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Nose to the Ground Issue 009: Synthetic Saddles and Blue Bicycles
April 01, 2005

Greetings from Nose to The Ground
- the beagle-inspired newsletter bringing you the latest from

Happy April!

We've made it into the New Year and through Ground Hog Day, President's Day, St. Patrick's Day and, that most wonderful of times, Easter.

We were fortunate to again be able to spend Easter with children, grandchildren and family 500 miles to the west and at the same time visit the beautiful Tulip Fields in Western Washington's Skagit Valley - where we once called home.

We've had a beautiful spring in NW Montana but now a concern is lack of rain, understandable given the bad forest fire situation we had here two years back. But we'll take the hand we're dealt and push on.

You may well wonder at times what the focus of our articles is, if indeed there is one.

We do tend to go all over the map a bit, from Rope Halters to Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Saddle Fit to Eadweard Muybridge/Leland Stanford. Call it an "eclectic" selection. At least the main topic is the horse and, sometimes indirectly, horse gift ideas.

This month it's back to saddles and observations (and opinions) on synthetic saddles vs. traditional wood and leather saddles (we're talking western saddles here).

Great Links

You don't usually visit a web site just to be sent somewhere else. Still, links serve their purpose. They give you access to additional information.

Instead a page or more simply called "Links" we call ours "Great Links" because that's what we want to offer you - great links to useful resources. We choose our links with care. We want each link to represent a win-win-win situation for you, for us, and for our link partners. When you visit our Great Links pages you'll see that we describe each and every link, so you'll know before you click where you're going.

We recommend you visit some of these sites even though we always hate to see you leave ours.

Our Newest Great Links:

  • Dana's Doodles offers a unique style of horse art. It's a blend of watercolor, ink and cartoon art. If you're looking for gift ideas featuring this type of art the offerings at this site would be of interest.

    Dana Bauer's site is on our Horse Art Links Page.

  • Libby Bricker's Equine Gift Boutique in Vermont has quite an extensive line of gifts with the focus is on American-made products,usually with a rural or rustic flair. There are many products here which, while not unique are probably seldom seen and would make a good gift for someone who "has most everything".

    You can visit them from our Gift Shops Link Page.

  • Uniquely Equine - "Your Custom Horse Gift Store" is located in Nevada and specializes in personalized horse gifts. There's a large variety of offerings but among their more popular items are the personalized halters and bridles.

    You'll find their link on our Tack and Saddles Links Page.

  • As a reminder that we live in a global marketplace, Your-Guide-to- was spotted by a web surfer in Hong Kong who e-mailed a a friend in Finland suggesting the friend contact us. We received an e-mail from Leena Pekkalainen of Leena's Horses asking if we might mention her horse art on our pages. Having seen some examples of her work we are delighted to do so.

    Leena's link is also on our Horse Art Links Page.

Your Own Biz is another less visited page. It has nothing to do with horses but you'll find it invaluable if -

(a) you're interested in building a home-based small business of your own or

(b) you're contemplating putting your current business on the Internet. If either of these are true Your Own Biz could be a very important place for you to visit.

Without going into a great amount of detail let me just say this. In one year, since starting out, Your-Guide-to... has joined the elite ranks of the top one-half of one percent of all web sites in terms of traffic! A majority of small business owners using Site Build It! as their business building tool rank in the top 3%. This is powerful stuff.

It still takes much effort on your part to build a business but if you have the passion and desire to succeed, SBI! is the tool that will take you there.

Since the beginning of the year we've been adding to the Saddles section of Your-Guide-to-....

"Saddles" has continued to be a very popular topic judging from the traffic, surpassing Horse Art as our most visited section aside from our home page. We're attempting to provide lots of very useful information to anyone contemplating the purchase of a saddle.

Whether purchasing on-line or from a local saddle maker or dealer makes no difference.

There are things you need to know if you haven't purchased one before. In any event we'll keep adding to this section, solicit some feedback and strive for even more pages visitors will find useful and informative.

ARTICLE - Synthetic Saddles and Blue Bicycles

When I was very young my constant companion was my "famous blue bike". I had that bike for a number of years up into high school until the automobile ultimately became the object of my affection.

One accessory I wanted for the famous blue bike was a basket. One of those cool boxy stainless steel wire types that could carry baseball gloves or groceries for Mom. One Christmas I got the basket but could barely hide my disappontment. It was not the boxy stainless steel wire basket I wanted but a woven wood basket that attached to the handlebars with straps.

To have that wierd looking basket on my bike was ceretainly going to mark me forever as being different but I attached it anyhow. After a while I got used to it finding it was not too bad after all (in hindsight it was a darn good basket).

The message? If you're giving a saddle as a gift and are thinking of a synthetic saddle, make sure the recipient isn't thinking of or praying for a traditional leather saddle.

After a time they may find the synthetic version a darn good saddle, but be prepared for the possibility of initial disappointment.

With that out of the way (and having got my blue bike story in) lets look at some pros and cons.

Not too many years back a cowboy or anyone aspiring to be called a horseman or horsewoman wouldn't be caught dead in a synthetic saddle. Synthetic was synonomous with "cheap", often for good reason. You bought a synthetic saddle because you didn't know any better. Hopefully it fit both horse and rider and hopefully you got a season or two of use from it.

Today synthetics are on display or advertised right along with their wood and leather counterparts - especially Cordura saddles and Ralide saddles (more properly Ralide trees).

Sometimes you'll see reference to these saddles mixed in with saddle types such as roping, trail riding, or reining saddles. If you're new to the horse world you might wonder what type of "events" Ralide and Cordura are! As we just mentioned, Ralide refers to the tree, made of synthetic material and Cordura is a nylon-like saddle covering noted for toughness and durability and has been around for many years.

The term "synthetic saddle" can mean different things to different people. For some it's a saddle built around a tree which is of synthetic material. For others, it is the covering, usually Cordura, instead of leather while the tree itself may be either wood or synthetic. There are also "hybrids" our there - where the saddle is built around a combination of synthetics, wood and leather.

If you're a lover of leather, you wouldn't consider a Cordura saddle any more than a Harley rider would forsake the "leathers" for nylon. But if you're new to the saddle game and haven't yet acquired a mindset one way or another you can at the very least consider - some pro's and con's of the synthetic saddle.

Appearance: In most cases leather (plain or tooled) wins hands down; an exception - when the synthetic (e.g. Cordura) covering is used in combination with a Southwest or Navajo pattern, the result can be striking.

Fit: Not as big an issue as you might think. For best fit, nothing can beat a handmade saddle on a wood tree ( synthetic material, molded if you will, does not lend itself to custom fit). For a factory produced saddle, you can achieve proper fit either way although there is generally a wider choice of "fits" available with the wood trees.

Care: Synthetic has the edge here. Instead of oiling (no longer recommended) or frequent application of leather cleaner and conditioner, you simply "wash" the synthetic saddle.

Rider Comfort: Visit a few horse forums and you'll get a range of opinions on this.

Some find synthetics great and others "can't quite get used to them". The only specific complaint I've seen is poor placement of the stirrups (rigging position) and stirrup length on some models - which does not seem to have much to do with the material used to build the saddle.

Durability: This used to be the major drawback for the synthetic saddle. There are plenty of cheap synthetics out there. But the top brands such as Wintec, Abetta and Fabtron appear to have excellent reputations and you probably won't go wrong choosing one of these.

"Traditional" makers like Crates and Circle Y also feature both Ralide and Cordura models which would be perfectly good choices. I would still give my vote to the wood and tree saddle if you are talking lifetime use.

Economy: Ever had a kid in ski-school. Every November you visit the ski shop, get a new set of clothing and skis, assured that they will be good for at least two years. Guess what? Next year at the same time they've outgrown everything and you repeat the process.

Moral - a less expensive synthetic saddle may be a better choice for a growing pre-teen who will graduate from a 14" to a 16" seat in a couple of years.

Ease of Handling: Synthetic wins hand down. A synthetic trail saddle can well be a third to half the weight of it's leather counterpart. This can be a very important consideration for some and is a good selling point for the synthetics.

Of course we've all seen the movie cowboy carrying his saddle after leaving his dead horse behind. After the first mile he is surely wishing he had the synthetic variety - even though he wouldn't be caught dead sitting in it.

My recommendation? I won't offer one. But if you pressed me I'd "suggest" Wood and leather - hands down. But I'm old and set in my ways.

See you in May!

Bill Savage

Goose Bay Ranch

Rollins, Montana

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