By Jerry Tardif
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When more is not necessarily good…
I was surprised to see how many companies carry Australian saddles.
On QueryHorse, I searched for the phrase "australian saddle" and found over 50,000 documents relating to them.
As I started "combing through" the different offerings, they all seemed rather similar with few distinguishing features.
They all had deeper than average seats and knee poleys.
But I was not able to determine comfort or to find a local tack shop that had some on hand so I could actually sit in one.
At the Massachusetts' Equine Affaire that I mentioned in a prior post, I found several Aussie saddle companies, and one particularly caught my eye, but not because of the saddle.
A Suspicious Character
On the first day there, an unusual looking man walked by our booth about midday.
I say unusual because he was wearing a full-length oilskin coat, an Aussie hat, and other unusual leather accoutrements (don't know what they were).
He seemed quite rugged and perhaps a little worn.
In fact, he looked like he was ready to go to hell and back and was properly dressed for it.
Give him a horse and a whip and he'd pass for the "real thing".
Of course, lots of people at the trade show were wearing English, western, and similarly authentic garb related to their riding disciplines.
I didn't think much else of it at the time, though I did later notice he was hanging around one of the Australian saddle company booths.
When I came to that booth during one of my "rest breaks", I looked at the saddles and also noticed they sold whips.
That surprised me in that I'd not seen whips sold anywhere before.
A day or so later, this guy stopped by our booth and asked a little about what QueryHorse was and I explained.
I also learned his name was Colin Dangaard and that he owned the Aussie saddle company at the booth I had visited.
I did go back to his booth later and spoke with some of his sales people asking questions about saddles.
But I found it difficult to come to any conclusions about these saddles.
I also visited other booths with Australian saddles and came to similar non-conclusions.
I felt I was trying to come to a decision in the abstract, kind of like attempting to decide whether or not to buy a pair of shoes by looking at them on a shelf and trying to determine how comfortable they would be.
At the end of the last day of Equine Affaire, the crowd really thinned out on that Sunday Evening and Colin came by to chat.
All us vendors were exhausted by that time due to the long days and being on our feet all the time (plus Kathleen and my compulsion to gallop around these immense buildings as our warped idea of how to have fun and take a break…no, we're not that smart).
We spoke for about an hour and learned that Colin was likely crazier than we were (hard to believe, eh?)
I started to remember I had read an article written by him in the Sept. 2007 issue of Perfect Horse magazine.
He wrote about being in a hunt club race in the California Santa Monica Mountains.
It seems he spent some of the race taking jumps after losing his stirrups and still at a flat-out gallop.
He also mentioned having had so many crashes off a horse in his life that he should have been put down years before.
At least this was beginning to explain that worn and "to hell and back" look I'd noticed when he first passed by our booth — he really has visited hell — I'm really not into crashes at flat gallop.
But he was so very entertaining to chat with — we all laughed a lot; and he was quick witted.
Colin's passion and enthusiasm were contagious and he spoke about some crazy riding he's done, such as jumping picnic tables and blasting through the Malibu hills at night (I didn't ask about the degree of darkness for fear this man could outride me in almost any situation — my frail male ego and all that)
I will admit that Kathleen and I later spoke about how fun it would be to accompany Colin of one of his rides, though preferably during the light of day so we could avoid errant picnic tables and other attacking obstacles.
I also learned this man really is a genuine Aussie and grew up herding cattle "down under".
This all turned out to be a great opportunity and I learned more about Australian saddles and how the poleys work to hold the rider in — Colin was a wealth of knowledge.
Still no joy…
Since returning home, I've been investigating other Australian saddle companies using the Internet and finding these saddles vary in price from several hundred dollars to many thousands, just like any other type of saddle.
Unfortunately, while I had selected the kind of saddle I wanted, I was still no closer to making a decision because I couldn't find a tack shop that even had one to sit in, let alone one willing to offer a week or two trial so I could test their comfort and greater safety claims.
The growing tedium of my saddle search was to continue for several more months.
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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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