Saturday, 17 January 2015

English Saddlery Design.

For generations the saddlery market has been the epitome of English heritage, elegance and style. The chosen sport for many of our Royal family whether 3 Day Eventing, Dressage, Flat Racing or Polo. Even the term for riding astride is known the world over as English Riding. So with this most illustrious of heritage how are today’s top English saddle makers taking on the increased competition from Europe to ensure that even in these changing times English Saddles are still the most sought after in the world.

Whilst it is true that the external design of the saddle has certainly become a key factor in saddlery, first and foremost the emphasis is on how the saddle fits the horse. This is something Nikki Newcombe, Managing Director of bespoke saddle makers Bliss of London, is a firm believer in. “There has to be a balance between the craftsman’s exceptional technique and a designer’s vision,” she states. “Yes, customers want a saddle which looks amazing, and feels luxurious, however they also want their horse to perform at its very best and feel that the saddle unifies their partnership and enhances their connection, contact and control.”

“We have noticed many differing demands from our clients and these form the basis of Bliss of London’s objectives,” Nikki goes on to say. “For example, riders want to feel that ‘broken in’ feel straight away so soft and supple leather is a necessity and we have sourced some of the most luxurious leathers from around the globe to offer customers something ‘above average’ and exceptional.”

“The saddlery market is becoming more and more bespoke,” Nikki explains. “Clients are now asking for individual styling on their saddles to demonstrate their personality and tastes. This can be anything from contrasting stitching, contrasting leather finishes, diamantes or quilting and with access to modern technology we can now offer traditional British craftsmanship, along with cutting edge design, which makes this a very exciting time in the industry!”

“We do of course have our more traditional customers that insist on the classic understated elegance that is more familiar and will always be produced at Bliss’s workshops in England alongside our other unique and personalised saddles”.

 “Saddle manufacturing has gone full circle,” Nikki says. “Many years ago saddle making was not about production savings and speed, it was about creating a true luxury item which demonstrated artisan’s skill, with hours of time lavished upon them to ensure that perfection was achieved. Customers are now once again insisting on quality, craftsmanship, reputation and service, along with a saddle that is fitted to both horse and rider, whilst still allowing for creative freedom. All this is at the heart of Bliss of London’s philosophy.”
To find out more about the Bliss of London collection tel: 0207 1188 123.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

For me, my saddle is a very personal thing. I am very loyal to my saddles and I spend a huge amount of time in and around them. As they are the gateway to communication with my horses when I am riding, both of us have to have our needs met for us to perform at our best.
When my top horse, Wonderboy, matured and changed shape, his previously well-fitting saddle stopped working for him. His back muscles have broadened out from under the stirrup bars through the back of the saddle – there was nothing for it, he had to have a new saddle!
As a rider who has ridden many different horses, I have ridden on many of the leading brands and I had a fair idea of what I like and what I really can’t stand to ride on. I trawled the internet, looking for something that would suit Wonderboy’s wide back and my need for support but a close, narrow feel. I had saddlers out to fit him, I tried saddles from the internet, wasting time while my chiropractor moaned at me that his saddle was damaging his muscles.

Then, one fortunate day, I came across Bliss of London saddles! I emailed Nikki for information, as it seemed to me that the only way forward would be a custom-made saddle as most modern saddles have the same width to the back of the tree regardless of the front measurement. Nikki reassured me that it should be possible to match my requirements with the horse’s comfort. She came out to me with all the Bliss dressage models in a variety of sizes. We spent a long time, seeing which tree shapes fitted Wondeboy best and which blocks, leathers and seats worked for me. It was the Paramour dressage, covered in nubuck, that seemed to be the best so I rode Wonderboy in that for the rest of his work session that day – he did the most enormous spook/ handstand combo and neither me nor the saddle moved an inch – SOLD! I was so comfortable and balanced that I forgot about the saddle and just rode, proof that it was perfect for me.

Back in the yard, Nikki took great pains to measure Wonderboy carefully so that the perfect tree could be used for his saddle, noting what gussets and panel shapes he would want, whether serge or leather covering would suit his back better. Then, over a cup of coffee we worked out the personalised shape to the thigh blocks for me and some of the finishing touches. Nikki and I agreed on a Maple leaf behind my leg and a fine red line around the seat and back of the cantle.
A couple of weeks later, and my saddle arrived. It is beautiful! Nikki came out and checked the fit, which was spot on. The nubuck covering gives great security and meant that it did not need that awkward breaking-in period. I have been using that saddle since April this year, I have been around Europe competing with it and it has been fantastic. I am sure it has played a massive part in our great results – Wonderboy and I are currently 9th in the FEI World Rankings!

In fact, my saddle has been such a success that I bought a second one, custom-made to fit my up-and-coming horse, Double Agent. She has improved so much since having her own saddle; greater freedom of movement and willingness to work.
I whole-heartedly recommend Bliss of London saddles for their wonderful attention to detail, both in the fit for horse and rider and the aesthetics. One of life’s strange things is that when a saddle fits this well, you don’t notice it- you just ride the horse and feel the harmony.