Reason #10 to order a hand made tree - Education
We are no longer building saddle trees. We have two saddle fit videos available on our westernsaddlefit.com website. Western Saddle Fit - The Basics, aimed at riders, is available either on DVD or streaming on Vimeo while the six hour series Well Beyond the Basics, aimed more for professionals but understandable by anyone, is available by streaming on Vimeo. (We left this website up because we have had many requests to keep the information available.)
The last reason to order a good hand made tree that we listed is education. Right from the start of our business, we have wanted to help saddle makers understand more about trees. I think most tree makers think the same way, but how and how much information they offer depends on a variety of things. Ultimately, if a saddle maker wants to learn about trees and is willing to listen and ask appropriate questions, he isn't going to find too many tree makers who aren't willing to talk about their trees. After all, when you spend all day, every day in the confines of a shop, alone, thinking about trees, it is kind of nice to talk to someone who is interested in your work.
Why do we think it is important that saddle makers understand more about trees and how they work? Primarily because it will help them make a better saddle for their customers and their horses.
For example, understanding the reasons that the seat length measurement doesn't always give the same amount of room in the saddle will help you get the "size" you really need for your customer, regardless of what the measurements say. On the other hand, if you have a tree maker that works hard to keep seat length and thigh length correlated as much as possible, you will understand why you don't have some options other tree makers offer, such as cantle angle, and why these might change between trees which (may affect your patterns, etc.). Understanding the whys behind this concept really helps a lot when it comes time to deal with extremes - the really large or really tiny customer who needs a saddle the right size for them that will still work on their horses.
Understanding more about how the factors that affect tree fit interact will help you get trees that fit horses the way you want. Regardless of which terminology or options a tree maker gives you, if you understand the principles discussed on that web page, you can evaluate a tree and decide what you like and what you would prefer to be different, and how. Then, if you have a good relationship with your tree maker built on previous discussions about trees, you can talk with him about what you are seeing. (On the other hand, if you haven't wanted to listen to anything your tree maker has tried to explain to you before, you may need to build that relationship before he will listen to you at this point...)
When it comes to fitting horses, it is good to remember that most tree makers build for a much wider variety of horse shapes than the average saddle maker does just because the number of orders gives a wider range of customers, order types and geographic areas that they serve. So when you get a request for a saddle for a different-to-you type of horse, you will need to decide if you want to send them elsewhere for their saddle or if you want to tackle the job yourself. Talking to your tree maker may help you in making that decision. You may find that he has built for this shape of horse before and he knows what to do to fit it, or he will tell you how you can work together to figure out what that shape is and discuss what he feels is best to fit that horse. That way you both learn. After all, there are more people out in the world who ride western saddles than just working cowboys (though that is still our preferred market to build for). That is where the hand made tree market started, for very good reasons, but it is expanding and someone has to build the saddles.
The saddle maker can also help educate his customers. How to do this tactfully and how much information they need will vary depending on the individual customer. Not uncommonly, when there are problems with a saddle, it isn't the saddle or the tree that is the problem - it is how it is being used. Having a good understanding of trees and how they work gives the saddle maker a good basis for explaining this reality to his customers. And having resources to point them to that backs up what they say (such as our proper position of a western saddle page) may be the difference between having a happy customer and an unhappy one.
And having both our saddle maker customers and the final customer satisfied with our work and happy they have our trees in their saddles is what we aim for. We have found that educating people about what we do and why helps immensely in reaching that goal.