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The Saddle Search – Part 6

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Finding an Australian Saddle Supplier
As we got into April of this year, I was getting frustrated at my inability to find a "live" Aussie saddle to sit in — there seemed to be none at any tack shops in the area. I started calling around asking this question: if I was to special order a saddle and I didn't like it or it didn't fit well, could I return it? I received the expected reply, a very reasonable reply that, in their shoes, I would also say. The gist of that reply was: "we can't accept a return on a specially ordered item unless it's defective".

So, I started talking about these saddles to my horse friends and fellow riders — none knew much about them nor had any ever ridden in one. But the owner of my barn told me one thing that got my attention. She said that if I was going to get an Australian saddle, get a really good one, because she had heard of a number of cases where cheap ones just fell apart after a few years. I mentioned what she said to my aforementioned "horsey" friends and they responded they had heard similar advice and had also heard of them falling apart.

At this point, I didn't know if this new information was true or just a well-circulated rumor. No one seemed to actually know anyone who had experienced such a saddle falling apart, they'd just heard the same advice. With no corroboration, I was stymied. I knew it could be true; I also knew there was little way to determine which saddles have this problem and why.

With no Australian saddle available locally, there had to be some way that mail order saddles could be tried and returned. Let's face it, you can't know how well a saddle fits or doesn't fit your horse until you put it on — there had to be a way to check that before committing hard-earned cash, or returning the saddle if it didn't fit properly.

Calling on the Aussie
So I called the only Aussie I knew that rode horses and knew saddles (and he also happened to sell a custom saddle I was drooling over...err...considering highly). This person is the infamous Colin Dangaard mentioned earlier and owner of the Australian Stock Saddle Company in Malibu, California.

I asked Colin for the location of the closest dealer carrying his saddles. The answer: Ohio. (Now, many New Englanders think Ohio is in the mid-west, the very center of the country — they should look at a map more often. While it's actually more in the Eastern US and not even halfway to Nebraska (which truly IS in the middle), Ohio is still over 600 miles away from me — no can do.)

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse...
So I asked Colin the next question: "Do you have any used or demo saddles you could send me that I could try for a week or two?" Colin answered: "no". BUT, he wanted to know what saddle I was considering. I told him it was the Southern Cross Poley. He then said it was a great choice, that I could order a new one, and he would guarantee it 100% — if I wasn't happy with it for any reason, he would return the entire purchase price including shipping.

But I'm not THAT Special...
That surprised me and I thanked him for offering me such a kind favor, to which he responded: "I'll do that for any customer!" Colin's initial offer made me feel "special"; really special; I like "special"; it makes me feel really, well, SPECIAL. But when I found out he treats everyone this way, I was disappointed that I really wasn't very special at all. (I think my mom has been trying to convey this to me for my whole life.) Fortunately, my crushed ego was saved by the "little boy" in me. That "little boy" started to get excited that my search might be over soon and that I could be the happy owner/rider of my "dream" saddle.

I should point out that this saddle is "custom built" for horse and rider, so Colin was obviously quite sure a customer would be happy or he'd be out of business by now. He continued with something along the lines of: "We properly fit 95% of our customer's and horses the first time, and we revise and fix the remaining 5% the second time. The tree can be adjusted for any horse as he grows or as you change horses — everyone is very happy with these saddles."

Happiness Might Still Be Mine...
This was even more exciting in that I would be able to try a saddle especially made for my horse and me without having to commit my money unless my horse and I were truly happy with it. And I was equally excited that my investment would not be limited to my current horse. While he's not old and he's very special to me, I intend to still be riding 30 or more years from now and this saddle can be adjusted for other horses as necessary.

Things had quickly improved with my call to Colin and the saddle search was becoming fun again.

Coming to a Decision
As we continued our call, Colin asked many questions about saddle fit and what I wanted, and I had to ask many questions about saddle features and available accessories to answer him. Originally, I had picked up a catalog from his booth at Equine Affaire (one of many catalogs from many booths) and read it through several times. It is jam-packed full of information, and Colin, a prior published author himself, writes in a very informative, witty, and fun style. I looked at his Website trying to find answers to my questions before calling him. But on the phone, he offered lots of even more information.

In addition, the catalog and Website both list glowing testimonials, but we, as readers, can always wonder if a company is displaying only the good correspondence. Here at QueryHorse, I know the testimonials listed are true and written by the actual individuals listed. But how do I convey that to site visitors? Similarly, I wonder the same when reading testimonials from other sites.

Ordering the Saddle
So, I searched the Internet for Australian saddles from Colin's company, especially reviews from prior customers. I found a few and these independent reviews expressed delight with their saddles, especially their comfort. One had a minor quibble with a slightly mismatched color between two pieces of leather, but he still raved about his saddle AND HIGHLY recommended it. I don't know whether he ever contacted the company to get the problem resolved. No matter, with only raving reviews and no detractors found, plus a 100% guarantee on the purchase, it made me feel very comfortable. Therefore, it's mainly my time that I'm risking, and after a year-long search, what's another four to six weeks to have the saddle built? So I took out my credit card and ordered the saddle to be built. It required me to perform "wither tracings" and provide Colin with other information so the saddle could be built for my horse and me. I collected the information and sent it all off.

Back to Part 5    Next to Part 7

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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