Yesterday I was back at the NEC in Birmingham to visit the annual BETA international trade show. This was my 4th visit to the show and 3rd time taking part in the trainee Saddler competition put on by the Society of Master Saddlers.
I always have mixed feelings about the competition at BETA. On the one hand I find the whole event a little stressful, but I also feel it’s important to put my work forward for criticism in order to maintain a high standard of work and constantly strive for improvement.
This year we were asked to make a cob sized pair of cheekpieces. We are all given the exact same materials and fittings to ensure its fair and then we are given a specification for the piece we are making. Typically, with cheekpieces you are given a measurement we refer to as the “made-up” measurement. This does not refer to a measurement that you make up from the top of your head but rather the measurement of the piece when it is fully made and stitched together, and the billets (the bottom loop where it attaches to the horse’s bit) will normally be closed.
We kicked off at about 10am and pretty early on it became apparent we were having slightly different approaches. While trying not to go into too much “saddlery speak” there is no set rule for where you place the billet hook regarding the strap. The further you go up the strap the bigger the loop will be around the bit but where exactly you go is a matter of personal preference. In the end I decided to go slightly further up the strap than the other competitors as I feel that if the loop is too tight, it makes it more difficult to do up. While we are always trying to create beautiful items and are desperate to let out our creative flair, items must always be fit for purpose and this should always be the primary concern.
Anyway, I won’t bore you with the rest of the details of the entire process of making a cheekpiece, but we finished and disappeared for a quick explore of the show while the judging commenced. This year they decided that the presentation of the results for the competition would be on the fashion show stage, so we made our ways over to the stage to find some seats.
It came to the results and we were all invited up on stage to receive a certificate for participation and then the announced the winner. To my surprise (which apparently was hilariously visible in my face) I was announced the winner of the competition. It sounds like it was a pretty close call, but the judges informed me that the decider was that the preferred the distance I had chosen for my billet hook – proof that it pays off to go against the crowd!
As if that wasn’t great enough, the winner and runners-up of the Abbey England scholarship award were also announced, and I was overjoyed to hear that I was one of the runners – up and was being awarded a hide of leather in a colour of my choice! Probably sounds terribly boring but to a trainee saddler it doesn’t get much better then that!