Saturday, December 31, 2011

Random End of Year Stuff

Writing is a very organic and uncertain activity.  You start out with a specific story in mind, but half-way through, you find that the story (or post, or article) has gone haring off on its own down a path that you never meant to walk.  Sometimes those bits of writing get shelved and pulled out later (I have quite a few of those), sometimes you hit the "delete" button, and sometimes you follow the path just to see where it will lead.  This blog has turned out to be one of those "follow the path" things.

When I started this blog, it was something of an experiment in using social media as "free advertising" for the tack shop.  It's worked pretty well - turns out that it's consistently one of the top portals to the shop's website.  It's also grown into something more, though.  I truly enjoy writing it, and it's been received far better than I'd ever expected.  It's given me a chance to get some education about saddle fitting to the general horse public, it's allowed me to give a leg-up to some friends and colleagues, and it's given me an outlet for the frustration and silliness I encounter on a regular basis.  It's also led me to being asked to write articles and do interviews ... which I find amazing.  Who'da thunk a cranky half-a-century-old saddlefitting broad living in the booniewhacks of VT would have input and info that the general horse public would find interesting?!  It's all very, very cool, and I thank each and every one of you from the heart.

Given that this is the last day of 2011, I thought it might be fun to throw out some random things.  Two are flat-out brags, and the rest are things that never seemed to quite fit into any specific post.  First, I'm going to get the brags over with.

Here's the cover of the TrailBlazer magazine that features my "To Shim or Not To Shim" article:

All glossy and shiny and makes me go "wooooooo ...."

The frontspiece of the article:

Byline and everything!!!

Second brag.  I have been invited to the London opening of the movie War Horse:

This is thanks to Nikki Newcombe, the former Sales Manager at Black Country Saddles.  She's started her own saddle company, Bliss of London (which will be featured here as soon as they're ready to launch), and very kindly invited me.  Don't I wish!!!

My work space at the shop is a bit on the cold side.  We're up on top of a barn, and the walls in my office are NOT well-insulated.  I do tend to like lower temps (when people remark on the chilliness, I tell them that old meat needs to be refrigerated) and dress in layers to help deal with the occasional hot flash ... so the outer layer in the winter months is almost always polar fleece.  It's warm, it's lightweight, it breathes ... and it's probably not the smartest choice for someone who plays with sheep fur (or at least navy blue polar fleece when the sheep fur is white):


Got a six year old saddle in last week for a strip flock.  Not only was it incredibly dirty (I mean, you really need to work to get dirt jockeys on the panels), it had never had the flocking touched, and it had been ridden in jeans.  Here's what happens to your saddle's seat when your ride in jeans:

Close-up view.  The hair-side finish has been worn completely away and you can see the skin side.  A year or so more of riding in jeans, and the saddle's owner will be looking at a $600 re-seat.


When you flock a saddle, you tend to work with small pieces of wool, maybe 6" or so long, but not much bigger.  Big chunks of wool don't lie in well; they wad up and leave gaps and divots.  I've pulled some pretty impressive pieces out, but these are the record holders - the longest is about 31" long.  I call them The Scalps of Mine Enemies.


So what's up for 2012?  Well, going to get the mare back in shape and under saddle (and it will have to be a new saddle; the middle-aged spread she's developed can't be encompassed by anything other than a hoop tree ... so I'll have to say goodbye to my Passier GG).  Also going to have shiai (test) in karate to get the second stripe on my brown belt.  And finally, I'm working on the syllabus for an Intro to Saddle Fitting course.  I want to gear it specifically to prep students for Mike Scott's saddle fitting course, and also make it comprehensive enough to offer a good basic education for an individual's personal use.  It'll be a 2-day weekend course ... more on that when I'm further along in the organizational process.

Anyway, here's wishing all of you a happy and safe New Year - and as always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ho, Ho, Ho

To all of my readers and their families - two and four legged - best wishes for a wonderful holiday season full of merry and bright days.  And as always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just to Clarify

I'm afraid that my last blog post was a bit unclear regarding whose template info I was passing on, and may have given the wrong impression.  The "Hey Santa - Reindeer Got Fur" part linked to the Kieffer USA site.  While that site sells Kieffer saddles and bridles, it is NOT under the auspices of "the" Kieffer Saddle Company in Germany.  From the Kieffer USA site:

" is an independent company and is not in any way owned, or operated by Kieffer of Germany. serves the riding public of the USA only. is owned by a Master Saddle Designer who himself is an accomplished equestrian with more than 45 years of experience. He is an expert on the unique requirements of the North American rider."

Kieffer Saddlery's site is here.  Different kettle of fish.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fallacies (More Misinformation)

Having been in this profession for more than a decade, you'd think I'd have heard the bulk of the available info - both good and bad - about saddles and fit.  However, humans are nothing if not innovative, so there's often something new stirring out there.  Sometimes it's a new fitting diagnostic or a new saddle design, sometimes it's a new fitting theory or a new dingwhacket guaranteed to cure every saddle fitting ill on the planet.  But the one "new" thing I find unceasingly amazing is the amount of (what I feel is) questionable theory that I seem to trip over every time I turn around ... and the people willing to believe it.


My saddle fitting training and philosophy states that the saddle should spread the rider's weight over the largest possible weight-bearing area (without extending past T18) and maintain contact with the horse's back throughout the panel when the horse is in motion.  So I was quite surprised when I read this post.  My first impression was that it runs very counter to what I've been taught, so I read it through a few times, trying to understand the author's point (and keeping in mind that, while he's quite fluent in English, it is not his mother tongue).  I think I get it:  the saddle can't press too heavily in the rear of the panels, it shouldn't put pressure on the loins and it must fit the active back ... and I couldn't agree more.  However, if the Holy Three (tree width, tree shape and panel configuration) are correct, there won't be tons of pressure or "visual indents under the panel wedge" (which in my experience often come from a too-narrow tree), so the saddle doesn't need to "rock slightly at the cantle".  I can understand using upswept panels to keep the weight-bearing surface on the safe side of T18, but the word "rock" is really throwing me here.  This could be a misunderstanding on my part, or it could be an example of the differences between the UK school of fitting and the "Continental" school ... but if the cantle lifts when the horse is in motion, there's a fulcrum point somewhere that's causing the rocking, and that's causing a pressure point, and that's not good.


This reminds me of the old saw, "Fighting for peace is like f******g for virginity ..."
Recently, someone sent me photos of their horse and saddle, hoping I could shed some light on an ongoing fitting problem.  Her chiropractor/saddle fitter had recommended using front shims to "create some room", since the front of the saddle seemed tight.  When I saw the photos, it turned out that the tree was substantially too narrow for the horse, and the shims just made things worse.  "But the fitter said there needed to be more room in the front of the saddle, and the shims would help create it."

I can follow the thinking here:  if you add shims to the front of the saddle, they take up space; if the saddle's a little too wide, they can make up the width and lift the front of the saddle, making it sit level instead of nose-diving. So if you add shims to a tree that's too narrow, yes, you'll lift the front of the saddle and create more room between the horse's wither and the pommel arch ... but you're creating even more pressure under the tree points.  Following that logic, if the waistband of your jeans isn't roomy enough, you should be able to add a couple pairs of granny panties and create more room.  And trust me, one will be just as uncomfortable as the other.  If the tree's too narrow, adding more bulk under the tree points is the last thing you should do.


Customer calls and is interested in trying a Frank Baines Capriole, says she rode in one and loved it to pieces, most comfortable saddle she's ever been in, and wants one for her horse.  When I ask if she's ever tried one on her horse, she says no; when I ask what sort of horse she has, she says she has an older Thoroughbred mare with big withers and a dippy back.  Problem here is that the Baines Capriole fits flat as a pancake, and putting one on a horse with the described conformation will probably make it bridge like a plank over a ditch. But I asked the customer to send tracings and photos, just in case the "big withers and dippy back" was less extreme than it had sounded.

When the info arrived, the mare indeed proved to be the opposite end of the spectrum from "flat".  I contacted the owner with some recommendations, which included a Black Country Eden, a Frank Baines Reflex, an Albion high-head and an older County Competitor (the kind that looks like a leather-covered banana with billets).  But the owner wouldn't let go of the idea of a Capriole.  "But won't her back come up with training?  When she's doing dressage, doesn't her back come up?"

I agreed that it would and it should, and asked just how old "older" was, and what level the mare was presently working.

"She's 18, and we're just starting to work at Training Level," was the reply.

Now, I have seen horse's backs change to an amazing degree with correct training, and it's not uncommon to see dramatic muscle development happen ... but in an 18 yr. old horse under an ammie owner and just getting into Training level?  Not so much, honestly. I told the customer all my reservations and doubts, but she insisted on trying a Capriole.  She sent photos to me, and the saddle was showing daylight under the panels - plank over a ditch, indeed.  Needless to say, her fitter nixed the saddle, her trainer nixed the saddle, and her vet nixed the saddle.  Finally she settled on a Frank Baines Reflex (which fit the horse like a glove and turned out to be fine for the rider, too) ... but she told me her next horse is going to be a LOT flatter in the back.


"My horse needs a wide tree."  "My horse needs a 34 cm. tree." "My horse needs an extra-wide tree."  I hear this day in and day out.  And given some of the fitting information available on some saddle companies' web sites, it's understandable - width is one of the most frequently-mentioned facets (and sometimes the only facet) of saddle fitting.  I've even had customers tell me that reps have told them, "As long as the tree width is correct, everything else will be, too."  And while it's a vital part of the saddle fitting equation, it's not the only part.


Take a look at this.  Get past the reindeer "fur" saddle pad and click on the "How To Fit Your Horse" link on the left.  Please do not send me tracings made to these specs.  Please ... just don't.  


One of the most diplomatically sensitive areas of saddle fitting is seat size.  To some people, large seat size means "your arse is huge," and they can get downright cranky if you infer that a 16.5" or 17" seat might be a tad ... snug.  While the size of your back yard does play a part in the seat size you'll need, remember that the length of your femur plays a part here, too.  So if you're 5'9" and long-legged, please don't be offended if your saddle fitter mentions an 18" seat (or an 18.5" or 19" seat in the snug-fitting brands like Duett and Lovatt and Ricketts).  That said, there are times when a larger seat size is NOT the answer; I've dealt with lots of tall, skinny riders who'd spent years trying to stabilize their leg when they couldn't reach the knee/thigh block and swimming in seats that were miles too big.  Sometimes the answer for the tall skinnies is a smaller seat size and a modified (longer and/or more forward) flap, so if you're 5'9" and weigh 130 lbs., that may be the better option.  (If you'd like some in-depth info on fitting the rider, check out my Saddle Fit for the Rider article on the shop's website.)

If you run into any info you wonder about, check it out with a reputable saddler/fitter.  And if you don't know one, you can always leave a comment here or send me an e-mail; I'm happy to offer whatever help I can.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TaeKwando is for Babies

FYI:  this is totally unrelated to saddle fitting.

If any of you have ever read my profile, you'll know that in addition to my horse-related activities, I am a karateka - a student of karate. (And if you haven't read my profile, well, now you know anyway.)  I've been studying Koro Ken Karatedo for the last 6 years and have attained the rank of san-kyu (first degree brown belt); according to my Sensei (teacher - literally, "one who has gone before"), I'll soon be testing for second degree.  It's a long, tough, wonderful journey ... and obviously you have to start somewhere.

In our dojo, it's considered the duty of the higher belts to help teach the beginners, and I used to help teach the kids' classes.  I had to stop doing so when I started working full time, and it was probably for the best, since I'm not kid-centric and occasionally (though unintentionally) reduced a timid child to tears.  So when I saw this video, I laughed so hard I nearly peed myself.  It does look a bit like "Riverdance" with protective headgear, but at this age, they're doing well to be walking upright.  Love those back-kicks!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion

Just wanted to give you all a heads-up about an article on shims and correction pads that I just finished for Trail Blazer magazine.  It's supposed to be in the Dec. edition - I only had a bit over 3 weeks to write it; it was a bit of a push to get it done in time, but there's nothing like a looming deadline to kick the creative process into gear. Grab a copy if you get the chance - hope you enjoy it!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Such a Deal (Listen to Bob)

Value:  the monetary worth of something: relative worth, utility, or importance -

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To Tree, or Not to Tree

I've touched on the subject of treeless vs. treed saddles before, and stated that there are pros and cons to both - BUT that each needs to be fitted correctly or problems will result.  Here's a thermograph (see here for more on thermography) that shows what can happen when an incorrectly-fitted treeless saddle creates pressure on the spinous processes:

Remember, blue is coolest and white is hottest (see the scale on the bottom).  That, in the words of the horse's owner, is a serious case of "wither sadness".  To the owner's immense credit, she knew something was wrong with her horse and spent a lot of time and money trying to pin-point his mystery lameness ... and finally the thermographic image found the culprit.

'Nuff said.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bare Naked Trees

The difference between hoop trees and standard trees has been discussed here quite a bit, but I finally have a bare hoop tree (pulled from a saddle that was the victim of a most bizarre accident, which I will chronicle in the future).  So I thought I'd take some photos so you can really see the difference between the two.  Keep in mind that the hoop tree is an XW, and the standard tree is roughly a medium, so the difference in width is quite dramatic, but I think you'll also be able to see the difference in breadth across the top of the pommel arch as well.

First, here's a standard tree:

And here's the hoop tree:

Now, here's the standard tree stacked on top of the hoop tree:

It's pretty obvious, isn't it?  The standard tree is shaped more like a peak roof or a pup tent:

And would be more suitable for a back like this:

Whereas the hoop tree is more like a dome tent:

Or a quonset hut:

And does a great job of fitting a back like this:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Saddle fitting is, at best, an inexact science.  Sometimes the laws of geometry and physics do not apply; sometimes the logical, rational route to solving a fitting issue drags you through the labyrinth and runs you into the dead end again and again.  Sometimes you have to listen to your gut, that hunch, that little voice that says, "Why don't we try this instead?" Because sometimes it's the creative, right-brain method that works best.  In light of that, I think it would be fair to say that saddle fitting is probably more art than science.  And in light of that, it's really no surprise to me that many saddle fitters have a very creative side and are often involved in the arts.

Stephanie Bloom is like that: saddle fitter and artist, and pretty damn good at both, in my opinion.  She fits and sells Reactor Panel, Phoenix and Native Pony saddles, and she does some of the most wonderful animal portraits I've seen:

To my eye, the thing that sets her work apart isn't so much the draftsmanship - which, admittedly, is superior - but the expression she captures.  When you look at her portraits, you don't just see a black Lab or a chestnut horse - you get a sense of each animal's personality and individual character, an idea of who they are rather than just what they are.  Stephanie works in chalk pastels, doing her portraits from photos; she's been doing commissioned portraits since 2009.

You can find out more about Stephanie and her work at

Friday, September 16, 2011

Psycho Fitter (Qu'est-ce Que C'est?)

Weekday mornings are usually pretty busy at our house.  My first precious cup of coffee is consumed while feeding humans, feeding dogs and cats, feeding the mare, packing lunch for me and snacks for our boys, making sure their back packs contain books and homework and helping my husband get them to the bus on time.  I get to enjoy my second cup in a more leisurely manner, sitting in front of the computer, letting the caffeine kick in while I read my e-mail, cruise my favorite websites and - as I was doing Tuesday morning - checking my blog stats.

One of my favorite stats is the "traffic sources".  For those of you who don't have blogs (or don't check your stats), it shows which web sites are helping people make their way to your blog; you can click on the link and see which post they're mentioning, what people are saying and who's saying it.  That morning, the top referring site was the Horse and Hound bulletin board, so I clicked on the link.  Someone named "Keeky" had asked about gel pads, and someone else had referred them to my Mud Season Grumps post, in which I detail the depth and breadth of my loathing for those miserable things.  Keeky replied ... well, you can read it for yourself here.  When I read, it, I nearly re-routed my coffee through my nose, then whooped and cackled so long and so hard that my husband asked me if I was laying an egg.

First, I'd like to give Keeky props for doing her best to spell "psychopath" correctly.  She came damn close - all of the correct letters were there, even if they weren't quite in the proper order, and that's a lot better than many people can do. I'm also extremely gratified to find that my writing so accurately reflects my true nature. Keeky, I'd like you to know that no one has killed either of my cats, and my husband is (so far) unbitten (though I'm not quite sure how you came to the conclusion that he was the one in danger of being gnawed). My ranting sprang from the normal day-to-day frustrations that come with being a horse woman and saddle fitter - specifically one "of a certain age" who, thanks to her hormones, spends a lot of time playing on the Mood Swings; who lives in a very rural part of the world where mud does indeed determine the frequency, location, length and happiness of one's riding, and who, if she doesn't get to the dojo (or at least run kihon and kata) on a regular basis, probably should, in the interest of public safety, be kept in the basement on a very short, very sturdy chain. Now, I'm sure this probably isn't improving your opinion of me ... but aren't you glad you're not my neighbor?

That said, there really is a grain of truth in the psychopath thing.  In reality, you have to be a bit of a lunatic to do this job - or to go into any equine-related field.  Most jobs in the horse world involve long hours, hard and dirty work, inclement weather, and - often - dealing with other lunatics.  And in a purely fiscal light ... well, just let me say that I don't know too many independently wealthy saddle fitters.  There's more truth than poetry (as Ma used to say) to the old joke:  "How do you make a small fortune in the horse world?  Start with a large fortune."

As a fitter, I have to deal with difficult customers, difficult horses, Self-Appointed Experts, long drives to barn calls, people trucking in hours late for appointments (or not showing up at all), problem saddles, unrealistic expectations, zombie saddles, sheep manure and the odd pill bug.  I work in an arcane, antiquated profession, in which a tiny number of the world's population have a good working knowledge.  Most people outside the horse world (and a surprising number inside the horse world) have no flaming idea what a saddle fitter is, or what we do. On the rare occasion I attend a social gathering that is not horse related, and someone asks me what I do for work, there's usually a moment of dead silence when I say I'm a saddle fitter.  It's almost as confusing as when I used to reply, "I'm a dressage trainer."  Let me tell you, it's rarely a jump-starter for conversation (though given my rather reclusive, psychopathic nature, that's not necessarily a bad thing).

But the upside of this job - for me, anyway - is the challenge, and the fact that there's always something new to learn.  And - though admitting it may put a little shine on my gnarly reputation - I enjoy helping horse and rider find the saddle that works for them, and seeing them ride away happy. As my co-worker Nancy says, we're not really changing the world for the better ... but I do think, in some small way, we may be making at least a small part of it better for the horses and riders we deal with.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Changeable Gullets - The Details

I know, I know, we've covered this subject before.  However, according to my blog stats (which I check from time to time), the posts that consistently get the most traffic are the ones about adjustable trees / changeable gullets.  Given that I've just had something of a revelation regarding certain gullet plates, I'm going to share this little nugget of info, since I think it has a lot to do with some fitting issues I've run into, and shows even more clearly why these saddles aren't the perfect answer for every horse out there. 

First, let me say that there are changeable gullets, and there are changeable gullets.  (There are also changeable heads - note the Albion Genesis models - but that's a different kettle of fish, and not one that I know much about yet.)  So ... there are quite a few saddles that offer the changeable gullet system - Anky, Pessoa, Collegiate, Wintec, Thorowgood - but the ones I'm most familiar with are the Wintecs and Thorowgoods, so I'll confine myself mostly to those two, though I will say that I think the Ankys and Pessoas have one of the easier systems to work.

First, let's take a look at the basic gullets.  Here's a Wintec standard extra-wide plate:

And here's one of the Wintec Wide plates (it has three:  wide, wider and widest; this is the wider):

Now, here's the Thorowgood xw:

 And the Thorowgood xxw:

Thorowgood offers two different types of plates:  The S bar (bottom, for square cantled saddles) and the R bar (top, for round cantled saddles).  The R bar, which has longer points, is better suited for a horse with a good wither and is used in their standard and high-wither models (and the standard Showjumper saddle); the S bar, with shorter points, is better for a lower-to-no wither, broader horse.

Now, here's the Wintec medium plate sitting on top of the Thorowgood medium plate.

And here's the Wintec medium plate compared to the head of a Black Country tree:

Have you noticed anything about the Wintec plates?  There's something unique about them, something not found in the head plate of fixed tree saddles or on the gullet plate of any of the changeable gullet saddles.  Here are some hints, in case you haven't found it yet.

Here's the Thorowgood medium gullet plate:

Here's the Black Country tree:

And here's the Wintec medium plate:

And the Wintec Wide "wider" plate:

Before I divulge the unique feature (which you've probably already recognized), let me say that the issue that I'd  run into rather frequently when fitting the Wintecs was that even when the angle of the tree point (the lower part of the plate) agreed with the horse's back, the fit just wasn't right.  At first, I'd put it down to the CAIR panels, which need to have the rider up to really evaluate fit ... but getting the rider up wouldn't improve the issue.  Switching out the plates didn't make the fit better, nor did flocking or shimming.  For the life of me, I could not figure out what the problem was ... until I received an e-mail from a fellow fitter that mentioned "that damned kink" in the Wintec plates.  

I'd handled those plates for years, but never really looked at them.  So I grabbed a plate, put it on my bench, and spent a few moments studying it;  Yes, there was definitely an inward kink about halfway down the leg of the Wintec plate ... and the lower part of the plate flared out ... This creates two different angles in the gullet plate - one above the kink, and one below it:

And when you compare these angles, they're quite different:

Now, when the gullet is installed in the saddle, the kink corresponds roughly with the top edge of the panels, so technically the lower part - which would be the tree point on a fixed-tree saddle - is one angle, and that angle should be parallel to your horse's back.  However, in my experience, this design creates the potential for a great deal of pressure right at the top of the panel.  On some horses, this doesn't seem to create issues, but on some - especially those for whom the panel placement isn't quite perfect - it does create a substantial spot of pressure ... and there's nothing that can be done to correct it.  And when I see the "straight leg" on other changeable gullet plates, and on the head plates of the fixed-tree saddles, I look at that inward kink and wonder "Why?"

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Vermont got hammered.  We were lucky:  the shop, the employees and families (two and four legged) are safe.  The worst we experienced was a road wash-out at Edie's place; otherwise it was a little water in the barn or basement, a day or so without power, or a new route to work.  I'll say it again:  we were lucky - insanely, incredibly, immeasurably lucky.  Many people weren't.

Monday, August 22, 2011


There are some things in this world that I just cannot comprehend, no matter much I stretch my imagination. Abstract math.  The appeal of tiny, bug-eyed, yappy dogs.  Pamela Anderson.  Driving a Hummer in Manhattan or L.A.  Matching china.  Fabio.  The need to "put your face on" before you leave the house.  These are all anathema to me.  But the thing that unfailingly floors me, that boggles my mind and makes me do the Big Surprise Face, is when people drop a substantial chunk of change on a saddle and then fail to give it proper care.

For example: here are some photos of Nancy Okun's Black Country Equinox.  This saddle is about 6 years old and retalied for about $2600 back then; Nancy figures she's put about 3000 miles into it.  This saddle has literally been "rode hard and put away wet" - as is typical for a competitive trail saddle.  But after every ride, Nancy wiped the dirt and sweat off it and put it on the rack in her trailer; she dried it carefully when it got soaked and conditioned it when needed - and aside from regular flocking adjustments by yours truly, that's really about all the care it's ever gotten.  Nothing heroic or extreme, just good basic maintenance.   Take a look.

You can see some wear on the billets and the ends of the undersides of the flaps; there's a little fading on the outsude of the flaps and the jockeys have shaped themselves to the billets and stirrup leathers, but this saddle is in wonderful shape, especially considering the life it's led.

Now, let's take it to the other extreme.  This is a saddle that received flocking adjustments but little to no other care; the fitter who did the flocking repeatedly lectured the owner on the care it should receive ... but it seems those lectures fell on deaf ears.  Take a look at the photos below, compare them to the shots of Nancy's saddle, and take a guess at its age.  Keep in mind that this is a dressage saddle, comparable in quality and price to Nancy's Equinox.  These photos were sent by the owner after my fellow fitter had dropped the panels and found a broken tree.

 The seat leather's worn through on the right ...

... and badly cracked - nearly worn through - on the left.


Left front panel cracked.


Right front panel cracked through to the lining.

Head plate broken dead center, perhaps as a result of the rusted-out rivets on either side.

Any guesses as to the age of this saddle?  You might think it's a venerable old unit that's been to the wars and back, and given the condition it's in, that's a justifiable guess.  But I bet you'll be as floored as my fellow fitter was when you learn that this saddle is only 4 - yes, FOUR - years old.

Now, horror at the destruction of a lovely saddle aside, let's take a look at some very practical math.  Nancy bought her saddle for about $2600 six years ago.  The price of that saddle is now almost $3200.  If Nancy sells the saddle for $2000, someone will be thrilled to save $1200 and get a saddle in such nice shape; that means that Nancy's only out about $600, which breaks down to only $100 a year for her saddle.  Not a bad deal.

The other saddle, however, is a total wreck.  Ironically, the tree is still under warranty, but re-treeing it wouldn't be worthwhile, since the saddle's totally trashed and the remaining leather probably wouldn't hold up to the stretching and stress a re-tree would place on it.  Patching the seat or re-seating the saddle would be a questionable enterprise at best - again, given the state of the leather - and patching the panels is really a no-no, since patches on panels rarely stay and have a very real likelihood of creating pressure and/or soreness.  Given that this saddle retailed for roughly $2500 four years ago, that breaks down to (let me get the calculator) ... $625 per year.  Or, if you want to consider the saddle now sells for about $2900 ... well, I'll let you do the math.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guest Blogger: "It's About Henry" by Edie Tschorn

Every once in a while, you run into one of those pieces of writing that makes you stop in your tracks and think, something that speaks to you in more ways than the writer probably intended, something that's so pithy and germane that you have to share with everyone you know. 

That happened to me today. 

Being the TMT Grammar Nazi, it falls to me to edit most of the articles that go on our web site and into our monthly newsletter (which you can sign up for here if you're interested; the little sign-up box is toward the bottom of the page on the left).  When Edie's article popped up in my "In" box, I scanned it quickly, had a great laugh, and then set to editing.  It was tough to do, because I kept getting caught up in the message, thinking of ways it relates to my relationship with Lyric ... and my kids and husband ... and my dogs ... and my work ... and my martial arts .. and ...

Well, you get the idea.

When I was finally through with the technical stuff, I asked if I could reprint it here.  Edie kindly gave me permission.  Hope you all enjoy it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Undead

Anyone who's ever seen the sequel to any really popular slasher / zombie / vampire / chainsaw-wielding maniac / cave-dwelling mutant movie will recognize this scene:  Our Hero(ine), who nearly died at the end of the first movie while dispaching (in some dramatic way) The Really Bad Thing, is sitting in bed, late at night, watching TV and snuggling with The Love Interest.  Suddenly, there's a noise ... an eerily familiar noise ... Our Hero(ine) bolts upright, and The Really Bad Thing bursts into the room and proceeds to reduce The (Now Shrieking) Love Interest to bloody hash while Our Hero(ine) screams, "Ohmygod!  Why won't you just DIE?!"

I had that happen today.  Okay, so there was no Love Interest and no bloody hash and no screaming (though there was profanity), but ... Remember this saddle?  "It's ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ack ..."

... even more ragged and unsafe than before.  Both panels are still loose, but now the left front panel has lost the screw that held the upper corner on the tree, the stitching is broken and the panel's almost completely adrift:

Nice view of the panel foam (what's left of it).

And the other side's just as torn up:


I'm being stalked by The Undead.

Has this saddle been in use since I declared it dead almost two years ago?  I hope not, because this is a wreck waiting to happen.  It was awful back then, and it's worse now.  Perhaps I need to couch my diagnosis in stronger terms this time and hope my message gets through:  I won't be party to a horse and/or rider getting injured because I did a Dr. Frankenstein on this saddle.  I ought to shoot it with a silver bullet, cut off its billets, pound a stake through the seat, wrap it in a string of garlic, strew it with white roses, take it across running water and bury it at a crossroads.  Begone, demon, and follow me no more.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Buyer Beware

I know a lot of people in the horse world are on a budget - myself included.  If I can get free shipping on my mare's supplements, save $20 by buying my salt blocks in bulk, or get a discount on my winter's hay by spending a few days slinging bales and off-loading hay wagons, I'm all over it.  Saving $10 here and $20 there can be a big help.  However, there are deals ... and there are deals.

A customer of mine bought a high-end used jump saddle on eBay, got it for a song, looked fantastic, only a few scuff marks, couldn't believe her luck ... but when it arrived, she noticed some suspicious-looking wrinkles across the seat.  So she propped it on her thigh and flexed it - and it flexed quite a lot.  Being of the opinion that it's better to err on the side of safety, she brough it to me so I could check it out. The degree of flex made me think I should drop the panels check the tree.  Lots of flex isn't always indicative of a compromised tree, but I agreed that erring on the safe side would be a good idea.

Glad I decided that.

Broken spring bar. "But couldn't a good saddler just replace that?" I hear you ask.  Possible in theory, but usually, if there's been enough trauma to snap a spring bar, there's other damage on top of that.  Case in point:  though it doesn't show in this photo (and I couldn't get a decent shot of it), the tree's cracked on both sides at the rear of the flap.  And ...

... the lower head plate is broken as well.

I didn't peel the seat off to check the upper head plate - this tree is a complete write-off as it is - but that may be compromised, too.  This sort of damage usually comes from the saddle somehow coming between the horse and the ground - either the horse flipping over on it, or rolling on it in the stall.  There were some scuff marks on the pommel and cantle which would be pretty consistent with the latter, though if the horse landed on the saddle in deep, soft footing, that could cause similar marks.  

So here's the deal on buying used saddles:  caveat emptor.  If you're buying it from a reliable tack shop with a knowledgeable staff, chances are it's gone through a pretty thorough safety check.  However, if you're buying from an unknown source or individual, they may not be informed enough to know if the saddle's safe ... or they may be unscrupulous enough that they don't much care (though in this litigious climate, that's becoming less and less common).

If my client is willing to spend between $700 and $1200, she might be able to have this saddle re-treed - IF this model is still in production and she can find a replacement tree.  If so, she'll have to purchase it (most trees run between $200 and $350), pay shipping and import fees from the UK/EU (which can easily run equal to or even exceed the price of tree) and another $400-$600 for the actual re-tree, plus shipping to and from the saddler.  Tack on the initial price of the saddle - even if it was only $500 - and you're in the neighborhood of a nice quality used saddle in safe and sound condition ... without the frustration and time waste.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't Go There, Girlfriend (Got My Crank On)

I love it when people comment on my blog.  I take that as an indicator that the info I've put out has given them something to think about, or touched on an experience they've had or maybe answered a question they've always had but never asked.  Comments also give me an idea of what people want to hear about, and it gives them a chance to share experiences they've had.

There are two things I will NOT tolerate, however:  First, I won't allow people to talk smack about an individual fitter/trainer/rider/rep/tack shop (see this post), even if they're righteously pissed because of something rotten the fitter/trainer/rider/rep/tack shop has done.  This isn't the venue for that sort of conversation.

Second, I will not tolerate comments made by individuals seeking a sleazy, back door method of promoting their web site - especially their saddle and tack retail web site.  I've had a slew of those recently.  I moderate all comments, and yes, I do check to see where they come from ... so no, you aren't going to get a freebie link on this blog just by saying things like, "WOW.  Fantastic post.  Very informative as well.  Keep posting. I am waiting for your next post :)." This is sort of like pretending to give someone a pat on the back while trying to stick a "GO TO MY SITE" sign on their shirt.  While it's nice to know that people find my posts helpful and informative, I'm not starved for validation.

While there have been a lot of comments in this vein (some quite literate, and some that make me want to repeatedly slam my face into my keyboard) the ultimate in icky (at least so far), has to be this one: "Jeffries manufactures its own spring trees, each to a design that is renowned for its excellent fit, produced in 6-ply laminated wood to prevent distortion whilst retaining flexibility for comfort. Jeffries also source specialist trees from Walsall based manufacturers. The finest quality leather is prepared and finished meticulously, providing ultimate durability and rider safety."  I'm not sure what I find most amazing ...their sheer laziness in lifting something right from Jeffries' ad copy, the fact that they didn't think I'd recognize something lifted from Jeffries' ad copy, or just the fact that they had the balls to lift this from the Jeffries' ad copy and try to pass it off as a legit comment.  Now they're not just trying to use me, they've also brought Jeffries Saddlery (an old and well-respected UK saddle maker) into the mix ... Look, Mom!  Sleaze squared! 

So while I'm more than happy to publish ideas, questions and commentary, don't try to use this as a portal to your web site.  It won't succeed, you'll only piss me off (and that's not much of a feather in your cap - I'm usually just a short jump from that state on most days), and eventually karma will bite you.  You won't rise to the top by climbing over someone else's head.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Circa 1957 - Go Into the Light

I am a sentimental pack rat.  This is not a fact most people know, since it's usually obscured by my ouchy-bleedy, non-warm-and-fuzzy personality ... but it's true.  I save silly stuff:  a matchbook from the dance club where my husband and I met, a cheap souvenir key chain from a trip to Paris, my sons' first shirts and locks of hair from their first haircuts, one of Lyric's baby teeth (and all of my kids' baby teeth) and my very first plush toy (a musical lamb that plays Brahm's "Lullaby").  Of course, this is true of my tack, as well.  I have all of my mom's old western tack as well as my own; I even have  my first western pony saddle and bridle (red leather with brass tacks), so I understand the attachment that can develop with a piece of tack that you've had since dirt formed.  Just seeing it reminds you of the horse or pony you rode it in, and touching the well-worn leather can bring back the adventures and the mishaps and the bone-deep satisfaction you feel when you dismount after a truly good ride.  It's not just a thing made of leather, wood and metal - it's an integral part of your horse life, a history book, almost another limb.  So yes, I understand the attachment.

I also know understand that your tack, like your horse, will reach retirement age; a time when it's great to look at but perhaps not so wise for actual use.  The saddle in the photos below is a perfect example of this.  It's an old polo saddle that was originally purchased in Oxford, England in 1957, sent to me for a strip flock and new billets.

The plate says it was made by Hayes saddle makers in Cirencester. The leather is on the fragile side - it's covered with rain spots, and I'm not certain how well it would hold up if I started trying to dismantle or re-stitch anything - but the stirrup bars were tight, the billets and webbing seemed sound enough, and at first glance, it looked quite decent for 54 years old.

Then I looked at it from the front, and I noticed some serious crookedness:

As you can see, the cantle slants off to the saddle's left, and the right panel seems to be a smidge higher than the left at the pommel.  When viewed from the back, the crookedness is even more obvious:

The cantle is far to the left of the pommel - looks to me as though this saddle has been mounted from the ground a LOT.  Even the panels are misaligned:

Close-up of rear of the panels - the unevenness is really obvious here:

Giving an owner the news that it's time to put the old reliable trooper out to pasture is always a touchy bit of work.  Some people take it well, and some look for any way to forestall the inevitable:  "I'll only use it on the old horse I've used it on for 23 years" or "I'll only use it on greenies as a breaking saddle" or "I'll only ride at the walk!"  Fortunately, this customer was understanding and figured that after 54 years of service, his saddle was indeed ready to "go into the light."