'An innovative sidesaddle used for all disciplines with the horse's comfort, riders needs and both their safety primary in design and making.'
I am calling on all artisans, heritage, Victorian/Edwardian fans, side saddle enthusiasts, horse riders both able and disabled to help fund the expansion of my business. I have put over £15,000 in over the last 8 years and am now at the point where I cannot meet demand. I am not eligible for council funding because I am either too old or live in 'too good' an area :( It is the 40th year anniversary of the Side Saddle Association and there is no better time to be part of this collective 'heave ho' to get 'Bums in Seats!' So I am asking for help, thank you for taking the time to read my story and for showing interest in my project.
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Following an accident in 1996 I was left with a back injury and was told I would be lucky to walk never mind ride horses. I was training to be a professional showgroom at the time, but unless you can muck out 10 or so horses a day, you've no chance. So, I pursued my interests in art and design, I went to college and university and got a degree in Fashion design. I was a commercial clothing designer for nearly 15 years and worked for brands, suppliers and manufacturers to the high street and for well known names. Unfortunately as the recession hit new products and development was shelved and the first to be outed are the designers. In my personal time following my accident I discovered I could ride draft horses, their way of going was much smoother than finer horses, and eventually bought my own horse, Molly Malone. She was a clydesdale cob and quite enormous. I had everything made for her and got really good sourcing suppliers and doing equestrian products. Later in my career I left fashion and specialised in tack and performance clothing for both horse and rider. But following 4 redundancies, and having 2 children I decided to work and design for myself and develop draft sized tack. One of the main things I focused on was saddlery. As my back got worse I found that riding side saddle suited me and Molly was quite good at it too. I had draft sized saddles called 'Malones' made and then received a number of queries asking for regular horse sized saddles. I thought they were catered for but to my surprise only the old victorian saddles were being used. The newly made side saddles were way out of my budget so I got to work and found a European maker who was happy to work with me. I bought and sold far more vintage saddles than my husband ever knew about...took them apart, learnt from them and shared all this with my makers. The sports saddles i had designed in the past gave me a great insight into what the saddle had to do as a piece of equipment and as the only thing we put between ourselves and a living animal. The weight distribution, the stress points, the fittings, their own requirements and the hides selected to make not only a safe and useable product but a good looking saddle that is respectful to the golden age of side saddles of the 1930's. The 'Melody' Side Saddle is world recognised now. I have one in USA as a sales sample. I hire my own, I tale it everywhere with me.
I am developing a junior saddle called the 'Maisy' but 'Melody' and offside version 'Megan' are the 2 commonly known side saddle's from Bit on the Side Saddle.
To date I have funded the whole process, both the historical and market research, the sourcing, the testing, recasting metal parts from original pieces collected over the years for both sides of the saddles. ( I am the only person who reversed their fittings molds for metal parts so we can make off side saddles where the legs go to the right side). Testing them and trialling the saddles. It has been totally consuming, the day to day speaking with customers, suppliers and manufacturers in business hours to the out of hours work drawing, spec making, advertising, website, social media, promoting and all the other behind the scenes job's that no-one ever knows or hears about! I have come as far as I can go. The makers need new molds so they can make more saddle trees, I have orders and genuine enquiries that can keep me going for a long time, so much so that I have started doing leatherwork to help speed up the process and now also make riding whips, strap goods and saddle covers when my 2 little children, Esme 5 and Rosie 2 and three quarters are in bed. I want to further my training and bring some of the manufacture back to the UK. If more of my tree's can be made we can meet the demand.
Side saddle is making a comeback. Thanks to programmes such as Downton Abbey and period drama's it is becoming quite popular again. I also try and do as much as I can with Riding for the disabled. Side saddle can benefit people who have arthritis, maybe they have missing limbs or weakness. They might have learning disabilities and being on a horse is the only 'Their' thing that they can do and ask something of the horse with some level of independence. So many people can benefit from riding and my side saddle tree's give the most comfortable ride for differently abled and able bodied people alike, male and female.
The saddle's tree, the frame inside the saddle is totally innovative. It is designed to spread the weight of the rider and pressures of activity through not only the points of the saddle front, but the bars and seat of the saddle also. It is made from fibreglass and elastic, the steel reinforcements have the same memory which means the tree flexes and behave like wood but is lighter and made to fit each individual horse.
I would like to offer stock sizes which means I can sell to retailers so they have a range of general sizes that can be adjusted by professional master saddler to fit the horse.
If there is not an affordable side saddle, this art will die out. The hundred plus year old saddles are risky, mostly very well looked after and serviced but others not so, and we expect an awful lot from our saddles. From riding cross country one day to giving demo's the next to showing the next and the turnout expected to be equally immaculate for all occasions! Being caked in mud is a speciality of the British and Irish and the strains this puts on the leatherwork slowly catches up with these older saddles.
Risks and challenges
The problems I will face is that there are very few specialists in this area. If one person fails in my chain it has a knock on effect on the whole process. The maker, the metal worker, the saddler and me to over see all of them. Handmade items are highly misunderstood as we have got accustomed to buying things off the shelf, our size always being there online if not in store, a cheap replacement if the item fails. However in the case of an item that needs not only closely monitoring in production but then also when it meets 'both' its customers, the horse and the rider, regular maintenance by specialists.
The lack of specialists is a concern of mine but as the popularity rises, as will the interest in taking the appropriate courses. They will be opportunities to fund or sponsor students and in time have a bank of saddles available to hire to new riders that they can choose to buy following a period of hiring.
I have a number of competitors. Asian imports are the greatest threat to the sport of side saddle riding. They are made very poorly and with little understanding, some not fit to look at never mind put on a horse's back. Each of these cheaply made saddles will be bought by someone wanting to try it, and be sourly disappointed. They will pass it on to the next unsuspecting victim creating a chain of box tickers who didn't enjoy it because the saddle was never actually intended to be used by living beings.
Other competitors include well known saddlers who offer a side saddle's that are made differently and its use might be limited where as the Melody saddle covers all disciplines of riding from jumping on mix terrain to flatwork in a sand school.
The saddle tree's currently available as the old name saddles are not built for modern day horses who are more native in build with a wider back, deeper rib cage and heavier shoulder.
All of these issues I can overcome because of my skills of cadding up designs on a mac, making 'blueprints' for the makers and doing so that they are readable and understandable by a person of any language. I have extensive travel experience to the Far East and Europe and as in clothing and product the formula applies to all, the product is the difference.
To give side saddle the longevity it deserves and to support the master saddlers of this country an affordable saddle must be brought to market. The side saddle's I have done to date are well proven and have been successful in recognised events such as 'The Diana's of the Chase' race, been on TV, hunted in Ireland, won at shows and been sat on by over 200 people for 2 years running at horse show 'Your Horse Live'. I am the only maker of an English style off side saddle, where the legs go to the other side. I have customers worldwide including New Zealand, Belgium and England. To fund all this I have designed associated products such as special side saddle boots, side saddle riding clothes known as habits, which in themselves are revolutionary to the Sport/Art. Leather accessories and tack for the horse and rider have been paramount to the support of manufacture and keeping things ticking over.
Losing my horse Molly in August 2014 was a huge blow, no test horse....Fortunately a local lady has made her horse available to me for fittings and trials, so I am very fortunate as replacing Molly is not priority at this stage.
- (32 days)