Going Home to My First Tack Shop

Can you even really go home again? Thomas Wolfe and others have asked this question in various forms, and my own thoughts on the subject arose as I wandered around my hometown of Portland, Oregon, in the week following my 50th high school reunion.

Five decades have taken their toll on my memories of Portland. There are many excellent changes — Powell’s Bookstore, the light rail system, some new green spaces downtown — but I didn’t recognize a single retail space from my teen years. (Well, maybe Nordstrom’s. But in the 60s it was a third of a city block and now it has moved laterally into its own huge rectangle.)

That is until I turned a corner on 3rd Street and there was the Portland Outdoor Store! Same location and same building. It was where my mom presented me with a wonderful birthday trip downtown in 1963 and bought me my first pair of breeches, my first boots and my first helmet. Those were all new, but I also bought my first riding coat, a used heavy wool hunting coat that was too big but cost only a couple dollars although it had a label from a really fancy store in New York! 

I had started taking once-a-week riding lessons with my baby sitting money I can’t recall what I used to wear for those first lessons, but I had joined the barn’s junior club and wanted to take part in their monthly Monday evening club shows. That meant I needed gear. It was a really big deal for Mom to buy me those clothes. I hand stitched a choker collar to complete the look. I also moved the buttons in the coat to make fit better.

Fast forward five decades: I had to stop the car and check out the store, which now looks pretty weary from the outside as it seems none of the signs (including the bucking bronco) and lettering have been repainted in the past 50 years as well. It did, however, have something more recent that I clearly recognized: a poster promoting the U.S. Olympic team — for 1988, I think — that had Lendon Gray on it. I recall seeing the same poster at her Gleneden Farm. The poster was high off the street level and behind a dust-covered window, but it reassured me that maybe the Outdoor Store still carried English gear.

I went in. The first floor looked hopeful, with a wide and seeming excellent selection of Western wear I climbed the stairs to the second floor where there was one rack of English breeches, a small dislay of helmets that were all one brand, and some consignment boots. On the third floor there was a large but dusty selection of consignment saddles, mostly Western, and a few other tack and grooming items.

It’s clearly no longer a comprehensive store for buying horse clothes — but it is STILL THERE. I hope it can withstand the encroachment of all the brewpubs and other urban improvements in downtown Portland.

By the way, I kept those clothes through the next 10 years, through weekly lessons in high school and occasional lessons in college and graduate school. I finally started riding daily after I got my first job. Helmets weren’t required in those days unless you were jumping, and I started my eventing phase wearing that same (no-strap) helmet, which never once came separated from my head despite a lot of acrobatic falls. The cotton breeches were finally replaced after they split up the legs at a show (a friend literally stitched me back into them while I sat on the horse). The first breeches with stretch fabric were then available and it seemed like a really good upgrade






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