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Julia Blog 4

Saddlery apprentice Julia Balfour keeps us up to date on a very hectic March and April - when reindeers made a visit!!

Reindeers! I thought Christmas was four months ago...
March has been quite a long month with a variety of things happening. During the first half of the month I had a few things to make for customers; I quite enjoy making new things for my customers as it's something that they will treasure and use for a very long time.

Firstly, I had a customer who wanted a replica of a case he already had, he wanted one that would fit 10 engraved metal shot glasses.

All he wanted was a non-lined cylindrical case that would fit his cups in, a bit of a challenge considering I had never made a case before but I do love a challenge!

Making this was really fun and with a bit of help from Guy, the case emerged with a neatly fitting lid ready for the customer to pick up, I was quite chuffed with the outcome!

I entered the Master and Apprentice class at last year's saddlery competition where we had to make a dog collar and lead, with the master making the lead and the apprentice making the collar.

I made a tan lead with tan padding and a five way plait threaded over the top with brown stain and stitching. It has been for sale in Chobham Rider ever since, resulting in a chestnut replica.

Eventually it sold but was sadly returned as it was too big but it wasn't something that could be shortened neatly so I made another one which I quite enjoyed, it's nice to think that my design for a collar is slowly leaking out into the public and there are a couple of very smart looking dogs in the Chobham area!

At Christmas in Chobham, one of our customers brings her two reindeer to the Christmas extravaganza so that the children can see 'Santa's reindeer', she runs a business where she hires the reindeer to pull the sleighs at parties or at Christmas events.

She brought a harness into the workshop that she bought for her miniature Shetland but inevitably it was far too big, so she enquired if the harness could be shortened.

Whilst chatting to her over the counter, taking the repair in, I explained I was an apprentice so I would be doing the repair myself, she then asked if I'd be able to make a harness for a reindeer and quote her to make one.

Not knowing the first thing about reindeer or harness I was intrigued and really quite excited about the challenge so I asked her if she would be able to show me some pictures of a reindeer harness and allow me to measure up the existing reindeer harness and I would be happy to give her a quote.

She then offered to bring the reindeer to the shop so I could measure them myself, of course I agreed! So, Friday afternoon came and the reindeer appeared outside the shop which understandably created quite a lot of attention, even more than Kevin the life size plastic horse that stands outside.

This was an unusual day at work but very exciting none the less. I have worked a quote out, so hopefully by the end of the summer I will be making 2 reindeer harness!

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Woolwich Barracks to see the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery. This was kindly organised by my visitor Howard Smith who runs The Saddlery and Gun Room in Biggin Hill, Kent; he got talking to Godfrey Morris who is Master at the King's Troop in Woolwich at the National Saddlery Competition back in January.

I went along with Howard and his wife Nesta, Victoria Scott, who has just completed her apprenticeship at Hastilow Competitions Saddles, and recently won the Apprentice Saddle Class and the Best Completed Apprentice Trophy at The National Saddlery Competition.

Sophie Brett who works at Woldingham Saddlers in Surrey, who has only just started her apprenticeship, came along too. We all trundled off to Woolwich fighting through the Tuesday morning rush hour traffic, eventually arriving at the barracks. The Troop was practising the routine for the Queen's birthday and birth of the second royal baby.

Godfrey explained that they are all on call for when the baby is born and they will have to get all the horses and guns into the centre of London within hours depending on when the baby is born; if the baby is born before 11 o'clock the parade is on the same day, if it's after 11am, the parade will be the next day. That's a lot of people, horses and kit to get together in a very small amount of time!

The rehearsal took place in one of the parks, it was amazing to watch up close the gun carriages and riders manoeuvring the two tonne guns at such speed and accuracy while controlling two excitable horses, remembering where to go and listen to each other, while working as a team to keep the gun upright and not crash into each other. It was absolutely amazing!

The more Godfrey told us about what goes into preparing and riding these routines the more I appreciated the difficulty of riding in these parades. When they had finished practising in the park they all casually hacked back to the barracks along the roads, something I thought was incredible, as 150 horses on the roads could quickly turn chaotic but it was totally normal for them.

Even the process of dismounting is all done in regiment, they all lined up in the courtyard and were given the command to dismount and the horses were taken back, un-tacked and put away.

We were then taken to see the workshop which overlooked the vast expanse which was the indoor school, the workshop itself is huge! I am used to working in a tiny workshop where it is crowded with two people in it... no room to swing a cat!

I was in awe of the size of the barrack's workshop, home to just four saddlers; it was neat, clean and very well organised!

We had a quick cup of tea and Tanya Baldwin, who I competed against at the BETA Pelham rounding competition, gave us a tour.

She showed us where the guns were stored which were already being furiously polished after the morning practice. They are all original World War One guns, all in full working order, there are only 27 left in the world and there are seven stationed at Woolwich.

One of the guns was the one that took Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother to their final resting place. We continued around the yard and the amount of horses that are kept there is quite astonishing, there are seven American barns attached together, all with about four stables and the rest were stalls, everything was state of the art.

Having not been back very long, already most of the boxes had been mucked out, horses washed off and hayed up, the barns were being swept and the tack was being meticulously cleaned.

Everything was well thought out with a farrier's barn containing three forges with rubber matting for the horses to stand on while they were being shod; they also had a vet's barn as well.

At lunch time, Godfrey suggested we go to the sergeant's mess for lunch and after a little while trying to get through security checks we made it into the neighbouring barracks to eat.

The food was really lovely and the hall was covered in memorabilia for that regiment who are nicknamed 'The Vikings,' the King's Troop and Cavalry memorabilia was upstairs, we had a look after lunch and there were loads of painting of horses in various wars and at funerals, there were also books on how to look after your horse and guns.

On show by the stairs was another gun carriage, this was a special gun as it carried Diana, Princess of Wales to her funeral, this one is no longer in use.

Overall, the whole day was simply amazing and I will never forget it, so I am eternally grateful to Howard for organising it and Godfrey for taking the time out when he was really busy, to show us around.

The last bit of excitement in March was an addition of mine, I was really fortunate to be given a long haired Chihuahua puppy that desperately needed to be re-homed.

Rolly is a real sweetie and has now started coming to the workshop with me, hopefully he won't be too much of a distraction!

Catch up soon - Joules x