I am often asked when I first meet people what exactly is a saddler?
For me its a way of life, my profession born out of wanting to be working within the equestrian industry but also being creative and working with my hands.
I came to saddlery through luck really – it is a hard industry as a student with lots of enthusiasm but no skill to get entry into. I had run the gauntlet of writing letters (yes pen and paper days!) to all my local saddlers to gain work experience or get a job. No-one really wanted an agricultural college trained equine student with bags of enthusiasm, but no practical saddlery skill so I took a few private courses to learn to stitch and really found I was quite good at it!
Still no job offers so I continued working as a groom for various yards, showjumping (learnt a lot and also learnt that I was a good tea maker!), eventing, showing, dressage, even gave polo grooming a go and along the way met some fantastic characters and long term friends. But I was a mature student at college (21 years young) and an older groom, so I did not get to saddlery until I was 25. I eventually, by pure luck, met a saddler who was looking for someone to help do bookkeeping, and then I just managed to stay for five years and take up an apprenticeship.
I was lucky to gain partial funding towards my saddlery training and a few City and Guilds certificates, and eight years in the trade later became a Master Saddler. This allowed me to be at the top of my profession, able to train other young saddlery students and pass forward the knowledge that was so willingly given to me.
I work at the ‘Bench’ – foremost that is what I am trained to do, both construct and affect repair of all leather-goods (I qualified as a harness maker too). But I am also qualified as a Saddle Fitter – a separate exam taken, and bi-annually assessed qualification that allows me to escape from my workshop (where I can be found happily singing away to Radio 2!) and see people at their homes or livery yards to check fit of saddles and tack and adjust the fit when necessary.
So I am a saddler and a stitcher, but importantly too a rider because as with any job in the equestrian world, I think it is important to be fully understanding of the role of the rider to which I am attending.
I get to ride, make lovely items from leather which satisfies the designer and craftsperson in me, plus visit all my lovely clients and their horses to help them get the most from their animals!
My working week by week can be really varied and with some fun thrown in, and hopefully I can share some stories with you all in my future blogs. Oh and I have a healthy love of polos – for the horses you see, not me!