Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Paddock Paradise

Is your horse constantly struggling with laminitis or navicular? Does your horse's boredom lead to behavioral problems, including weaving, cribbing, chewing, or aggression? Would you like to make a better, more natural use of your property for your horse? If so, you might want to try out the theories suggested in Jaime Jackson's Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding.

Jackson is an expert in researching the environment and behavior of feral horses, and quickly realized that the hoof problems domesticated horses battle are absent for feral horses. In 1992 he published a book entitled The Natural Horse: Lessons From the Wild. In the book he describes his wild horse studies and his own suggestions of how we can more naturally meet the needs of our horses. He later described his hoof care methods in Horse Owner's Guide to Natural Hoof Care; based on his studies, he discouraged the use of shoes and promoted the wild horse trim.

Jackson's goal behind Paddock Paradise is to teach horse owners how to "provide safe, humane living conditions which use the horse's natural instincts to stimulate and facilitate movement and other behaviors that are essential to a byodynamically sound horse." In the book he explains a better method of organizing and diversifying your property for the sake of your horse. Instead of having a square pasture , where the horses nearly stand in the same place all day, he recommends creating a "track" by roping off a circular area inside the square, encouraging the horses to move and even run.

Not only should the track promote forward movement, but it should also contain a variety of surfaces and environments to stimulate your horse. Most horse owners think that if they have a bit of shade and a big enough pasture, their horse will be happy. Jackson instructs horse owners to provide a wide variety of stimuli including various water holes and small strategically placed feeding spots, which both appeal to a horse's natural foraging mentality. Ground surfaces such as a creek, rocks, mud, and gravel are all beneficial for hoof health.

Paddock Paradise and Jackson's suggestions introduce a new strain of thought for many horse owners. Instead of asking, "How can my property accommodate and feed a horse in the easiest and most convenient way?" Jackson helps us to realize that our horses come with certain behaviors and impulses that if ignored, can and will affect their mental and physical health. If you want to understand your horse's inner wiring, pick up a copy.

To discuss this topic with other horse owners, click here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ugly Photo of the Month

One of the nagging doubts that often plague us while shopping online is, "What does it really look like?" We've all been interested in a purchase, yet turned off because of a photo that was poorly taken. The ebay seller didn't bother to pick up the junk-ridden barn in the background. And zooming in just makes you want to groan. We wonder if what the UPS man brings us will actually look better or worse than what's represented on screen.

One of the reasons we get so many return customers around the country is our high standards for our product photos: what you see is what you get. Through many years of improvement, we know how to accurately represent a product on your screen. Our photos are taken by a professional with accurate lighting and a high quality camera.

Often, however, we get new products in before we're able to get a high quality photo shoot for it. So in the meantime, we'll use the manufacturer's picture for the saddle. We love our manufacturers, but most of the time their photographs don't cut it. Hardly ever does the photo do the saddle justice. It's grainy (don't bother zooming in). It's ugly. And the color of the leather is usually terribly wrong.

Recently we got a few beautiful new models from
Saddlesmith. Here's Saddlesmith's shot:

There's nothing too terrible about the photo. Most online saddle shops use this photo to sell the product---they don't have the time or resources to improve upon it. And until you order the saddle, you'll be none the wiser. But when I went to replace the photo with our high-quality version, I was shocked. Take a look:It looks like the saddle got a makeover, doesn't it? The top photo looks like some generic, cheap, blah model you could buy off the rack anywhere. But our photo shows off the true quality of Saddlesmith's work---the leather has a beautiful honey hue, unlike the ugly photo, which makes it look like the saddle needs a tan. The stitching is even, the tooling pattern is intricate. And *gasp* you can even zoom in, not to mention the fact that we have three other angles to choose from.

So there you go. You know exactly what you're ordering. No unpleasant surprises. Just the sheer joy of being able to feel the leather and sit your bum in its comfortable seat.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cash discounts on select saddles

We've been giving away free Reinsman Tacky Too or Gel Impact pads for our Circle Y saddles for a few years now.    I've decided that we ought to expand your options of FREE GIFTS when buying saddles.  So, with select Circle Y saddles have added free matching headstall and reins or a $53.50 cash discount.  We have also added the $53.50 cash discount option to all of our Tucker saddles except the 138 Trooper which has a $25.50 cash discount.

You may wonder why we don't just reduce the price of the saddle.  Well, Tucker and Circle Y have a MAP agreement which restricts us to advertise their products at a price they dictate.  Our only legal remedy to give you the best deal, is to give stuff away when you make the purchase.

Be sure to read Stephanie's article on good vs bad quality saddles.  

Friday, June 5, 2009

Signs of a Low Quality Saddle

You usually get what you pay for when it comes to buying a saddle. Dale, our senior saddle expert, manages the shop and often has customers come in bragging about their latest $200 find. Inside, he’s wincing. Dale has twenty years of experience repairing and rebuilding saddles from the tree up. He’s seen all of our manufacturer’s products from the inside; in fact, we’ve rejected selling many different brands because they didn’t earn Dale’s seal of approval. “The only way to lower the price on a saddle is to skimp,” Dale says. “Some companies skimp on the leather, some on the tree, some on the fleece.”

The saddle market is flooded with cheap Mexican and Indian imports that look good and are priced even better; unfortunately their flaws not only make for a short-lived saddle, but can often lead to a dangerous ride. After rebuilding so many of these cheap saddles for disappointed customers who fell for them in other shops, Dale can spot an imported saddle from ten feet away. Here are the trademarks for the rest of us:

1. Cheap or Imitation Leather:

Many imported or cheaply-made saddles have imitation leather that is usually a vinyl. There is no breaking in imitation leather. You can oil it all night and day; the saddle is going to remain stiff. But what is most shocking to most people who fall for the imported saddle is that many times the bottom layer of “leather” is made out of paper. Yes, you read that right. On a well-made saddle, two layers of leather are used to make the skirt. Many sketchy manufacturers, especially in Mexico, are now using pressed paper in between the top layer of leather and the fleece. This is unidentifiable from the side of the saddle. This material is actually 50-100 sheets of thin paper compressed together, then sewed to the top leather. How safe would you feel if your D ring was resting between leather and paper? How long does the saddle last when what your horse is sweating into is slowly disintegrating? Dale has had customers lose their D ring the first time they cinched up their new saddle.

2. Cheap Trees:

Many of these inexpensive imports have trees that are made with sketchy materials. Dale has seen two combinations more than others. The first is a Styrofoam tree that has been dipped in fiberglass. He discovered this while doing repair work and a nail simply would not stay in the tree and was sliding right out. Upon investigation, he found that the tree was made of Styrofoam. This is scary for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, styrofoam can easily warp under pressure. The second combination is a low grade wood covered in plaster of paris, then wrapped in cheesecloth. This doesn’t sound too terrible, until you find that the plaster of paris succumbs to pressure and becomes powder. The more you ride the saddle, the more the tree is slowly disintegrating into a powdery mess.

Because these companies are creating such generic trees, 50 to 60% of horses can’t even fit into them. The measurements are so generic that you’re lucky if it fits when it arrives. These saddles usually fit a large pony or small horse. Why? Because the trees are so cheaply made, the bigger the tree gets, the more likely it is to just fall apart.

3. Bad Hardware:

The hardware is made of steel or low grade nickel, which will quickly rust.

4. Thin Fleece:

The fleece is so thin you can blow on it to see the cheesecloth underneath.

Our biggest concern over these cheap imports is not that you’re getting ripped off and will probably have to buy another saddle sooner than you planned. It’s that these saddles are usually unsafe. Pressed paper? Styrofoam? Buyer, beware.

Your safest bet in buying a saddle is to know the manufacturer. Where are the saddles made? Ask questions about the materials. Most cheap imports do not have a return policy or a warranty.

A question that usually comes to us after this explanation is What about Dakota? Dakota Saddelry is our lowest priced manufacturer here at the saddle shop and because their prices are so low, some customers jump to the conclusion that Dakota saddles are low quality. Not so! Dakota saddles are just as well-made as our Circle Y and Tuckers, using premium materials and great craftsmanship. The reason why Dakota’s prices are significantly lower is because Dakota does not have a working inventory. All Dakota saddles are custom made to order, which means you’re not paying any overhead. Fortunately, we have a large inventory that Dakota keeps filled for us so that most of the saddles online are ready to order.

Here at HorseSaddleShop.com we pride ourselves on not being the Wal-Mart of saddle shopping. You’re simply not going to be ripped off. All our products pass our standards for high quality, and we keep our prices competitively low. You can buy with confidence knowing that you’re getting saddles and tack that are American made and will pass the test of time.