. Love that, G.!
G., do you have an opinion on whether the sales people at these stores will really be honest when they try to sell a saddle? If someone knows nothing about fitting a saddle and has to rely on someone else to explain the principles, it would be easy to sell them something that isn't a great fit, but suits the salesperson's need to be rid of that particular saddle right now, for whatever reason. What do you think about professional saddle fitters, people who (claim that they) are not in it to sell you a saddle?
I think we begin the principle that the buyer of any product has to educate themselves about what they are buying. If they walk in and get "took" because of ignorance then they are on thin ice crying "foul."
That said, if a sales person takes advantage of ignorance and sells a clearly unsuitable product you've not excused the buyer's failings, just added a second culprit.
Sales people are there to sell their inventory. It's what they do. This does not mean they will lie, but they will put "their best foot forward." This means that they will always have a "half full glass" (unless it's best for them that the glass be half empty). Is any of this a "lie?" Probably not. It might not be always 100% accurate.
There's nothing wrong with employing a professional "saddle fitter" if the buyer lacks the skill and knowledge to make a proper choice. But the buyer should be using the process as a way to improve their own saddle fitting skill so that they don't need to hire one a second time. Remember that saddle fit changes over time. Many horses gain or lose weight over the course of a year and that can affect fit. It would be foolish to have professional fitter on call to come out and evaluate changes. Part of being a horseman is being able to properly fit and adjust tack.
The earliest "flexible" trees I'm familiar with appear in patent applications in about 1845. Several more came along through the years; none were a commecial success. In 1912 the Army produced an entire series of "experimental" equipment and a "flexible tree" saddle was included. It was used during the Punative Expedition in Mexico and proved to be a failure. Some changes were proposed but the entry of the U.S. into WWI meant that the existing McClellan design was simply procured in large numbers (in spite of the many failings of that design which had been noted over the preceeding 60 years). When a new saddle design was selected (the M1936 Phillips) it would have a traditional English style tree.
I've ridden in one Orthoflex. It was a very odd experience, sort of like riding above the horse's back, not on it. When you turned left the saddle actually turned after the horse did. In a trail saddle this might be OK; for any precision work is was really disconcerting.
All saddle trees have flex to them, even heavy duty steer roping saddles. The English style tree probably has more than the standard Western tree. In truth this is a Good Thing, as long as the flex facilitates the distribution of weight. If it serves to concentrate weight then that would be a Bad Thing.
As you might guess I'm a "traditionalist" when it comes to saddles and tack.
There is little new under the Sun in that world. IMO the optimal, practical acme of saddle and tack development probably occurred in the first third of the 20th Century, at the end of the Age of Horsepower and dawn of The Age of Motorization. The major contribution of modern saddle makers is somewhat better materials.