Ken's diary

Mud, misery, mettle . . . and macho!

Readers will be aware that publications have something called 'copy dates' with which editors expect to receive strict compliance. (All columnists loathe copy dates and do everything in their power to obtain extensions: ever-wily editors always give false dates some days in advance of their actual requirements. That satisfactory conclusions are usually reached eventually says much for editors patience and determination and somewhat less for writers consciences!) I mention all this as the background to this story written on a murky, drizzling and extremely unpleasant day in mid winter to comply with the copy date I have been given. I hope the story will amuse readers. In retrospect, I find it funny although, at the time, the conditions were decidedly uncomfortable!

I was telephoned by a young woman who needed a saddle for an Ardenne which she described as 'very, very broad'. I asked for directions and the client explained that it was better if she met me 'at the edge of the forest' where, apparently, the horse was used to drag logs. The conditions, she said, were extremely wet and very muddy. There was absolutely no way a car could negotiate the paths.

A date was arranged and it happened to coincide with the day Geoff Fieldhouse, a well known saddle manufacturer and supplier, was spending with me. (Many saddle suppliers rarely witness saddle fittings taking place but Geoff elects to spend several days each year watching saddle fitters dealing with some of the problems they encounter. This provides him with valuable research material for subsequent design developments) So Geoff and I arrived at the arranged spot, were met by the client and transferred about twenty saddles to her Landrover. 

The very limited space left in the vehicle after these endeavours meant that I sat next to the driver and Geoff was obliged to sit on my knee! This was not the most comfortable arrangement, certainly it was to prove decidedly hazardous as we swung from side to side down muddy tracks which the driver ingeniously identified as the route we needed to follow.

Thus we progressed into the forest, but not very far. The mud became deeper and more impenetrable until finally and only after much slithering, sliding and groaning effort on the part of the Landrover, we came to rest, totally stuck, in a mud bank. Rather feebly I asked the client what we could do next. With a pitying look she explained that we would have to disembark, (a word that surely normally relates to leaving a ship or boat but was somehow singularly appropriate on this occasion), unpack the saddles and return with them to the road.

Geoff, together with his Gucci shoes (the mud was soon to free him from these) and I in my rather more practical boots, reluctantly dismounted. The mud was deep - indeed it reached well above our ankles. You may imagine the return journey (I should say 'journeys' because we had to go back to the Landrover several times to collect all the saddles). It was arduous and by the time we completed the task, we - and the saddles - were more than a little splattered with mud. By now, of course, it was raining. I am sure you can picture the scene!

Maggie Raynor
We were still left with the problem of fitting a saddle to the horse (as yet unseen by Geoff and myself). The client, valiantly I thought, said she would fetch the horse to the edge of the forest. Somehow she achieved this goal and I set about trying to fit a saddle in conditions that were very far from ideal. The Ardenne horse had never experienced traffic and the noise made by the vehicles on the wet road and the glimpses of them passing at a fair rate with headlights on did little for his confidence or his initial introduction.

Unfortunately there was only one saddle which provided this seriously wide animal with a satisfactory fitting and it was too expensive for the client whose budget was fairly limited. I promised to try to locate a suitable secondhand saddle, we all enjoyed a really good laugh and Geoff and I, in somewhat disheveled condition, left to go to the next client.

I relish pointing out that one of the qualities the saddle fitter must demonstrate is the ability to be intrepid in all situations. 

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