About Ed Steele

          I had two important teachers for my apprenticeship in the design and manufacture of saddle trees. My father, who taught me primarily about the production side, and my grandfather (Gramp) who taught me about design.

I worked intimately with Gramp for nearly twenty years and feel he did a pretty good job of passing his lifetime of accumulated knowledge on to me.

If you asked him a question, you got an answer. It might take thirty minutes and travel down and back many tangents, but if you hung in long enough, you'd get your answer plus a lot more. If you asked him what time it was, he would start with how a clock works. His every answer was like that as was his every explanation. He not only told you what he was doing but why he was doing it, why it was at this specific time, and why in this particular way.

So it went with my apprenticeship/education in saddle trees. Like a James Michener novel, he started with the Saxons conquering the British Isles and intermingling with the inhabitants leading to the Anglo-Saxon race.

 

These Anglo-Saxons retained distinctive traits of both peoples resulting in the ability to comprehend and combine the functions of the circle and the square. It was this ability that led to the Industrial Revolution beginning in England, and in our opinion, it is this ability that enables our family to understand the geometry of saddle trees.

Gramp realized that a lot of the actual details of what he knew and could teach me would be outdated in a relatively short time due to advances in technology and materials, changes in the business world, differences in breeding, etc. After all, in just his lifetime, he saw man go from horse and buggy to walking on the moon. What he did was teach me to analyze the reasons behind every aspect of design and production. To ask if each operation was being done a particular way to enhance performance, because it was popular¸ or was it due to the limits of technology and/or materials, etc. He taught me to stick with concepts or techniques that worked and move on to new ones if I determined them to be improvements. In short, carry on tradition when it involves performance, comfort, fit to the horse, or any aspect of design that was perfected back in the days when horses were the main form of transportation, when proper fit or less than peak performance could mean literally the difference between life or death. At the same time he instructed me to ignore, at my peril, advances in materials, manufacturing technology and techniques, or changes in style, marketing, demand, etc.

Gramp pointed out a trend that I take great pains to avoid: a gradual decline in the quality of saddle tree design across the board and particularly mass produced saddle trees of the last three decades.

The majority of today's riders, through no fault of their own, do not understand two of the most important aspects of tree design: fit to the horse and comfort to the rider. My experience tells me that most people assume that if a major company produces a saddle then that saddle automatically fits their horse and if it is uncomfortable, well, that's just the way saddles are. (Continued)