I’ve had an action-packed week this week, all starting with a trip to Northampton to attend The Society of Master Saddlers Introductory Saddle Fitting Course. It was a fascinating course, starting with us looking at types of tree and saddle. We were all horrified to be passed some of the worst examples of saddle I have ever seen. Made from totally unsafe materials or just made into shapes that couldn’t possibly fit any living horse!
We then started to look at actually fitting the saddle to horse. The key principles and difficulties you may run into. We started this in a lecture room and then went out to look at some saddles on horses.
We covered a lot from basic saddle fitting, to templating horses and even looked at some basic rider imbalances and how they can affect saddle fitting. There was far too much to cover in just 2 days but it was definitely a good introduction to the principles, and also to make you realise just home many variables there can be. Honestly I found it a little overwhelming and I do a lot of saddle fitting with my apprenticeship but perhaps that is just proof of the importance of properly trained saddle fitters.
Yesterday I attended a fascinating course put on by the Society of Master Saddlers about bridle fitting. Large portions of it I felt were basic knowledge that I feel I had from my pony club days such as where nosebands and browbands should sit and the function of different nosebands but there was also lots of very interesting information.
The part I found really interesting was the detailed look at facial structures with particular attention on the nerves and then considering how anatomical bridles can be used to reduce pressure points on horses.
I also really enjoyed learning about to results of some of the most recent studies on noseband pressure (a hot topic in competition at the moment). I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learnt into practice, probably starting with a new bridle for my own horse Victor.
Last week I was lucky enough to attend a “Sewing Machine Maintenance” module. Although I don’t own a leather sewing machine at the moment, I do use them from time to time, most often as part of my apprenticeship.
Although I am trained to hand stitch and I am a strong believer of hand stitching being better than machine stitching, I believe there is also a place for machine stitching in the saddlery industry and its important to have these skills. It was a really informative course, covering all areas of machine maintenance and also information about the different types of machines available and how they can be adapted for use.
To be honest, the best part for me was the location. The course was held at the Vale Brothers factory which is a big saddlery factory in the heart of Walsall (the home of English saddlery.) As an apprentice I have visited a few saddlery factories and worked occasionally in one, so I am familiar with the general form but it’s still fun to see new places.
Saddlery factories are not as high tech as people may think. Compared to my training and experience of smaller saddlery businesses, the factories have all sorts of genius machines and equipment but the do still require a lot of man power and many things are still assembled by hand.
The most depressing thing for me however, is seeing a machine do a job that I’ve spent the past 3 years perfecting, so effortlessly and far quicker than I could ever do it. For example, they have a type of computerised sewing machine that can stitch decorative patterns onto leatherwork in a matter of seconds when the same job would take me half an hour! I have to remind myself that there is a place for both, mass production from factories gives a wider range of people access to leatherwork at more affordable prices, but hand made and hand stitched work will always give a higher quality of item.