These days many items are made overseas, bringing with that lower cost and bigger selections for American consumers. No matter your opinion of this issue, continued import of overseas manufactured items is here to stay and for the most part accepted by consumers. Even the saddle industry is experiencing this and when it comes to some items the quality is reasonable for the cost. When it comes to saddles, consumers should really be cautious.
For years Americans have purchased saddles that have been imported from Mexico for an inexpensive alternative to the American made counterparts. With a few exceptions, these saddles have been marked with the stigma of low quality and at times structurally unsafe. No matter the stigma, many people trying to save a buck purchase these saddles anyway and deal with frequent repairs and saddle fitting issues. With any luck they aren’t injured due to the saddles less than adequate structural integrity.
The newest addition to this “value based” saddle market is saddles imported from countries like India. In the saddle shop we have run across these on a semi frequent basis and the quality is worse than usual. Many folks are buying these saddles on the internet and eBay and although they may look decent in the photos, when they arrive it is immediately seen that they are less than functional. I have seen these saddles with no rigging dees at all, making them impossible to actually use on a horse. We have seen them with synthetic leather and trees, plastic rigging dees and a number of other issues that make these saddles dangerous to use.
The most recent experience that we have had the pleasure to work on in the repair shop was a true gem of the import saddle industry. The saddle came in for an offside front rigging dee replacement. This is a job that is very common and not very expensive to fix. When the saddle was broken down in the repair room, the repair man confronted me with an issue. He told me that the rigging couldn’t be fixed and that I should look at the tree with him. Looking at the tree bar at first I didn’t understand what the problem was. It was a fiberglass tree bar with holes in it where the original rigging screws use to be, this was nothing out of the ordinary. The saddle really didn’t appear to be a bad built saddle. It was a training saddle with rawhide mounted dees on the corners of the skirts for driving lines, rawhide trimmed horn, padded seat and good color. I asked my repair man what the issue was and he proceeded to show me the problem.
He took a screw and stuck it in one of the existing screw holes and then moved it at different angles from side to side. Yes, that’s right! The entire tree bar was a hollow fiberglass shell. It looked like a wooden bar covered with fiberglass, but in reality it was an empty fiberglass bar… no wood at all. Think of it as an empty egg! The entire saddle was like this, both bars and swells even the cantle. This was unbelievable! I have never seen anything like this before and couldn’t believe that someone had been riding this saddle and they weren’t hurt.
With further inspection we also discovered that all the rawhide holding the accessory dees on and the binding around the horn wasn’t rawhide at all. The dees were mounted with nylon webbing and masking tape was stuck over the top. The horn binding was just masking tape. Unbelievable!
At that point we called the customer and told them that we would not fix the saddle and warned them of the danger involved in using the saddle. All I can say is that I hope everyone keeps their eyes open for these types of saddles. It’s one thing to by a cheap pair of “Oakeys” or “Raye Bans”, but putting your life on the line with this inferior garbage being imported into the states from countries that have no knowledge of what these saddles go through in our country is extremely dangerous. Remember that a custom saddle has at least $1000.00 in material in it, so when you’re looking online and you find a new saddle on eBay for $300, beware.
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