Ex-polo player finds niche as saddle maker

Mehrdad Baghai caught the equestrian bug as a child growing up in Iran. When his family didn’t support his horse habit financially, Baghai began making his own tack. What started as a hobby grew into a successful saddle making business, JRD Saddlery (www.jrd-tack.com), run by Baghai and his sons out of San Francisco and locally out of Palm City.

“There aren’t that many English saddle makers in the United States,” Baghai said. “There are a lot of saddle fitters and sellers, but there aren’t many saddle makers. We are one of the few saddle makers that have a sizable staff.”

Baghai measures each horse and rider himself, then sends the specifications to his staff to craft the saddles. An average made-to-measure saddle can cost anywhere from $4,500 to $7,000. The saddles take a little longer to get than their mass-produced counterparts.

“I travel all over to measure the riders and horses,” Baghai said. “A custom saddle takes about 38 total hours to make. Right now, it takes about three to four months to get a new saddle.”

Baghai calls made-to-measure saddlery a disappearing art. There are saddlery schools in Europe and courses available, but the former polo player believes years of experience are required in order to be successful.

“Saddle making is not something you can learn how to do in a weekend course,” he said. “If you want to get it the business, take your time and learn before you start selling. The ones that suffer from uneducated work are the animals.”

Kinesiology tape for horses: At the 2012 Olympics this past summer, elastic kinesiology tape was a common site on athletes, from beach volleyball players to hurdlers. The tape supports tendons and joints, increases circulation and decreases muscle spasms. Dr. Beverly Gordon, a human and equine chiropractor who splits her time between Wellington and New York, began using elastic kinesiology tape on horses a few years ago. “Equi-tape” (www.equi-tape.com) is gaining in popularity as more riders realize the benefits. Taping a horse requires training, which Gordon hopes to provide soon.

“Equi-tape is the first elastic kinesiology tape designed specifically for the equestrian community,” she said. “We are in the process of developing courses in Equi-taping, along with other educational material such as manuals and videos, which will be available shortly.”

Equi-taping isn’t just for performance horses. A backyard horse can benefit from taping, as long as it is applied correctly. Backyard horses that ride in spurts instead of every day like the “professional” horses often have the same risk of injury.

“The tape can be used as part of any equine health care program,” Gordon said. “All horses can get sore backs, swollen legs, traumas, weak muscles, sprained ligaments and trigger points. I recently taped my own horse to increase circulation to his foot. Though Equi-taping horses might seem like a complicated endeavor for the non-professional to learn, with some simple educational information, everyone, including the backyard horse owner, can use it.”

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