Saddler

The Job and What's Involved

Saddlers make high-quality saddles, bridles or harnesses from leather. Some saddlers specialise in handcrafted items made to the customer's specific requirements, while others may work by hand and machine on a range of off-the-peg saddles and accessories.

Most saddlers will offer a saddle fitting service to ensure the saddle fits the horse and rider correctly. The job also involves repairing and restoring saddles, bridles, harnesses and other leather goods.

Different saddles are used for endurance, racing, show jumping, dressage, eventing and polo. Some can cost thousands of pounds.

It can take up to three days work to make a saddle. The process involves:

  • Choosing the best leather for the job.
  • Selecting and preparing the correct saddle tree (the frame).
  • Cutting the leather to a pattern, taking care to keep wastage to a minimum.
  • Fitting and stitching the pieces together.
  • Flocking the panel (padding).
  • Polishing the leather.
  • Finishing the item.

A saddler may make a complete saddle working alone or work in a larger workshop where the different stages are shared between several saddlers.

A saddler usually works around 37 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. Those working in factories may occasionally work shifts or overtime, which could include weekend work. Part-time work may be available.

Saddlers work in a workshop and may have to sit or stand in the same position for long periods of time, bending over their work. Some of the adhesives and preservatives used can have a strong smell.

The starting salary for an apprentice saddler may be around £10,000 a year. An experienced saddler may earn around £15,000 to £18,000 a year.

Highly experienced saddlers could earn £20,000 or more a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are more than 700 saddlery and harness maker businesses in the UK, employing a total of around 3,000 people. Most of these are small retail workshops, run either by one person or by a proprietor with less than four employees. The larger manufacturers are based in Walsall in the West Midlands and account for a high proportion of the total output of saddles and bridles. Saddlers in rural areas are more likely to concentrate on bespoke work, repairs and restoration.

Although there is a steady demand for skilled saddlers, there are currently more applicants than vacancies for Apprenticeships. However, the number of Apprenticeships is likely to increase.

Vacancies are scarce, so it is necessary to use industry contacts and associations such as the Society of Master Saddlers, who may advertise jobs and Apprenticeships on their website. The society also publishes a list of member companies. Approaching and writing speculative letters to these member companies may help to secure an Apprenticeship.

Education and Training

Although no formal entry qualifications are required, employers may look for strong practical skills and GCSE's (A*-C), in English and maths. The typical route into saddlery is via an Apprenticeship.

The Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) and the Worshipful Company of Saddlers also operate the four-year Millennium Apprenticeship Scheme for those employed full time by a Master Saddler member of the Society.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

An alternative route could involve training at a specialist college before entering work. Some private establishments run part-time saddlery/leather courses, including:

  • City & Guilds Level 2 and 3 Cordwainers Diploma, offered at Capel Manor College, Enfield over two years. Entry is with a BTEC First Diploma, four GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent.
  • Private tuition offered by Cumbria School of Saddlery and Newbury College and a few Master Saddlers.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Saddlery apprentices typically work alongside a master saddler for six months before attending the 16 one-week course modules at the Saddlery Training Centre in Salisbury. Training covers practical saddlery and leather goods craft skills as well as background knowledge of:

- Equine anatomy
- Horse handling
- Saddle fitting
- Rugs and rug repairs
- Health and safety regulations

During the first part of the Apprenticeship, trainee saddlers will work towards:

  • Level 2 NVQ in leather goods.
  • Level 2 City & Guilds Intermediate Certificate in saddlery, with pathways in saddle making, bridle making and harness making.
  • Level 1 Key Skills in communications and numeracy.

After completing this level, apprentices can go on to an Advanced Apprenticeship, leading to:

  • Level 3 NVQ in footwear and leather products manufacture.
  • Level 3 City & Guilds Advanced Certificate in saddlery, with pathways in saddle making, bridle making and harness making.
  • Level 2 Key Skills in communications and numeracy.

Those on the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) and Worshipful Company of Saddlers Millennium Apprenticeship Scheme are likely to undergo a similar programme of training and qualifications.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A saddler should have:

  • Creativity and be good at working with their hands.
  • A flair for design and construction.
  • Excellent eyesight and be able to pay close attention to detail.
  • Good knowledge of the anatomy of horses.
  • Patience, as the work can be slow and laborious.
  • The ability to use a variety of tools and equipment.
  • The ability to work alone without supervision or as part of a small team.
  • Business skills if self-employed.
  • Awareness of health and safety.

Your Long Term Prospects

Once trained, saddlers may want to develop their skills. The Saddlery Training Centre runs part-time and short courses for those who want to enhance their skills or extend their range of products.

Those who have some experience of saddlery may be eligible for the New Entrants Training Scheme, offered by the Saddlery Training Centre, mainly aimed at those not eligible for on an Apprenticeship.

This is a small industry and many saddlery companies employ only a handful of people, so there are limited opportunities for career progression. Most saddlers will develop their skills and experience, often with a view to becoming self-employed. Others may move into other leather goods or into teaching the craft.

Get Further Information

British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA),
Stockeld Park, Wetherby,
West Yorkshire LS22 4AW
Tel: 01937 587062
Website: www.beta-uk.org

Career with Animals,
Daresbury Point, Green Wood Drive,
Manor Park, Cheshire WA7 1UP
Website: www.careerwithanimals.co.uk

The Saddlery Training Centre,
3H Stanley Court, Glenmore Business Park,
Telford Road, Churchfields, Salisbury,
Wiltshire SP2 7GH
Tel: 01722 341144
Website: www.saddlerytraining.com

Skillfast UK, Richmond House,
Lawnswood Business Park,
Leeds LS16 6RD
Tel: 0113 239 9600
Website: www.skillfast-uk.org

The Society of Master Saddlers (SMS),
Green Lane Farm, Stonham,
Stowmarket IP14 5DS
Tel: 01449 711642
Website: www.mastersaddlers.co.uk

The Worshipful Company of Saddlers,
Saddlers' Hall, 40 Gutter Lane,
London EC2V 6BR
Tel: 020 7726 8661
Website: www.saddlersco.co.uk

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