While we're talking about saddle construction, we're going to take a small side-trip here. This issue is one that just showed up on my radar recently, and I suppose I could save it for later, but I'm finding that writing while the idea is fresh usually results in a better entry.
I'm once again tapping into a subject I found on one of the bigger bulletin boards. It's a tale of woe, of anticipation and longing and a wish that didn't come true - and it's a tale that could have had a reasonably happy (or at least not totally tragic) ending ... but didn't.
Someone (let's be really original and call her "someone") ordered a saddle for her horse - had the fitter out, had the measurements done, ordered the deluxe fancy leather / air panels / contrasting seat welting / bells and whistles Princess version once-in-a-lifetime saddle ... really shot the wad to the tune of about $5000.
Fast forward about 6 months, to the arrival of the long anticipated saddle. Not only was the saddle conspicuously minus many of the bells and whistles and Princess accessories "someone" had ordered ... it did not fit.
This is a pretty sad story in and of itself. But wait, it gets sadder: according to "someone", the fitter adjusted flocking, adjusted the seat, and did everything but stand on his/her head and whistle a tune while drinking cider through a straw ... and the fitter could not make the saddle fit.
Sadder yet: the fitter then tried to blame the bad fit on "someone" (even went so far as to infer that "someone" had packed on some poundage) and her horse.
The denouement? No refund. Too bad, so sad, but the saddle was "someone's" ... lacking bells, whistles and Princess accessories, AND not fitting either horse or rider. Eventually, "someone" did get the fitter to take the saddle back, but was still charged a 20% restocking fee (which, as any mathmatically gifted person can tell you, comes to a cool $1000).
Admittedly, I only have "someone's" side of this whole story ... but I gotta think, if "someone" is upset enough to air this whole experience on one of the major equine bulletin boards, something had to have gone wrong - and probably quite drastically so. So, while we may never know just who fell down, or where, here are some possibilities:
1) The Saddler Messed Up. It does happen - I mean, we're talking about a hand-crafted item here, and as statistician Marge N. Uverror will tell you, human beings are fallible. But usually, if the saddler messes up, it's only one thing - sometimes one very big thing, like the wrong color or the wrong tree - but it's rare that the whole saddle is a fiasco. In the roughly 10 years we've been ordering saddles to template, we've only had a handful of "mistakes" come through. And each time, the saddle company has stepped up and made things right.
2) The Fitter Messed Up. This happens, too - again, human fallibility. And to be brutally honest, the fitter probably messes up more frequently than the saddler. Fitters are out there taking templates and photos, measuring the rider, writing orders, noting modifications ... basically getting all the bells and whistles and Princess accessory details correct. And if a fitter is really busy, has customers stacked up, has an uncooperative horse (or owner ... yes, they do exist) ... it's not that hard to mismark or skip over something. I bust my butt to make sure the template and photos are correct - I'll do a tracing over (and over, and over) if I think something may be inaccurate. And still, I've screwed up. Not very often, and not recently ... but I have before and I'd be foolish to think I won't again. And when that happens, we step up and make things right.
3) The Horse Went and Changed. As I addressed long ago in the "Timing is Everything" post, horses can change quite radically in a fairly short period, particularly if it a youngster advancing quickly in training, a horse changing disciplines, or a seasoned campaigner coming back from a lay-up. To illustrate, I'm re-posting the photos that went with the "Timing is Everything" entry. This template, of a horse that was coming back into work after a month's lay-off, was taken in Oct. of '08:
Now, here's a template of the same horse taken in March of '09, after about four and a half months of gentle long-and-low work:
And here's a comparison of the two, with the '08 template in red, and the '09 in green:
That's a pretty dramatic difference. The saddle ordered to the back in the first template no longer fit the back in the second template ... but in this case, instead of being a bad fit from the get-go, the horse "grew out of it" gradually, and after the tree was widened and the flocking adjusted, the fit was fine.
4) The Owner is an Unreasonable Lunatic. Again, this is not completely unknown ... but it's very, very rare. Most people are really quite reasonable, and usually, if the customer is unhappy, there's a reason. And if someone has gone to the bother and expense of ordering a custom (or bench-made) saddle, it's hardly unreasonable for them to expect that it will be to spec, and it will fit.
In any or all of these cases, the best business practice (and the only one that will let me sleep at night) is to take the saddle back. It happens very infrequently - I'd say that over 90% of our bench-made (or custom, or semi-custom ... choose your term) saddles come as ordered and fit well - but it does happen. What's the sense in trying to make a customer keep a saddle that doesn't fit and makes them (and their horse) unhappy? Sure, you may make that one sale, but at some point, "someone" will be willing to step up and tell the world about their experience - and they will be well within their rights to do so. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, for better or for worse ... and frankly, that's the sort of press I can live very well without.