By Jerry Tardif
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When Bad Luck Is Good
At this point, my frustration was becoming manifest — it seemed difficult enough to find a saddle along the lines of what I wanted, but upon doing so, not finding a manufacturer willing to work with me in customizing that saddle was exasperating.
That said, it was good I hadn't yet purchased a saddle.
I didn't know it yet, but that fact was saving me (and my money) from being put into a saddle that I would initially like and then finding another that I wanted more.
Essentially, I didn't know enough yet.
(Hard to believe a human male would admit such a thing, isn't it? — DON'T quote me — I'll deny it!)
Baptism by Fire
In November of 2007, a watershed occurred in my investigation.
QueryHorse had purchased a booth at the Springfield, MA Equine Affaire. I know these "affairs" are also held in Pomona, CA and in Columbus, OH.
I don't know which is the biggest, but the one in Massachusetts certainly is not small.
It encompasses multiple large buildings and appears to include almost every major manufacturer and retailer of horse products in the country, and many from other countries, especially Europe.
Needless to say, it was an excellent venue at which to continue my saddle search.
As an exhibitor, there's not much time to visit other booths while manning our own.
Though, there can be time immediately after opening and before closing when the crowds are thinner; personally, I best like the 30 minutes before opening.
That's because most of us vendors generally arrive about an hour before, get our booths ready, and then have a moment to think, take a break, and best of all, visit other booths.
Most vendors are excited to explore each other's products and share information before the crowds arrive.
At times, we had as many as four people manning our booth, but most of the time, it was Kathleen (our inimitable "Horse Girl") and me.
Generally, I dislike visiting trade shows and outright HATE being in them.
But because horses are such a passion, a horse show is different and Kathleen and I are usually bubbly, manic, and experiencing a four-day adrenaline rush (the crash on the fifth day is not pretty, but I won't frighten you, gentle reader, with such ghastly details).
The Wild Micro-Herd
Let me put this into perspective:
Imagine two little kids in a candy store for four days straight with no limits on their diets and no pesky parents or teachers to keep them under control.
Now imagine these kids are also on an extreme overdose of adrenaline so as to stay awake 24/7 and not miss anything.
There, you have a fairly accurate impression of the kind of trouble a horse girl and horse guy can get into — AND DON'T FORGET — they're not wearing halters tightly secured by lead lines or cross ties.
Yes, we form an overly excited "herd of two" that loves to gallop with few, if any limitations.
So, whenever the crowds abated, whether at day's beginning, to eat lunch, or day's end, one of us would abandon the other with a quick "I'm really tired, so, I'm going to take a quick run around and see if there's anything interesting!"
That's how two horse addicts cure a case of total exhaustion: we start galloping around inside massive buildings to rebuild our energy level — smart, right?
Initially, seeing all those saddles had the effect of confusing me more because there was only so much I could take in.
I'm even more pathetic than that!
I'm also looking at bits, bridles, breast plates, other tack, grooming products, apparel, horse art, barn products, tractors, trailers — it just doesn't end — my equine addiction runs really, really deep!
Kathleen, however…noooo…actually…she's as sick as I — she was stringing herself out whenever she was able to "strand" me in the booth (inconsiderate or what???)
You don't want chocolate? But you said…
Being able to see all these saddles together, in one place, and being able to go back to look at any of them later in the day, and again the next day, and the day after that, really let me ask questions, let me measure, let me ask more questions, and eventually learn enough to realize that I didn't even want a western saddle at all.
What I really wanted, was an Australian saddle.
Moving on to Australian Saddles made my job much easier.
They're built specifically for the kind of riding I like to do.
And their job is to keep the rider in the saddle.
Mind you, I've taken my own tumbles just like anyone else who rides, especially trail riding with its occasional surprises.
And yes, there have been times when I should have been paying more attention than I was.
But there's a difference between riding for an hour in a controled space like an arena and the much longer rides on the trail with multiple horses and friends with whom you're chatting (I'm not saying we won't include the horses in conversation, but it's fair to say the horses we ride with are not very talkative).
Riding for hours with friends and enjoying the beauty of nature does conspire, at least a little, to distract us from time to time.
And during that time, things can happen (or our horse might realize this is the "perfect opportunity" he/she has been looking for to get away with something).
So, if a particular saddle design can make our riding safer, why not avail ourselves of that extra safety component?
Australian saddles have undergone a constant, evolutionary development intent on keeping the rider atop the horse.
That's very important!
Most, if not all of the pain and injury from a crash occurs when we eventually hit the ground.
If we can skip that part, we avoid the pain and injury — is this a great concept or what?
So, Australian saddles have generally deeper seats.
That helps keep us there when our horse accelerates suddenly or takes that unexpected "instant hop" like only a horse, or a deer, can do.
(Few of my friends ride deer, and those that would like to do so complain of a lack of deer saddles that, to this day, keep them on foot rather than "deerback".)
Australian saddles also have kneepads called "poleys" that are designed to stop the rider from being thrown over the horse's neck during a steep and quick downhill run or an abrupt stop.
Now, I don't like to canter or gallop downhill.
In fact, I don't even like trotting downhill; I almost always walk my horse down anything but the most gentle slopes.
It seems horses more easily trip when going too fast downhill.
If my horse trips at speed, I'm not only afraid I'll get hurt, I also worry about him breaking a leg. I'd feel terrible if he got hurt because of some dumb thing I was doing, so I try to avoid that.
Level ground is different.
In fact, just yesterday, four friends and I were galloping through rather thick forest at almost 20 MPH (verified by GPS) dodging trees and branches (no, not a classic dumb male thing, three were women and we are all over 40, some over 50...shhhh...)
The horses loved it and the biggest risk seemed to be to us riders rapping a kneecap against a tree or being "scraped off" by a low-hanging branch (one of those aforementioned "perfect opportunities" for the horse not happy with his rider).
Between that deep seat and the knee poleys, riders tend to stay put much better in such a saddle (quick moving tree branches notwithstanding).
And these saddle characteristics also address other concerns I've mentioned, such as the abrupt, light-speed turn only a horse can orchestrate.
So, just by moving to this saddle design makes trail riding somewhat safer.
And from the Aussie saddle manufacturers I reviewed, a horn is usually optional — we're not forced to select between western or endurance styles and be limited to the features a manufacturer has accorded either design.
Obviously, I'm saying goodbye to that pelvic scalpel.
At this point, I was starting to feel "real good".
The cloud of confusion was abating some (notice I said some — I was now in a "thinning mist" rather than a dense, blinding fog — to my way of thinking, this was progress).
So with renewed hope and focus, I explored Australian designs more deeply.
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Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com.
He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.
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