Careers in saddlery include both saddlers and saddle fitters, with many people in the profession working in both areas. Saddlers are trained, skilled and qualified to make and repair saddlery and leatherwork including bridles, harness and saddles. A saddle fitter is a suitably qualified person able to fit a suitable saddle to the horse and rider based on initial assessments.
- If you have an interest in horse anatomy and biomechanics
- You are keen to help improve performance of horse and rider through correctly fitted tack
- You want a practical, hands on career in a niche market which allows for creativity
Whether you choose to be a saddler or saddle fitter, or a combination of both, these careers will offer diversity and enable you to develop a niche craft.
Saddlers are highly trained, skilled individuals that can create detailed leatherwork in the form of bridles, saddles and harness. British made saddlery and tack is some of the best in the world, so you’ll join an already well established trade and be in good company. As a saddler you will:
- Design and make saddles, harness and bridles from scratch
- Carry out repairs on saddlery and tack
- Re-flock saddles
Saddle fitters can play an integral part of a horse’s success, whether that be for general riding or in competition. You will be as important as the farrier and equine dental technician; a badly fitting saddle can cause pain and subsequent welfare and behaviour problems for a horse. You will take a holistic approach to your work and look at the horse and rider as a whole when completing your assessments and take into consideration horse and rider biomechanics, fitness levels and type of work. As a saddle fitter you will:
- Carry out static and dynamic assessments of horse and rider
- Measure and template a horse for the purpose of having a saddle made
- Assess, evaluate and advise horse owners on the fit of a saddle
Your next steps
Stage 2 Complete Horsemanship provides an in-depth foundation knowledge and understanding of equine care and management, lungeing, riding on the flat and over fences and the initial principles of teaching and coaching to support a more strategic role in any equestrian organisation. This career certificate will give you the basic principles of tack fit, different types of tack for different disciplines, anatomy and physiology and conformation. You can then build upon these skills with specialist saddlery qualifications.
There are various routes to becoming a Qualified and subsequently Master Saddler. Apprenticeships are available which combine hands-on training whilst working in the industry, with gaining a qualification. Apprentices study part-time at The Saddlery Training Centre (STC), Salisbury on block release courses. Alternatively, Capel Manor College in Enfield runs a two year, full-time, diploma course in saddlery and there are also part time courses available at various training establishments around the country, including the STC, for those who are not able to commit to full-time study or employment. All of these routes use the City & Guilds Saddlery Skill Assessments which are the recognised qualifications for the saddlery trade. These also form the foundation criteria for individuals to join The Society of Master Saddlers (SMS).
If you want to be a saddle fitter, whether as a stand-alone career or in addition to a master saddler, we encourage you follow the recommended route by the Society of Master Saddlers. You are required to attend a two-day Introductory Saddle Fitting Course, jointly badged by the SMS and BETA, and complete three years’ work experience. During your training you will be required to gain the Society’s qualification in saddle flocking and adjustment which is a necessary skill for both Master Saddlers and Qualified Saddle Fitters. Flocking courses are run by various training establishments listed on the SMS web site. The SMS runs a Mentor Scheme for trainee saddle fitters and additional training days are also offered to those on the scheme. After completion of the necessary experience trainee fitters will attend the four-day SMS Qualification course. Once you have successfully completed the assessment you are then an SMS Registered Qualified Saddle Fitter.
Potential saddlers and saddle fitters are expected to be enthusiastic, hardworking and won’t shy away from practical, hands on work. You'll have a sound understanding of the anatomy of horses and the ability to work on your own or as part of a team.
- Opportunities to be self employed
- It’s not just tack! Get your creative juices going – you can turn your hand to create a wide variety of bespoke leather items
It is hard work - and you need to be willing to listen and learn all the time. And problem solve, and be tactful!
Get work experience and a good mentor. It is a tough job for a young person - good people skills and excellent communication skills are a must.
I originally did my BHS Stages which gave me a good foundation to becoming a saddle fitter. Then i did my saddle fitting exams and set up my own business. Since then I became a dressage as many clients asked me to teach them and the two roles dovetail nicely.
I am responsible for running the business as a sole trader, making all leather products, managing freelancers, budgets, finance, marketing, etc.
I relearned to ride about 15 years ago, 5 years before I decided to change my career from a Creative Director for a bank in the city, to running my own business as a saddler/leatherworker. I wanted to understand (and ride) horses better, which is why I took my BHS Stage 1 Complete Horsemanship and then Stage 2 Care. I am currently planning on taking my Stage 2 Ride next year. Although now I do not practice saddlery now, I have diversified into high-end leatherwork using my saddlery skills.
The fact that I have BHS Stage 3 Coach in Complete Horsemanship qualification and also years of experience of riding and teaching makes me a much better saddle fitter. I can easily spot technique and position faults in the rider and schooling issues in the horse which affect, or are affected by, the fit of the saddle. Knowing which is the cause and which the effect is often the whole difficulty. I am also able to give a little support if a rider is struggling with something during a saddle fit, making things go more smoothly. As I have ridden various disciplines myself as part of my training and also competing I can empathise with riders experiencing difficulty and discomfort due to saddle problems. I also worked for a time as an equine vet nurse/veterinary stable manager, and the BHS qualifications and experience as a groom/manager/instructor in many yards helped me greatly with this in many different ways. All this training and experience has provided me with a wealth of knowledge with which to do my present job to a far higher standard than if I had come to it purely from the saddlery and saddle fitting. The BHS qualifications did not provide me with a deep knowledge of saddle fitting; I learned this from my saddle fitting training. This is confirmed by some of the comments that people relay to me from their instructors. The best advice an instructor can give a rider about saddle fitting, is to get a registered Qualified Saddle Fitter to come out.
My advice to those looking to get into this career would be to do both the saddle fitting and the bench saddlery. Some people do one or the other but I don’t think you can do either so well without the other. Saddle fitters who have no bench skills have to take saddles away to a bench saddler, so it’s far more difficult to achieve the best fit. Saddlers with no fitting skills make design faults with saddles which mean they will never fit so well. This is because they don’t have a full understanding of how the saddle interacts with the horse and rider. The hand stitching and other bench skills take years to learn to a high level, so start this as early as you can. The fitting skills are also learned by years of experience, but riding and teaching or even just watching riders will help with this. While still at school, ride to as high a level as possible, and get as much experience with horses as possible. For reading, learn about different types of saddles, bridles, bits, other tack including schooling aids, both old fashioned and innovative and find out how they all work.
I'm a master saddler and harness maker and registered qualified saddle fitter. I enjoy creating new items, be it a bridle to show off a horse's head or simply a belt. I make a wide range of saddlery items, including side saddles and light leather goods.
The other side of my business is saddle fitting and I get great pleasure from seeing the horse improve after correct saddle fitting. This improvement can be physically in their development, mentally in their attitude to work and sometimes even in their general character.
I work closely with a number of other equine professionals and I always take a keen interest in their work. A greater understanding from all aspects allows for better communication and therefore a better service to the customer. I therefore regularly attend training days including biomechanics for both horse & rider, BHS CPD days and SMS CPD days.
I would advise anyone looking at getting into saddlery to research the options to see what best suits them. You can train on part time courses at a number of centres around the country or full time at Capel Manor College, London completing a Diploma in Saddlery. Alternatively, you can become an apprentice with an SMS Master Saddler and learn while working in the trade and attending The Saddlery Training Centre, Salisbury for block training. A number of people will start with part or full time courses and then progress onto an apprenticeship.
Both the craft side of saddlery and the saddle fitting side offer a fabulous opportunity to build your career alongside a love of horses whilst allowing you to be creative and improve the comfort and performance of horse and rider.