If you enjoy working with your hands, are good at practical tasks and have the ability to work with close attention to detail, a career as a Master Saddler could be something you’d like to consider.
What do Master Saddlers do?
A Master Saddler uses traditional methods and tools to create saddles, associated equestrian leatherwork and harnesses. You would work with different types of leather including cowhide, suede, nubuck and chamois.
Your daily work could include:
- using a design pattern to measure up and cut out sections of leather
- working with solvents and other processes to prepare the leather
- machine-stitching sections of leather together
- finishing pieces of saddlery by hand
- repairing or customising items of saddlery and harness
- visiting clients to measure their horses for bespoke saddles
- providing customers with a saddle-fitting service in order to sell pre-made saddles that you have in stock
The majority of your practical work will entail using machine tools, paring and cutting knives, edge shaves, awls and pricking frames. You could also use CAD (computer aided design) software to create patterns, especially when making up patterns for bespoke, made-to-measure items.
If you are a self-employed retail Master Saddler, you could also spend time visiting trade shows and exhibiting at equestrian events to promote your services and products.
Your work environment would largely depend on whether you were self-employed or worked for a large, established saddlery company. Your hours would usually be around 37 to 40 hours per week, Monday to Friday. You might be required to work overtime if demand or customer deadlines required it.
You would generally work in a small factory or workshop environment based at a workbench. You’d need to wear protective clothing for much of your working day as you’ll be handling polishes, solvents, and other chemicals depending upon which process you were using. You’d need to be confident working with machinery.
Sometimes, you’d be required to visit customers at stable yards in order to measure their horses for bespoke saddles or to carry out a fitting service in order to sell ‘off-the-peg’ saddles. You might also be required to travel in order to attend trade exhibitions and horse events where you might have a trade stand. This could mean that you’d need to work some weekends or in the evenings to accommodate customers.
Some Master Saddlers enter national and international saddle and harness making competitions in order to promote their work and add kudos to their brand. If you wanted to take part in such competitions, you’d need to be prepared to travel.
You could apply for an apprenticeship with a Master Saddler. The Worshipful Company of Saddlers and the Society of Master Saddlers manage an apprentice scheme to provide training for new entrants into the industry. It’s worth noting that you’ll have much more chance of being accepted as an apprentice if you have previous experience, so for that reason a general leather-craft course should be considered essential.
Career Progression and Development
Once you’ve been accepted for an apprenticeship, most of your training will take place ‘on-the-job’. Your apprenticeship will be conducted by a qualified Master Saddler and will last for four years. During the first two years of your apprenticeship, you’ll be working towards City & Guilds Saddlery Qualifications including Level 1 and Level 2 Bridle, Saddle and Harness making.
Years 3 and 4 will see you working towards City & Guilds Saddlery Qualifications Level 3 Bridle, Saddle and Harness making. Successful completion of these courses will enable you to register with the Worshipful Company of Saddlers as a qualified saddler and harness maker. You could also take a short course in saddle fitting. This would enable you to visit customers to measure their horses for custom saddles, and you could also offer a fitting service.
Once you’ve been working in the industry as a qualified saddler and/or harness maker for in excess of seven years and have undergone further training and inspection, you could become a Master Saddler, registered with the Society of Master Saddlers.
If you enjoy working with your hands and are interested in learning a skill using traditional methods and tools, a career as a Master Saddler could be something you’d be interested in. It’s a varied role that involves working in a workshop-based environment for some of the time, travelling to trade exhibitions and shows and visiting customers at stable yards or in their own homes.
As a self-employed Master Saddler, you could start your own company and workshop and build your own brand.
Image source: patrickwilkinson.co.uk