride as leases or greenies who needed more miles.

I’d abuse it a little, too over the years. Like the time it was left out in the rain or thrown carelessly into the back of the car after an exhausting horse show weekend. Friends would ride in it and hate it or love it.

Fast forward more than a decade (Jesus, I’m getting old) and the saddle is still with me. It’s been on the back of so many horses I’ve lost count. It was the saddle that I rode in when I won my first big equitation medal class, and then later, the toughest hunter divisions of my adult amateur career. It’s been fox hunting and on hunter paces. It kept me secure while cross country schooling. It’d help me sit a bad buck or stay balanced on a tearing-away green bean even when I was scared sh*tless.

It’s kept me safe and it played a role in the many memories I have in the barn, or at horse shows, or with those horses that are so good you could never forget them.

But after nearly 16 years of butt-on-leather, of worn out billets and frayed stitching, of falls and bucks and soaring over jumps, it’s time to let this durable, gritty saddle go. It’s not worth so much now, in terms of cash value, so many years later. But boy, the many logged rides and memories are still quite rich.