Posted on

National Saddlery Competition 2020

Well it’s that time of year again; the days are shorter, the weather is horrible, and all the saddlers in the country flock to London for the annual National Saddlery Competition.

This year was another big year for me. After signing off from my apprenticeship in 2019, it was time for me to collect my completion certificate, officially marking the end of my training as a saddler. As some of you may remember, when I signed onto my apprenticeship back in 2017, I was presented with my portfolio by HRH The Princess Royal, master of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers. So, what better way to bring things to an end than being presented with my completion certificate by Her Royal Highness. It feels both sad and exciting, the end of an era but also the start of the next chapter.

I also chose to enter the competition itself. I decided to go a little wild this year and enter the President’s Choice class. This class is a little different to the other classes, which consist mainly of saddles and bridlework. This year the class was for any leather item with a nautical theme, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers’ voyage on the Mayflower. The only other guidelines given were that it should be made using traditional hand skills. I “ummed and ahed” about what I could enter but by Christmas I had come to the decision of making a lighthouse! Giving myself a bit of time off over Christmas meant that I then had two weeks to create a lighthouse out of leather.

I tried to keep to a fairly simple design for my lighthouse, and luckily, I had both some red and some white leather left over from previous projects. This coupled with a lovely hexagonal marmalade jar made for a lovely traditional looking striped lighthouse. I added a few fun little details like windows, doors with little gold doorknobs and a little wind vane on the top. Thanks to a little help from Dad, I was able to run a light up the lighthouse into the jar which was switched on via a little switch hidden in some leather rocks.

When we attended the competition at Saddlers Hall, it was fantastic to see the huge number of entries across the classes. The standard of work was excellent, and it really is a wonderful showcase for the trade. I was absolutely thrilled to be given a premium award for my entry. These awards are given to entries that demonstrate excellent craftsmanship and to receive one on my first entry in an open class has given me a well needed boost for the start of the year!

Posted on

Success at The National Saddlery Competition 2019

Every year Saddlers from all over the world flock to Saddlers Hall in London for the annual National Saddlery Competition. This year I was attending to officially receive my certificate of completion for my apprenticeship. It was a really nice way to round off 4 years of hard work. I was also fortunate enough to be awarded a bursary award on completion of my apprenticeship in recognition of my efforts.

Being THE competition in the Saddlery calendar, I also decided to enter a couple of classes. As it was the last year I was able to enter the trainee classes, I though I would make the most of it. I made a stallion inhand bridle for the trainee bridlework class, and then after a last-minute decision, I made a crupper and dock for the trainee harness class the day before I had to post my work (not stressful at all!)

Well it all turned out to be worthwhile as I got second place in the harness class and was given a premium award. Even better then that, my stallion bridle was awarded first place in its class and was also given a premium award. It’s obviously a great feeling to win awards like that but even better when you really feel you’ve earnt it with the hard work and time you’ve put in.

Posted on

Frustrating time at The National Saddlery Competition 2018

This week has been a slightly stressful week. Part of me thought I shouldn’t blog about it because I feel I shouldn’t be advertising my mistakes. The other side of me feels that everyone makes mistakes and it’s best to admit it and see where you can go next. After all I am only an apprentice and just starting my journey.

This week was the annual National Saddlery Competition at Saddlers Hall in London. I entered a few items this year including the infamous stingray dressage saddle I made for my final saddlery exam, and a double bridle I made for the trainee bridle exam.

I actually had a great result with my saddle being awarded a premium award. Anyone who has chatted to me over the past few months will know just how much stress that saddle has created (the price you pay for trying to make something a bit more creative) so to receive some recognition of my hard work is lovely.

The double bridle I made I was actually very pleased with, which is unusual for me as I’m such a perfectionist and very self-critical. On display with all the other bridles it did look really nice and I have to admit I was a little sad to not receive any award for it but at the end of the day the judges decision is final and there is such a high standard of competition you really have to have something exceptional to do well.

Well the really annoying moment was when I got to score card back to read. The trainee bridlework classes are usually done to a specification, so the item you make has to be to specific measurements. Silly old me had misread one of the measurements, so my reins were too short. The judge seemed more frustrated as me because I had received high marks in every other area, but the fundamental problem was that it didn’t match the specification!

Anyway, I’m trying not to dwell on it, as I said we all make mistakes, but this was a costly one and I’ll be sure to not make the same mistake again!

Posted on

BETA International 2017

Last week I was a competitor in the trainee saddler competition at the BETA international trade show. This was the second time I’ve agree to take part and after the event I am always glad I went but I’ve got to be honest, I tend to find the day rather stressful. I am very comfortable working when tucked away in my little workshop but the atmosphere at BETA is a little different. The competition is usually run at a workbench in the centre of the exhibition hall, within the Saddlery area, with just a rope surrounding us so that anyone passing by can look at what we are doing. Some people will just walk past and glance in our direction, but others like to come right over and watch, ask questions and even take pictures. I find it all a bit intimidating and on top of all that we are supposed to be competing!

Luckily, we are all in the same boat and being quite a small trade, I know most of my fellow trainees fairly well and it tends to be more of a supportive atmosphere than competitive! This year we were asked to make a raised noseband, but to our horror we were informed we would have to stitch it in white! Now I will admit, I think bridlework stitched in white thread looks beautiful, but I’m not sure people understand the amount of extra work that goes into stitching with white thread compared to black or brown. Firstly, because white thread is such a contrast it really highlights each stitch, and therefore highlights EVERY imperfection. This means there is more pressure to get every stitch perfect or it will stick out like a sore thumb! Also, when working with leather we also have to stain the edges we have cut and as the name suggests, it will stain anything it touches. So, the thought of trying to keep white thread clean and get the stitches perfect, all while trying to compete for first place had a few of us sweating before we even started!

Thankfully we all finished within the time and without any major injuries or breakdowns! I didn’t envy the judges this year as when the pieces were all laid out on the bench, we could barely recognise which one was our own. Anyway, they were able to come to a decision and I was excited to learn I was awarded the runner-up award. It must have been so close to judge as I think there was only 1 mark difference between 1st -2nd place and 2nd-3rd place. It’s great to think that there is such a consistent standard of work amongst the trainee saddlers, after all, we are the future of the trade!

Posted on

The National Saddlery Competition 2017

This week was a really exciting week. We went down to London for the National Saddlery Competition. The main reason for my attendance was to collect my portfolio as the official recognition of me starting my apprenticeship. I also decided to enter a couple of classes – it is a competition after all!

The exciting twist to this year’s competition was that The Princess Royal was attending and handing out the portfolios. Her Royal Highness is in fact the Master of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers’ and has attended a few of the competitions over the year.

Well this had obviously had an impact on the number of entries (an entry in the competition is the only way to guarantee a ticket to the event) as the hall was packed with both people and entries.

I entered the master and apprentice class where I had to make a breastplate and then my master made a martingale attachment to add to it. I also entered the trainee bridlework class which was an inhand stallion bridle. Fortunately, I recently completed my final bridle making exam and one of the exam pieces was an inhand stallion bridle, so I just entered my exam piece.

Although I didn’t place in either class, I was awarded premium awards for both my entries. Premium awards are given to pieces of work that are of an exceptional standard so as far as I am concerned that is still an achievement and encouragement that my work is heading in the right direction.

Posted on

First Trip to The National Saddlery Competition 2016

Well this week was an exciting week. My first trip (hopefully not the last) to The National Saddlery Competition. The competition is run by The Society of Master Saddlers and hosted by the Worshipful Company of Saddlers at Saddlers’ Hall, London.

Well my first experience of Saddlers’ Hall was not a disappointment. It’s a beautiful building with some incredible features but the highlight was definitely seeing the work on display made by some incredibly talented saddlers.

I, along with all of my college classmates, had entered one of the most basic trainee saddlery classes. There was a specification for this which was to make a headcollar conforming to the Level 2 bridlework assessment.

I was thrilled to learn that I had been awarded a premium award for my entry. These awards are given to work that are considered to be of an exceptional standard.

Not bad for my first entry into the competition!

Posted on

BETA International 2016

Wow this week seems to have gone by in a bit of a blur…possibly because I’ve had a stinking cold and have wanted to be curled up under a blanket! On Monday, we had a college trip to BETA international which is a huge equestrian trade fair held once a year at the NEC in Birmingham.

The main reason we went is because, The Society of Master Saddlers put on a competition for students and apprentices and I was one of the students selected to compete. When I woke up at 5:30am on Monday morning to find I had come down with a stinking cold, I’m sure you can sympathise that the last thing I wanted to do was have a long day at a trade show and compete with my fellow classmates. Anyhow I filled myself with cold medication and made my way to college to hop on the minibus to Birmingham (very glad I didn’t have to drive all that way!)

Our task was to make a basic foal slip so we were all perfectly capable but in the atmosphere of BETA with all sorts of people watching it seemed an intimidating task. Nevertheless, we got to work cutting our straps. By now the cold tablets had well and truly kicked in and I was feeling much more alive, so I decided to not put any pressure on myself and just try and enjoy the opportunity. Afterall, it wasn’t that different to a normal day at college other than the fact that we were being watched! I actually started to quite enjoy myself chatting to some interesting people who were walking around the show, some interested in training in Saddlery themselves, and some who just wanted to watch out of curiosity.

As it got towards the end of our time, I was fortunate to be the furthest ahead on making the foal slip. This helped me to stay relaxed in the finishing off process while a few of my competitors where noticeably starting to get a bit stressed. Thankfully we all finished, and the judges took a look while we went off to have some food.

By the time we returned to the Saddlery area, the judges had made their decisions and we gathered for a small presentation. Firstly, we were all given a certificate to recognise are participation. Then the announced the winner…I was overjoyed to hear my name being called! I want to say a big well done to all my fellow competitors who also made some beautiful items!