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Julia Blog 3

Saddlery apprentice Julia Balfour keeps us up to date on a very hectic February...

A Busy and Exciting February
February has just flown by, partly because so much has happened! It started off with an exciting week with Mark Romain at the Saddlery Training Centre in Salisbury. I had started my level two harness back in December and finished stitching the breeching strap at work in January; which I can assure you took AGES!

This meant that I was ready to do the level two harness exam which was the crupper body, you are given three and a half hours to complete and I was told this was the easiest exam of all, so I merrily set to work and it all went fine, thankfully.

With the crupper body successfully passed, I could move on to level two saddle, which I was very excited about as this would be my first ever saddle, a whole new ball game compared to the bridle work.

I have very little knowledge on the production of a saddle so progress was slow, but I prepared my tree, webbed it up, nailed the bellies on and started putting my padding over the bellies. A sprinkling of snow outside lifted everyone's spirits before we all went our separate ways for the next two months.

Chobham Rider, where I work, have been hoping to stock Albion saddlery and before we could take delivery they wanted us to be trained with their state of the art templating systems and be fully briefed on all their models and options.

On February 17th, my 21st birthday, Guy, Kate and I set off to Shropshire for the Albion training day. It all started with training on their finely calculated templating system which templates the horse in five places, making sure the middle is always level and also measuring the difference in height from withers to croup. The results did surprise me; it's amazing how what you see isn't always what you get.

Sherry, who runs a tight ship at Albion, was very interesting and I felt I learnt a lot from the short time we were there. In the afternoon we all set off to Walsall to the Albion factory. They had a room full of all saddles, bridles and accessories that they have in production, it was all utterly beautiful!

After lunch Sherry went through the range of saddles with the different options available, I was able to sit in all of the different saddles which really helped me understand the range they provide. It also helped me to really appreciate that, yes the saddle has to fit the horse in order for it to perform to the best of its ability but the rider needs to be able to sit in it, be able to ride properly in it and feel comfortable. This is why there are so many options to choose from as we all come in different shapes and sizes.

Albion ran a really great training day that was informative and fun and was run by lovely people, so thank you to them for making my birthday a good one!

The last full weekend in February meant the annual BETA International trade fair at the NEC Birmingham had arrived, and I had signed up to be a guinea pig and do the BETA saddlery competition. I competed against fellow blogger George Hills, Victoria Barnett and Tanya Baldwin.

We all had to make Pelham roundings 5/8" wide and 9" long. I had practiced one previously, so I knew what I had to do. It was surprising how difficult it was to work when there were so many distractions. With the trade stands all around you, there were people walking past watching you work, which instantly makes you feel self-conscious, especially when they ask you questions like, "your hands must hurt?!" or "what's this tool for?"

You are also under a time constraint with the added pressure of a competition in an unfamiliar make-shift workshop. Definitely harder than I thought! Although, together we ploughed on and made it to the end, all with a pair of Pelham roundings to show for our hard work.

They were all then judged by Frances Kelly and Roger Coates, giving us some time to regroup before the prize giving. Tanya Baldwin from the King's Troop won, she truly deserved it, having finished well in the time with a beautiful pair of Pelham roundings, and I came second which I was really chuffed with. It certainly was a unique experience but secretly I quite enjoyed myself!

Catch up soon..Julia