My love of horses was one of the best traits I inherited from my parents. Both my mom and dad grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and had limited access to horses until they graduated from high school and college. But as soon as they could, they went in the search of the horses they longed for.
Teaming up with an owner of a riding business in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, they learned about horse care while taking other city kids on trail rides. They spent hours and hours in the saddle every day. They spent more hours after riding feeding and caring for the animals. And then, sometimes after the sun was down, they spent many more hours bringing in hay from the fields.
I grew up with intoxicating stories (at least for a horse crazy little girl) of the horses and rides they took. But one story I never got to hear was the one of my dad’s saddle. And probably, he didn’t know the story it had to tell. It was just the old saddle that he loved.
After my father’s passing just last summer, one of the last things I pulled out of the barn at my family’s farm and threw into a moving truck was my dad’s old saddle. It had sat there for a decade since the last time my dad was able to settle into its well-worn seat. Alzheimer’s took my dad away from his beloved farm, his memories erased one by one by the cruel and devastating disease. When I look at that old saddle, I can’t help but succumb to a swell of my own wonderful memories of my dad and all the early morning trail rides we often took. Up and down mountains and across mountain creeks, it’s out there with him that I truly learned to ride. It wasn’t the fine-tuned riding I would do for the show arena, but it was that kind of riding that made me a horsewoman: connected to my horse and the world around me.
Just a week ago, I pulled that saddle out of its Virginia storage and after dusting it off, I saw the name stamped behind the cantle, “H.S. Lebman, 111 South Flores St., San Antonio, Tex.”
It would seem that Lebman was a well-known saddlemaker, but not necessarily because of the saddlery. Lebman was also a gunsmith. He was frequently asked by his customers to secure unusual weapons, including the Thompson submachine gun built by Colt, which at the time could be ordered through the mail and purchased at gun or hardware stores. Soon, Lebman began customizing Colt pistols and other small arms weaponry, including conversion into fully automatic weapons. Some of his famous, or infamous, customers included mobsters Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.
Today a H.S. Lebman saddle is displayed in The Museum of the Horse. They are said to be rare saddles that are “bull stout, heavy and well made, but yet a pleasure to ride in.”
I have no idea what I’m going to do with my dad’s old saddle. But it is forever connected with the fondest of memories of my childhood and forever connected to the best man I ever knew. It will always have a home with me, and possibly once again on the back of a horse. They just don’t make them like they used to.