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Julia Blog 5

Saddlery apprentice Julia Balfour keeps us up to date on a very hectic April and May when she passed her Level 2 Harness.

Contrary to popular belief April was not full of showers! An unusually hot week was spent in Salisbury at the Saddlery Training Centre with Mark. I also had the good news that I had passed my Level 2 harness which I was delighted about.

Last time I was there I started my saddle. I had webbed up my seat and tacked my bellies on and started putting plasterzote over the bellies.

During the week I continued with the saddle, firstly by padding my seat out and crafting the shape with the scraper which creates little shaving of plasterzote which get everywhere and stick to everything; so I was pleased when I had finished! I then cut out my seat, skirts and flaps which on a very hot week in a very well insulated workshop, I nearly melted!

I quite enjoyed stretching the seat onto the tree as you could see the seat looking more like a saddle, the more you stretch it and tack down. Once I had shaved my skirts down, painstakingly made all the backing holes and taken about five years to stitch the welting to the seat I had the nerve wracking job of marking where the skirts are going to be on the seat and tack them there with huge pins. This concerned me slightly, if I put one too high there would be a hole in my seat, not ideal!

It is important to appreciate the fact that this is the part of the saddle the rider will feel the most and will especially affect the way the person rides and how the horse goes.

Everything needs to be symmetrical and even but of course the more you look the less you're sure, finally I was happy and made all the necessary marks to help me stitch it all together; of course another job that took about five years to do.

All this made me come to the conclusion that saddles are quite stressful to make, are a bit fiddly and a very slow process in which I felt like I hadn't made much progress.

Bridle work is possibly more my forte, saddle making is really putting me out of my comfort zone, which I suppose can only be a good thing to progress; although I'm sure my fellow apprentices were more than fed up with my moans which I can only apologise about!

Although overall we all had a good week, we worked hard but we also spent each evening doing different activities together like testing the local pubs, going swimming, having a barbeque in the park and checking out Salisbury's nightlife.

You have got to make the most of good weather and a week away from work!

Back to work and the looming thought that in October I will be doing the introductory saddle fitting course prompted the thought that I needed to get out saddle fitting to gain some experience to help me through it.

I have grown up with horses, having competed and taught others to ride, so I have a good understanding of horses, their way of going and conformation etc.

Working in the shop has helped me to communicate with people better in order to sell a product, however going out to fit a saddle seemed a little daunting.

The day came where it was my turn to take the reins and have control over my first saddle fit under the watchful eye of my master Guy.

The customer wanted the saddle for her daughter and her pony and kindly sent a picture of them both. The pony was a small cob type and the girl was tall and skinny with especially long legs.

From the picture the pony looked like it would be wide and quite short backed so I picked a few small wide saddles out and off we went. When we arrived the pony was quite different than it appeared in the picture, it was very long in the back with short legs, big shoulders and was very fat!

Luckily, the customer said her daughter was painfully nervous and would probably not jump... just what a wanted to hear!

I found a saddle that was wide enough to sit round the pony and was worth a ride in. The family were quite inexperienced so I gave them some advice on what bit to use and fitted their new bridle on the pony.

The pony had only been with the family for a few days and had not yet properly settled in and was a bit on edge. The daughter was quite nervous and a little reluctant to ride, making it a slightly awkward situation.

I managed to persuade her to ride the pony in the school so I could see if the saddle was going to work for them, fortunately the pony had been bought from a riding school so as soon as they went in the school, it just switched off and was an angel and the daughter grew in confidence in just a few minutes, even better the saddle worked.

They decided to buy the saddle, so I took the pony's template and all the necessary details and payment, then we finally managed to escape unscathed, although feeling like I'd aged a few years! Certainly a saddle fit I will remember.

Since then I have done another successful saddle fit which was nowhere near as stressful, so it's not as bad as I thought!

Catch up soon Julia.