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Saddlery

Careers in saddlery include both saddlers and saddle fitters, with many people in the profession working in both areas.

  • Last reviewed: 25th April 2022
Saddlery Saddlery

Saddlers are trained, skilled and qualified to make and repair saddlery and leatherwork including bridles, saddles and harness. A saddle fitter is a qualified person able to fit a suitable saddle to the horse and rider based on initial assessments. 

British made saddlery and tack is some of the best in the world, so you’ll join a well-established trade and be in good company.  

Saddle fitters can play an integral part of a horse’s success, whether that be for general riding or in competition. As a saddle fitter you will carry out static and dynamic assessments of horse and rider, measure a horse for the purpose of having a saddle made and assess, evaluate and advise horse owners on the fit of a saddle.  

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.  

How to get into Saddlery

Stage 2 Foundation Coach in 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 any role in the equestrian industry. This career certificate will give you the basic principles of tack fit, different types of tack for different disciplines, anatomy, physiology and conformation. You can then build on these skills with specialist saddlery qualifications. 

Saddler

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). 

Saddle fitter

If you want to be a saddle fitter, whether as a stand-alone career or in addition to a Master Saddler, we encourage you to 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. Whilst gaining the necessary experience, trainee fitters will attend the SMS Saddle Fitting Qualification course which consists of both theory and practical training. Once you have successfully completed the City & Guilds assessment you are then an SMS Registered Qualified Saddle Fitter. 

The SMS also offers training bridle fitting. Like the pathway for saddle fitting, that trainees attend an Introductory Bridle Fitting course, followed by gaining experience, before attending the Qualified Bridle Fitting Course and City & Guilds assessment. Successful candidates are then registered with the Society as a Qualified Bridle Fitter. 

Benefits

  • 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 

Case Studies

Saddle fitter and dressage coach Steph Bradley

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 have become a dressage coach as many clients asked me to teach them and the two roles dovetail nicely. 

Master Saddler and Registered Qualified Saddle Fitter Jocelyn Danby

My advice to those looking to get into this career would be to do both saddle fitting and 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.  

Hear from Helen Reader from the Society of Master Saddlers

I'm a Master Saddler, 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 and rider, BHS CPD days and SMS CPD days.