About Ed Steele

Continued . . .

Neither is true. Since today's riders don't spend near the time in the saddle as in the past, they have merely forgotten what a saddle is supposed to be like. This lack of understanding coupled with the standard practices of today's industry has led to a marked decline in the quality of most mass produced saddle trees and the factory-made saddles built on them. There are economists who advocate any and all competition as helping out the consumer by lowering prices. While this may be a benefit to many industries, it has only helped in the saddle tree industry to bring about this general decline in quality.

In the early part of this century individual tree makers and their customers competed against other tree makers and their customers. If a saddle maker's tree supplier had the best tree and he had the best styles, together, they had the lion's share of the market. The industry evolved to the point that each tree-saddle making team had their niche in the market. The riding public knew if you wanted to fit one type of horse, you bought your saddle from one particular company. For a different type horse you bought your saddle from another. This practice in today's litigious society would likely elicit an anti-trust action, but in those days, business was conducted on the basis of providing a quality product at a reasonable price with an eye toward keeping your company around for generations to come. You left another fellow's area alone so that he left you alone, avoiding price wars that reduced everyone's profits. With sufficient profit, a company can produce goods based upon quality rather than cutting costs.

Cost considerations have become the major factor in tree design. Few tree makers will use four inches of wood to attain the proper fit when they can make do with two. No saddle form maker is going to replace a $30,000 mold that shapes ill-fitting forms when they can buy a $5,000 ad in a national magazine to convince potential customers they make a good product. The public does not realize that these decisions: to use two inches of lumber instead of four and not to replace an outdated or badly designed mold, are the actual reasons their horse is sored, doesn't perform at peak, or misbehaves. Fortunately this appears to be changing as the riding public become more aware of proper fit.

As the fifth generation in a direct line of tree makers dating back to 1847 in this country, the knowledge passed down to me is unavailable to anyone else in the industry. Don't misunderstand, I don't do things just like or because my ancestors did them. If so, we would still be powering our machinery with a mule driven line shaft as Gramp's dad and uncles did before they experimented with and converted to a gasoline powered hit and miss engine! (The building was two story with the mule and an attendant on the first floor. The mule was hitched to a crossbar on a vertical drive shaft which in turn was geared to a horizontal line shaft upstairs. This shaft had various pulleys on it driving the different machines with flat leather belts. One stomp on the floor turned on the "power", two stomps turned it off!)

Rather, I follow "tradition. Tradition is the best of the best. It is not static rather it is added to by each generation. If I do something the same way Gramp did and his father and grandfather before him, it is because I have determined it to be the best way based upon my family's and my own experience.  Gramp always said, "Experience is the best teacher. Since you have only so much time to gain experience yourself, anytime you can benefit from someone else's experience, you'll be ahead of the game." I bring to tree making the accumulated knowledge and experience of five generations covering one hundred fifty years. Still, I learn every day and do not assume to know it all. To quote an old song by the group Kansas, "If I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don't know."

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