Multi-tasking is a way of life for those involved in horses, and I'm no exception. In addition to my saddle work and the care and feeding of this blog, I have several other responsibilities: I answer customers' e-mail queries, I create and Photoshop ads, I write informational articles, and I monitor the shop's presence on the Internet. As a result of the last task mentioned, I spend a fair bit of time cruising the larger bulletin boards to eyeball what people are saying - about new, must-have products, about fitting issues and concerns, and about us. Recently, on one of the larger bulletin boards, I came across a thread about saddle shopping. Quite a few people were making glowing recommendations for the shop, praising our customer service and the quality of our saddles, and I was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside ... until I read a post from someone I will refer to as "Cranky Breeches". Cranky Breeches was bemoaning the fact that we ask "tons" of questions and make people "jump through hoops" by asking for a template of the horse's back and some photos before we make saddle recommendations. We were quite the unreasonable task masters, according to Cranky Breeches. TMI, TMI.
This threw a large bucket of cold water on my warm fuzziness, let me tell you. I went from injured pride to indignity to composing a scathing reply to CB all in a matter of about two minutes, but finally common sense kicked in. The recommendations we were getting outnumbered CB's complaint at least 10 to 1, and here I was getting my shorts in a bunch. I needed to get over myself and look at this at least somewhat objectively. (And besides, other posters on the bb came to our defense. Neener, neener.)
If you look at the list of info requested, I wouldn't say that we're asking the customer to "jump through hoops", but in fairness, we do ask for a lot of info.
Why? Because in order to make intelligent, comprehensive recommendations about saddles, we need as much info as we can get. Because we don't want our customers to spend the bulk of their saddle shopping budget shipping unsuitable saddles back and forth. Because we want to make this whole process as productive and painless as we can. And because occasionally, we get these sorts of inquiries (and I swear before the horse gods and goddesses, I'm not making these up - these are real inquiries, ver batim and in toto):
-"I'm riding my horse in a medium tree Pessoa, and it doesn't fit. What would you recommend?"
- "My mare's back was ouchy after our ride today. I think it's my saddle. What's wrong with the way it's fitting?"
- "My horse was on lay-up for the last two months, and gained a lot of weight. What tree width do I need?"
- "My horse goes funny to the right, and won't pick up the right lead canter. Does this mean my saddle doesn't fit?"
- A photo of a saddle sitting on a saddle buck, with the query, "Is this saddle the right size for me?"
- A photo of a horse's head (or in one memorable case, its rump), with the query, "This is my horse. What saddle would fit?"
- A piece of paper with two parallel lines drawn on it. One is labeled, "Back of my butt", and the other is labeled, "Front of my crotch"; below the two lines are the words, "Do I need a 16" or a 16.5" seat?"
Now, I'll admit that we have a pretty knowledgeable staff here - we all have the ability to make educated guesses and recommendations based on a good description of the horse or how the saddle's fitting (or not), but the inquiries listed above require "Let me lay hands upon my computer monitor and I will tap into the Divine Universal Saddle Fitter Consciousness and tell you what you need." And while we're pretty good, NO ONE is that good.
If you want to find a saddle that works for you and your horse, you need to do your homework, particularly if you're doing it long-distance. If we can't put our hands on the horse to assess the fit and watch the horse go in each saddle with you riding, we need your help - you need to be our eyes and ears (and hands). It's not necessarily easy or convenient, but for those customers who have no shops or fitters nearby, it may be the only way to find a saddle that works for you and your horse.