THIS year's Society of Master Saddlers' AGM took place in Newmarket - a fitting location with its history and heritage in the racing world.
As well as society business the day also provided the opportunity for members to gain an insight into life on a racing yard with a visit to the Diomed Horse Racing Stables and The National Horse Racing Museum.
A busy year saw membership standing at 452, with 349 of those based in the UK and 103 overseas. Within the membership are 268 Registered Qualified Saddle Fitters and a new category of Master Bridle Maker has recently been introduced.
The day started with AGM matters including a report from President Peter Wilkes who described his year as full of variety and a year when he achieved 'some but not all' of his initial goals.
"As a society we are certainly becoming more open and we need to continue that journey. I truly believe moving forward there are a lot of new changes about to happen for the good of the industry," he said.
With the aim of reaching new highs when it comes to awareness of the work carried out by the SMS, a busy calendar of events has been organised to benefit both members and horse owners over the last year.
Chief Executive Hazel Morley said: "Our biggest event this year has been the premier and release of our film 'The Mysterie of Saddlery, from Hide to Horse.' The premier took place earlier this year at the Barbican and the DVD is now available.
The film will be shown regularly on Horse & Country TV from November.
"Our saddlers proved their talents once again at this year's national saddlery competition. Generously hosted by the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, to whom the SMS is very grateful, the event was well supported and the evening prize giving was standing-room only.
"Twelve trainees braved the industry's critical eye when they took part in the saddlery competitions which were held at BETA International this year. Again thanks are due to The Saddlers' Company for providing the prize money and to all those who assisted with the judging and who took part.
"Various training days have been held either by the SMS or for SMS members. We held a Confidence Seminar in Walsall which was well attended and appreciated by the delegates. The aim was to help members, in particular the younger ones, to have more confidence when dealing with customers. Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics has run two training days for members and we have put on a saddle adjustment day to give extra training to saddle fitters who are preparing for their exams. We have plans to repeat all of these courses which are proving very popular and qualify members for CPD points.
"The SMS, with the help of Kay Hastilow and Mark Fisher, has run two one-day courses for ACPAT members to give them an insight into what is involved in saddle fitting and to encourage more co-operation between the professions. We are also working with BEVA to establish closer working relationships between vets and saddle fitters."
During the AGM, Hazel presented retiring Membership Support Officer, Neil McCarraher with a bronze horse's head to mark his many years of support and work for the society.
Added Hazel: "Neil has been Field Officer for the Society since 1998 running our trade stands and visiting members, and more recently as Membership Support Officer keeping contact with members. Before taking up office he was an Allied Trade representative on the Executive committee serving since at least 1988 when running his business MacTack. Neil has worked tirelessly and loyally for us for over 25 years and I will always be grateful for the support he has given to me over all my years with the SMS."
The AGM saw the appointment of Laura Dempsey as new President of the SMS with Ken Lyndon-Dykes stepping into the Vice President's role.