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The Hertfordshire County Show 2019- Worry and Self Doubt

As I am sure most of you know (because I’ve been constantly posting about it on social media for the past few weeks), last weekend I had a trade stand at the Hertfordshire County Show. I’ve been going to the Herts Show almost every year for just about as long as I can remember, and as it’s just 10 minutes down the road, it seemed like the obvious debut for my business.

Leading up to the show, I tried my best to get as prepared as I could. As most of my work is bespoke and made to measure, it was quite tricky to work out what to take. I just had a feeling that whatever I made wouldn’t be the right size for anyone who was interested in buying it. In the end I just tried to make some basic items and then a few of my own favourite styles so that people could see a few of the options available. I could then just take orders for bespoke work if people couldn’t find the sizes or styles they wanted.

Something I hadn’t prepared myself for, was the psychological impact of taking my work to the show. Now that probably sounds a bit dramatic, but for me it wasn’t just about the show, it felt like another launch of my business! Anyone who knows me will know that I am a perfectionist and very self-critical. While I find this helps me to maintain a certain standard and always strive to do better, it does also create huge amounts of self-doubt. The products I took with me, have effectively been in the making for 4 years and are very personal to me. The thought of laying them out on a table to be judged by anyone who walked past was terrifying.

Recently I have been watching a lot of the “TED talks” on YouTube. If you aren’t familiar with these, get on YouTube now and have a watch! I started watching them for business tips and inspiration but actually they have helped me a lot with everyday life. One of the notable messages I have tried to take from the talks, is to try not to stress about the things that are out of my control. Everyone has different likes and dislikes, and there is no way to please everyone. Therefore, I just tried to tell myself, if people like my products that’s great, but if people don’t like my products that’s fine too, its just their opinion and they are entitled to that.

Keyrings- Stamped words

The show itself actually went rather well. It was really nice to meet some people who were interested in my work. There were also plenty of people who clearly weren’t interested in my work, which was fine, I know it’s not personal! I was lucky enough to win a prize for my trade stand and a 3rd place prize for my entry into the Saddlery Competition there. I entered the box work class, and this was my first time in the open classes up against all the master saddlers. I decided to just make something a bit fun, so I created a dog poo bag holder which clips onto my dog leads.

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who helped me with all the preparations for my stall. Also, my lovely friend Jessica who stayed and helped me all weekend and Ivy, one of my canine models, who came to the show on Sunday to model some collars. But most importantly, a big thank you to everyone who came over to chat to us over the course of the weekend.

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Tack Safety Checks

Ok so a slightly more boring topic but this is just so important! Now let’s be honest, all equestrians know there are risks and must have at least a tiny bit of crazy to be riding horses. Ideally though, you don’t want to be having any accidents, especially ones that are easily preventable and before you even get onto the fun stuff!

It is SO easy to perform basic safety checks on your own tack, and it takes only a few minutes. I generally do mine when I’m cleaning my tack as you are already taking things apart and having a good look.

Firstly, you should just look at the overall appearance of your tack. Has anything changed? This may seem obvious but when you’re looking at it every day, it can be easy to miss things. Has anything changed shape? Is there a new dent or wrinkle in your saddle that you haven’t seen before? Leather will change in appearance over time and most likely it is nothing to worry about but if in any doubt, please ask a qualified saddler.

Next, stitching! There is A LOT of stitching in your bridle, saddle and all your other bits of tack and as the old saying goes “a stitch in time saves nine.” You should check all the stitching on your tack and if you notice sections of stitching are coming loose or rotting you should get it seen to as soon as possible (any qualified saddler should be able to help you out). Pay particularly close attention to girths, the girth straps on your saddle and stirrup leathers.

The next thing you want to check for is cracks in leather. Unfortunately, cracked leather cannot be saved and is at considerable risk of breakage, but it could be replaced. The most common place cracks occur is around holes and often next to buckles. If the leather is very dry and about to crack, this is a good sign that is has dried out and is in need of some oil!

Another sign of wear is when holes start to stretch. This is most commonly seen on girth straps and stirrup leathers. Slight stretching in leather is normal but if the holes are considerably elongated the strap becomes at risk of breakage and is no longer safe. Stretching can also cause the leather to become dangerously thin in areas of wear. Check the thickness of the strap all the way along and if it has become particularly thin in one place it is time to replace!

Remember that if in doubt, it is always best to ask! Most qualified saddlers will be happy to advise you on whether your tack is safe or in need of repair. Even if a repair is needed, surely the cost of safety is worth it!

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Final Week of College

This week was my final week attending The Saddlery Training Centre in Salisbury as part of my apprenticeship training. It was a week of mixed emotions…

I actually completed all my compulsory exams at the beginning of the year but in order to make the most of my training I decided to try and squeeze in an extra exam! I chose to also do my Level 3 harness exam so that I could have the highest possible training in all three areas (bridle making, saddle making and harness making). In order to pass this exam I had to do a written test and a practical exam showing what skills I had learnt. We also have to have pre-made items and for this exam I had to make an entire set of show harness.

As i’m sure you can imagine there is an awful lot of pieces that make up a full set of harness and all the items had to be lined (two layers of leather) so i had A LOT of stitching to do. Therefore, in order to get it all done I had to do plenty of stitching in my own time. The week started a little stressful, trying to make sure my harness was not only complete but up to exam standard. Then on Wednesday I had to sit the actual exam which was both terrifying and stressful at the same time.

Then came the other mix of emotions. Finding out I had passed my exam, so relief and joy. With the exam passed that meant my time at college was over. This brought on an overwhelming feeling of happiness and achievement, I was not going to miss driving all the way down to Salisbury every 8 weeks. However, I also feel a bit sad about it all. Over the past two years college has been a big part of my life and I have become close with the small group of apprentices I spend the week with each time I’m down. After all, we go through highs and lows together and have shared some nice evenings as well as some rather nasty illnesses!

Anyway its onward and upwards from here and I look forward to what the future holds and am grateful for the time I spent at college and the people I got to spend that time with!

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Successful first outing for the Stingray Saddle!

Well I’ve had a fabulous weekend. As you may know, for my final Saddle making exam, I had to make a saddle. However, rather than just make the basic GP that is recommended, I decided I wanted to make something I could actually use. Therefore, I made a dressage saddle, made to measure for my horse Victor and featuring some funky designs – well why not! They most notable feature on my saddle was the incorporation of stingray leather. That’s right, leather made from a stingray, yes the fish! Don’t worry I made sure it was ethically sourced and PETA approved. It’s fascinating leather having a bobbly sort of texture that almost makes it sparkle! I thought I would make the most of it by covering the cantle with it so in theory, when I ride away from someone, they can see it sparkle.

Well, what I hadn’t considered was how difficult stingray leather may be to work with…especially when I’m more familiar with cow hide… To cut a long story short, my saddle ended up being very difficult to make, however I completed it, it passed my level 3 examination and it even received a premium award at the Nation Saddlery Competition in February.

Now onto my horse Victor. To save boring you with all the details, just over a year ago he was diagnosed with many issues and the vet told me not to expect to get him out competing. I chose instead to turn him away for a few months and treat him with microcurrent therapy. I was only aiming to get him back up to light hacking, but he has made it very clear he would like to do more than that!

Last month he went out to his first competition in about 18 months and blew us away with a fabulous dressage test and came home with a second place. Well we eased him in with a Prelim but yesterday I decided to up the game and take him out not only at Novice level but also my first time affiliated. This was also my first time competing in the stingray saddle that I made for him.

Well what can I say, something must be good about that Saddle because we came home with a red rosette! That’s right we won that class and got a very respectable 68%. Hopefully this is just the beginning!