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How to start drill riding with your horse

March 23, 2013

In March, the more hardy members of New Barn Riders donned gloves, hats, scarves and sweaters to attend a demonstration of drill riding, organised by Pam Rigby at New Barn, Ollerton, Cheshire.

Pam’s very experienced at drill rides, having competed at the Championships at Olympia several times, and having braved the cold, we were all keen to see how the different components of the ride were built up.

L to r Sandra, Janet, Helen, Pam and Gill

L to r Sandra, Janet, Helen, Pam and Gill

Choosing the team
“The great thing about drill riding is that you don’t need a special type of horse,” explained Pam. “It works with all shapes, sizes and abilities, although you do have to be clever about how you pair your horses up, and it’s also great for promoting teamwork.”

Her four demonstration horses were deliberately chosen to illustrate the point, and ranged from a small pony to a large cob.

Getting started
“When you’re starting off your horses together, keep a close eye on their body language,” she said. Keep a good distance between them to start with, to keep them feeling comfortable, as it will sometimes take a new group a while to settle. Split into two pairs, and starting from opposite ends of the arena, ride towards each other to check the horses’ reaction, but make sure you’ve got plenty of space.

“Accuracy and straightness are vital, so that each rider in the team knows where they’re supposed to be and where everyone else is – the rider needs to stay in total control.

“Test for potential nappiness by riding across the arena in a group and then dividing, as some of the horses may want to stay together and resist splitting up. Stick to walk and trot for the first few sessions.

Building up the movements

“When the horses are happy, try riding across the arena side by side, with each rider staying level, stirrup to stirrup. When you’re feeling more confident, you can try to introduce more complicated exercises, such as ‘wheelies’, which involves a row of riders with the inside rider walking a small circle, the next rider going a little faster to stay level, and the outside rider really pushing on to keep the line straight, so that all the horses appear to be moving round the circle together. Practice this with two horses in walk first, then you can add in more horses and increase the pace, if you like, remembering that the more horses you have, the more difficult it will be to stay level! If you’ve got lots of horses, the inside rider will be turning on the forehand while the outside rider trots or canters on.”

Pam and her team – Sandra on Pip, Janet on Badger, Helen on Salsa and Gill on Fergal – then demonstrated ‘scissors’, where the ride split into two pairs and rode round the arena in opposite directions. When the first rider of each pair reached the corner, they turned diagnonally across the school, being careful to space themselves so that they passed one in front of the other at the centre point. The second rider of each pair followed on, so that the horses wove in between each other.

Why learn to drill ride?

Drill riding is a good way of strengthening the bond between horse and rider, and it makes the horse more supple and obedient. A disadvantage, however, is that the horse and rider must keep moving to keep their relative place in the team, so it’s not a good environment for sorting out schooling problems.

“Drill riding is a great exercise, particularly during the winter months when it’s harder to go out and about,” said Pam. “Practising a different movement each week will keep the horses interested, and when you’ve perfected all the sections, you can set it to music and invite an audience!”
To find out more about lectures and demonstrations at New Barn, visit What’s on at New Barn.

A day in the life of…the farrier

March 20, 2013

Every responsible owner knows the importance of looking after their horse’s feet. The old saying ‘no foot no horse’ is as true today as ever, and if your horse has poor, weak or problem feet then you’ll appreciate just how skilful a farrier has to be to keep the hoof sound and balanced.  Jeremy Taylor has been a self-employed farrier for 15 years, and took a few minutes out between horses to talk to me about his professional life.

Rasping the foot after trimming

Rasping the foot after trimming

Q. What training do you have to do to become a farrier?

A. Farriery is one of the few professions where you still have to serve an apprenticeship, which lasts for four years. As there’s keen competition for places, many aspiring students also choose to do a pre-farriery course, to learn about anatomy and get a good grounding before applying for an apprenticeship. Most farriers also insist on a six month probationary period before the apprenticeship starts formally. You have to attend college for four – six weeks every year, and take two exams each year. If you fail either of these, you drop back six months for re-training. At the end of the apprenticeship, you take your finals – a two and a half hour written paper, an interview with a vet, presentation of various surgical shoes you’ve made yourself and an interview with two qualified farriers. The whole training process takes around five years, and finally, if you pass, you receive your diploma and are admitted to the Worshipful Company of Farriers, which is our governing body. All farriers need to be registered, and, in fact, to take money for hot-shoeing a horse without being registered is illegal.

Foot with old shoe removed, and trimmed ready to be re-shod

Foot with old shoe removed, and trimmed ready to be re-shod

Q. How many horses do you see a day?

A. Around six or seven, all over Cheshire.

Q. What do you look for in a healthy foot?

A. Good growth, and a balanced foot with good weight-bearing ability. If you were to cut the hoof in half vertically down the front, both halves should be equal. Of course, horses are individuals and most have a dominant side, just as humans are left or right-handed. The foot on the dominant side tends to be bigger and more developed, so most horses have front and back feet that aren’t a perfect pair. When trimming the feet, I try to pair them up as nearly as possible, and promote growth without weakening the foot.

Q. Do you make any of your own shoes?

A. With most horses, I can buy a standard off-the-shelf shoe and tailor it to fit. If I need a non-standard size or type of shoe, though, I’ll make it myself. All farriers know how to make a full range of shoes, and it’s good to keep that experience alive. In fact, you can’t fit a factory shoe without knowing how it’s made, it’s all part of the job. The most unusual types of shoe I fit are probably glue-on plastic shoes for laminitics, and heart bars for horses with navicular.

Checking the newly altered shoe for fit before nailing it back on

Checking the newly altered shoe for fit before nailing it back on

Q. How often do you like to see a horse?

A. I always try to see a horse every five to seven weeks, depending on the individual horse, the type of work it’s doing and the season. The hoof/pastern axis of a horse’s leg should always be a straight line, so if you were to take a ruler and lay it against the pastern the wall of the hoof should follow the same line. If the foot isn’t trimmed regularly, the toes will soon grow and push the axis out of true, forcing the horse back on its heels and potentially damaging the joints and tendons. Letting your horse go too long between trims is a false economy, as it’ll cost more to sort the damage out afterwards!

Q. What’s the best thing about your job?

I’ve been working on my own for 15 years, and I’m still seeing clients and horses that have been with me from the beginning. I love the challenges the job can present, as well – I like working with a less-than-perfect hoof and seeing the difference I can make. I like working outdoors, as well, and chatting to the customers.

Q. And the worst thing?

Probably the physical demands of the job. All farriers have back or knee problems at some point in their lives! Although I love being self-employed, it can be problematic as there’s always the chance of injury when you’re working with horses. I’ve been very fortunate, as I’ve only ever had one accident and that was when I was serving my apprenticeship – I was kicked in the face by a little Welsh mare who had a foal with her. Fortunately she wasn’t wearing shoes, or there’d have been a lot more damage – as it was, I cracked four teeth and had to have them repaired. I was left with a large dental bill which I had to pay myself. As a direct result of my case, the laws were changed to give apprentices more financial protection.

Q. What equipment do you carry in the van?

A. These days, farriers carry portable forges powered by propane. The van’s also equipped with racking for storing shoes and other supplies. I also carry a full range of tools. I have to be careful not to carry too many supplies, as it makes the van too heavy, so sometimes it takes a bit of planning!

Q. What insurance do you carry?

A. Due to the fact that we’re carrying propane on the vehicle, a lot of insurance companies won’t insure farriers, but there are several specialist companies we can use. In addition to the van insurance, I also carry public liability cover and my own health insurance.

Q. In most other equestrian jobs, women tend to predominate. Why aren’t there more women farriers?

A. Women are still in the minority, and that’s just down to the physical demands of the job. There’s no difference from a skill point of view, but farriery is very hard on the back and muscles. We are seeing more women than before though, so who knows what’ll happen in the future.

Foxhunting, U.S. style – an interview with Lt. Col. Dennis Foster

March 15, 2013

1998 (Dec) Red Rock Hounds by Sheri Scott

It started with a chance meeting on a ski-lift in Colorado. In the course of chatting to the American gentleman next to me, he mentioned that he’d just retired as secretary of his local foxhunt.

“Foxhunting in America?” I said in surprise. “What do you hunt?”

“Foxes,” he said, completely deadpan. “And coyotes, of course.” Of course.

I found the thought of groups of U.S. riders donning full, formal hunting kit and riding across Colorado’s great open spaces in pursuit of coyotes completely beguiling, and was keen to find out more about this quintessentially British sport, as practised

After a little searching around for an expert, I was soon talking to Dennis Foster, executive director of the Masters of Foxhounds of America, the governing body for America’s 170 hunts. Previously a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. army, he’s hunted in 11 different countries with almost 400 different hunts, and he kindly agreed to chat to me about the sport that’s both his livelihood and his passion.


Q. What quarry do you hunt?

A. America’s a huge country, so it depends whereabouts you are. We have grey foxes here, and some red foxes. Some of the red foxes were originally imported from the U.K. by foxhunting enthusiasts, but the animals are also indigenous to Canada and they’ve migrated into North America. We also hunt coyote and bobcats.

There’s not much sympathy for coyotes here – they look like a small wolf, and are a real threat to livestock, capable of killing animals up to the size of a small horse. They’re a very adaptable animal, and will hunt anything, even foxes – although that’s for survival rather than food. The two species can co-exist together if there’s enough food to support them both.

Coyotes can run ten times as far as a fox, so we don’t tend to catch many – mostly just the lame, sick and stupid!

In the U.S., it’s more about the chase rather than the kill. Foxes aren’t classified as vermin here, as there aren’t that many, so there’s no pressure from farmers to cull them.

Q. What type of hounds do you use?

A. We’ve got four main breeds – American hounds, English hounds, Penn-Marydel (an old U.S. breed), and crossbreeds.

Q. Do you have the same traditions as English hunts?

A. Absolutely – we wear formal dress, including jackets and topboots, and carry hunting whips and hipflasks – mine has cognac in. Most hunts also hold an annual hunt ball , usually in December or January.

Q. When’s the hunting season?

A. It depends a bit on the location. In Canada, they start in June or July and finish in November, before it gets too cold. In more temperate areas, the season usually runs from September to March, following the farming season. It’s also timed to fit in with the lifecycle of the fox, as we don’t hunt pregnant vixens. We do have cubbing, but it’s just called ‘early hunting. The difference is that we don’t need to cull young foxes like you do in Britain, as we don’t have the numbers – cubbing is just an introduction to the season, with horses, hounds and foxes running a little harder and longer every day.

2011 calendar photos (Jan)

Q. You’ve hunted all over the world. What’s your favourite country?

A. I’d have to say Australia. They’ve got more foxes than any other country in the world – originally imported to help control the rabbit population, the foxes have now got out of hand themselves.  Whereas in New Zealand you’re jumping wire fences every few minutes, in Australia you might only get a fence every four or five miles, so you can really open up. The countryside there’s so flat and open, you can see for miles in front of you, and you’ve got the rare opportunity to see the fox and the hounds all strung out before you.

Q. What’s the attitude to hunting in the U.S. – is it seen as the preserve of the rich?

A. Again, it depends on where in the country you are. Many of the hunts are on the East Coast, in expensive areas like New York – they cost a lot to administer, and tend to attract people with money because that’s the sort of people that live in the area.  Hunts in other localities are different, very down to earth, small community hunts with generations of the same family all riding together and bit more rough and ready – but they’re not the ones who get the publicity!

Q. Do you have drag hunting in the US?

A. We do have drag hunting here, but with only around 13 hunts in the whole country, it’s not nearly as popular as the real thing.

Q. Do you have any anti-hunt demonstrations?

A. We don’t tend to have demonstrations – partly because of our laws, but also because hunting isn’t really considered a blood sport here as the emphasis is more on the chase than the kill. There’s really more media attention on sports like stag and bird hunting. That said, there is a lot of anti-hunt feeling around, and we’ve been working with our counterparts in the U.K. and with the Countryside Alliance to help preserve the sport.

All photos courtesy of Lt. Col. Dennis Foster/MFHA. All rights reserved.

Spurred on to greater success – an interview with Tom Balding

March 5, 2013

Ever wondered how those beautiful, extravagant bits and spurs used in Western riding are made? I caught up with Tom Balding, America’s premier manufacturer of high-quality bits and spurs, for some inside information.

With his soft, drawling accent and laconic delivery, Tom Balding, eponymous proprietor of Tom Balding Bits & Spurs, sounds to my British ears as though he’s just stepped off the set of a Western movie. It comes as a surprise, therefore, to learn he’s actually from Southern California, and has a background in precision manufacturing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I had my own manufacturing business,” he explains, “and in 1980 I decided to quit and try my hand as a cowboy. I moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, bought and trained a young horse and worked on ranches, hauling hay and doing anything else you can think of. One day, a friend asked me as a favour to repair a broken bit, and Tom Balding Bits & Spurs was born.”

Tom’s company makes bespoke, handcrafted bits, spurs and other items. Although the majority of his bits are for Western riding, he also makes a selection of English riding and polo bits. He’s also got a number of what he calls ‘crossover’ bits, i.e. Western bits introduced to the English market, and vice versa. Customers can build their own bit by selecting a mouthpiece and shanks (curbs) from a huge range.

“The number of combinations is almost limitless,” says Tom. “Some of the mouthpieces are our own design, some are based on standard designs that have been in use for hundreds of years. Most of my early designs were influenced by my visiting with horse people and listening to their input, but now I work on the designs myself. Just like a chef who’s served his apprenticeship and learned what combination of flavours work together, I can apply the knowledge I’ve learnt to my own designs. I also work with some of the world’s best horsemen, and take their ideas into account.”

All Tom’s bits and spurs are custom-made on the premises, and his busy workshop attracts daily tourist tours.Picture6

“I was involved in manufacturing in California for years, and thought I knew everything,” says Tom, laughing. “Designing these bits was way harder than I ever imagined, because I wanted everything to be unique and as good as it could possibly be.”

Instead of being cast (made with molten metal poured into moulds) all Tom’s products are precision cut in parts then fitted together.

“We start with straight rods to make the mouthpieces, then they’re heated, bent, cut, drilled and stamped. We then fix the mouthpiece to the shanks, and the whole thing is polished to remove sharp edges,” he explains. “I did a lot of aircraft work for the government, so I’m used to precision work – all the parts of every product are precision made, balanced and made to 1/1000th of an inch accuracy. Just a plain pair of spurs has 24 different parts, and some of the bits have up to 30, and each one is made with care and attention to detail.”

spur_b04-flowersIt takes a steady hand to weld each part precisely to the next, and to apply the trademark decoration – rows of dots made from tiny blobs of stainless steel.

Although a few of the more common, simpler bits are kept in stock, most of Tom’s products are custom-made to order. Many customers, for example, like to have a logo or monogram on their spurs, and this requires a high level of care.

“We glue the design onto sterling silver, cut it out with a jeweller’s saw and then build it onto the spur for a truly unique result,” explains Tom. The finished results look like miniature works of art, with letters, motifs and silver chasing running round the heel bands of the spur.

Tom and his three fulltime workshop staff turn out around 3,500 bits a year. Each member of the highly skilled team can Switchback-Aceturn his hand to any part of the process, but each also has his own specialisation.

“My guys love coming into work,” says Tom. “I have to remind ’em to go home at the end of the day! I try to keep the work varied, one guy can be doing ten, twelve different jobs in a day.”

Tom sells his products all over the world, to such far-flung countries as Israel and Argentina, and would love to have a bigger presence in the UK. He’s just got back from a visit to Germany and Austria, where he’s been talking to two stores who stock his products and collecting their feedback.

Despite his globetrotting, he’s clearly deeply attached to his adopted hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming, recently voted the Number One Small Town for Cowboy Charm by Western Horseman Magazine.

It’s a perfect base for the man who makes his living from horses, applying his unique blend of skills to creating individual, custom-made products designed to last a lifetime.

For more information about Tom Balding Bits & Spurs, including a video of Tom at work, visit

All photos courtesy of Tom Balding Bits & Spurs. All rights reserved.

Interview with Ellie Harrison, Countryfile presenter

February 26, 2013
Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

I recently had the chance to interview the lovely Ellie Harrison, presenter of Countryfile, about sheep, horses, cart-wheeling spiders and killer whales.

Q. You sometimes need to ride on TV for Countryfile. Do you ride for pleasure as well?

A. I wouldn’t call myself a rider really – I rode as a child and had friends with horses, so….. read more

BETA Exhibition 2013

February 25, 2013
Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

The British Equestrian Trade Association annual exhibition is a chance for the movers and shakers of the equestrian trade world to catch up on new horsy products and techniques. This year’s exhibition, held from 17th – 19th February at the NEC in Birmingham, saw shop owners, vets, equine physiotherapists and other equestrian professionals flocking to the event. In addition to hundreds of trade stands, featuring merchandise ranging from new clothing ranges, feeds, veterinary supplies and gadgets, there were seminars, fashion shows, demonstrations and appearances by celebrities such as Charlotte Dujardin and Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison.

Virbac launched their new 3D worming solution, the Society of Master Saddlers demonstrated saddle-making techniques, Charles Owen showed us how to find the perfect-fitting hat, hundreds of exhibitors demonstrated their products, cameras clicked, fashion models strutted, and thousands of visitors had a great day out amid all the action.

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Here’s my pick of who was there. For further details about the show and more product picks, see Hay-net. For details of next year’s exhibition, to be held on 16th – 18 February 2014 (yep, they’re planning it already), see


A new, all-natural hoof treatment, Silverfeet is a daily hoof dressing effective against thrush and bacterial infections. It contains only natural ingredients – beeswax, vegetable oil, eucalyptus and silver, so it’s safe to use on any horse.

According to company director Rob Fawcett, the silver acts as an anti-bacterial agent by creating a hostile environment where the bacteria can’t thrive. The product’s been independently tested and cleared by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (V.M.D.), and also helps heal cuts, grazes and cracked heels.

“The product’s been developed in conjunction with farrier John Stanley, and works naturally to promote healthy foot condition – and we’re delighted that it’s being endorsed by many top riders, including Tim Stockdale and Geoff Billington. Although it’s only licensed for veterinary use at the moment, there’s also anecdotal evidence that it helps treat human skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis,” says Rob. “That’s an area we’re looking into at the moment.”

For more information about Silverfeet and information about stockists, visit their website. Silverfeet is available in four colours, prices start at £12 including postage and packaging.

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd


Ever wondered if your horse’s saddle really fits? This new technology from German company horse shape is the high-tech way to make sure. Designed for use by retailers, the operator holds a handset over the horse’s back, where it takes around 1.5 seconds to build up a three dimensional image. The data’s then transmitted to a computer, and the operator can either build up an exact replica of the horse’s back using a mechanical simulator, or send the information to Horseshape who’ll supply a personalised three dimensional template.

According to Horseshape’s Jochen Friedrich, it’s the first fully mobile system on the market, designed to make saddle fitting more accurate than ever.

More information is available from the Horseshape website.

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd


The Equus brand is a new addition to well-established family business Abbey England. Equus is the only range of equestrian rubber products that’s actually manufactured in the UK rather than the Far East, and they offer a unique level of quality.

Jane Kane, Equus Co-ordinator, talked me through the main features.

“Take the overreach boots, for example. The rubber’s thicker, stronger and softer than other brands, offering a longer product life, better elasticity and a boot that won’t stretch out of shape. The high natural rubber content also means a more comfortable fit for your horse.

Our overreach boots are the traditional bell shape, with no Velcro fastening. We’re often asked why we don’t add Velcro, to make them easier to put on – but the fact is, we don’t need to. Lower-quality boots have the Velcro added, as they’re too brittle to stretch over the horse’s foot – but the fastening reduces the protection offer by the boot, and makes them prone to coming off. Our boots easily stretch to slip over the hoof, and they give full protection across the back of the foot.”

Equus have also used their knowhow to come up with the ultimate rubber-covered reins. Unlike standard leather reins, which are stiff and prone to deterioration under the rubber coating, the part of the rein under the Equus rubber sleeve is made from webbing, while only the visible parts are made from leather. The rubber sleeve is also soft, supple and fits comfortably in the rider’s hand.

Equus products are available from all good tack shops; for more information about the products visit Abbey England’s website.

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

A saddler’s life

Emily White, Master Saddler, was showing off her stitching skills at the exhibition, and took five minutes out to talk me through a saddler’s life.

Emily has been a qualified Master Saddler for eighteen months. To quality, students need to serve as an apprentice for four years and work in the trade for at least another three, giving a total qualification time of seven years.

What’s it like being a saddler?

It can be a physically demanding job, although I tend to be based in the workshop rather than going out to customers’ locations. Despite the manual element, there are fewer and fewer boys coming into the industry – I suppose it’s just that girls are more interested in horses.

We have five saddlers in our workshop – there are two main saddle fitters, and two workers who mainly concentrate on bridle work.

We don’t tend to make many saddles from new at our workshop – most of the work we see is repairs, saddle re-flocking and replacement girth straps.

How can riders find a good local saddler?

Visit the website of the Society of Master Saddlers to find a registered saddler. It’s not illegal for people to set themselves up as saddlers if they’re not registered, but we strongly recommend that customers choose a qualified professional as they then have the full backing of the society in the event of any problems. We have no legislation over unregistered saddlers, and you could be left with an expensive liability.

What are your top tips for riders?

Keep an eye on your saddle, and ideally get it checked every six months. When you have your saddle checked, be prepared to ride in it for the saddler, otherwise we can’t see how it’s working on the horse – it’s surprising how many people turn up without hats or boots, not expecting to ride.

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

Photo by ProVision Photography Ltd

From racing to filming

One of the more unusual exhibitors this year was Equine Productions Ltd, a video company specialising in equine-themed films. The team consists of horse expert and ex-jockey Nathan Horrocks, cameraman Dave James and producer Sam Fleet.

Their current clients include studs, racehorse owners and bloodstock agents, and Nathan’s contacts have made them the go-to company for the production of promotional videos for the racing world.

The filming is done via a variety of techniques, from helmet cameras to give a rider’s view to the ‘heli-cam’, a small, remote controlled device that follows the horses to give an elevated view.

“As the heli-cam is almost silent, the horses don’t seem to mind it,” explained Nathan. “We’ve trialled it with many horses, including racehorses, and none of them react to it – so we can get some really fantastic shots. We’re the only really specialist equestrian video production company in the market, and we’d love to branch out into the worlds of dressage and showjumping worlds. I’d love to produce a ‘rider’s eye’ video round the Badminton cross country jumps, for example, to give people some of the experience of riding such an iconic course.”

For more information about Equine Productions Ltd, visit

Abbey England are at heart of the world’s saddlery trade

November 24, 2012

As part of the monthly New Barn Rider meetings, a group of members was recently invited to the headquarters of Abbey England in Knutsford, and on the night around 40 of us  assembled at the warehouse.

Most of us were longterm horse owners and riders, and were confused to think there could be an unknown saddlery right in the middle of our local area.

We were made welcome by Richard Pickering and Richard Brown, company directors, and the mystery was duly solved. Abbey England are a trade company, supplying directly to saddlers all over the world, and most of us were unaware of the vital part they played in the supply of raw saddlery materials.

The warehouse – an Aladdin’s cave of saddlery materials

Abbey is a family business, with 44 employees, and supply most of the world’s saddlers. “If you’ve bought an English saddle anywhere in the world in the last 30 years,” explained Richard Pickering, with pride, “the chances are it was made with materials supplied by us.”

Richard Brown’s father Gerald, the founder of the company, still comes in every day “to keep an eye on us”, said Richard, smiling. He’s clearly very proud of his father, who was awarded a BETA lifetime achievement award in 2011 for services to the trade.

Four years ago, Abbey bought a foundry in Walsall which made metal furnishings such as buckles, stirrup bars and clips, using traditional moulds sometimes centuries old.

The company supply to anywhere in the world with an established equestrian trade, including the US, South Africa, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. They currently supply Pinewood Studios with materials, and are currently in discussion with filmmakers in Hollywood.

Seventy to eighty percent of the company’s output is for the equestrian trade, but the company also makes supplies for the general pet trade, the medical and aerospace industries and for marine and military use. They also have a Royal Warrant, and supply various equipment including some for the Household Cavalry. “Possibly our most high profile job was supplying new webbing for the carriages for the Royal Wedding,” says Richard Pickering. “But it’s all in a day’s work, really – we also make harnesses for elephants and llamas, so there’s a lot of variety.”

Our group moved through to the warehouse, each of us in turn remarking on the smell as we went in – that mix of leather and saddle soap that’s so evocative.

Rolls of leather and bridle samples – all shapes, sizes and colours

Richard Pickering gathered us round a long table, where samples of leather were spread out for inspection. “Our leather is all ethically sourced, and mostly comes from English and Irish cows, but is tanned in Germany,” he explained. Among the samples on the table were a goatskin, a doeskin, used for sidesaddles, a sheepskin destined for the clothing industry and a pigskin, used for the seat of the sidesaddle.  There was even a reindeer skin, used for interior decoration for log cabins.

Richard Brown (right) takes us through the different types of leather

“Pigskins and doeskins cost around £100 each.” he said, “When making a conventional astride saddle, the saddler can use the whole piece with little wastage, but with a sidesaddle most of the skin is discarded as the saddler wants to use only the best piece of the leather, the centre.”

Next up was an array of bridle leather.

“This is top quality leather,” explained Richard. “a piece around 60 x 150cm will cost around £140 plus VAT, and there’s a huge variety of colours. We have Australian Nut (dark brown), Newmarket (tan), Conker (a rich brown) and London Tan, as well as coloured leathers for the fashion industry.”

In answer to a question from the group, he explained, “London tan is so-called as it was the designated colour of coaches going to London – people who couldn’t read would know they’d got the right coach.”

Having dealt with the subject of what the saddle was made of, we moved onto what it was made on. Richard Pickering showed us a range of trees, both  rigid and spring tree. He pointed out how the trees for dressage saddles were cut to allow for the straighter flaps, and how the cantles on some of the saddles were engineering in a single piece rather than bolted on.

“Rigid trees are less common now, but they’re still around. They’re stronger, but allow less contact with the horse. Spring trees (the ‘springs’ are two strips that run down the length of the seat) allow more contact and flexibility. The plastic trees you can see are lighter, and normally used for racing saddles where weight is a consideration. ”

Solid, spring, plastic, wooden – a whole forest of saddle trees

Richard Brown then stepped in to explain how the saddle tree is covered in webbing to form the seat of the saddle, and how the almost-finished saddle is flocked. “As with anything else, flocking comes in different varieties. There’s a woollen/synthetic mix, which is cheap, and a pure, new wool which has been processed. The processing obviously cleans it, but it also means that the wool has a tendency to form clumps, which can be problematic. The best flocking is an untreated, long fibre wool, which doesn’t clump, but some customers don’t like it as it’s not cleaned. ”

Having exhausted the possibilities of the saddle – as well as tiring out our hosts – we moved down to explore the metal furnishings section, passing tantalising rolls of Tattersall check, Newmarket stripe and woollen fabrics, destined for horse rugs. I exclaimed over the rolls of old-fashioned canvas, which I remembered from my childhood, and Richard Pickering explained it’s still very popular in France, as it’s more robust than synthetic materials.

The metal parts are all cast by hand using traditional methods in the company foundry in Walsall, and we saw examples ranging from horse brasses, Newmarket chains and dog collars to a high-fashion belt buckle cast in the shape of a stirrup iron. There was also a dizzying array of bits, mainly stainless steel but also copper, brass, vulcanite and sweet iron.



…and bits.


The two Richards rounded off the tour by presenting New Barn’s Pam Rigby with a stunning saddle, custom made for use by disabled riders. Made by Irish saddler Shane Mulryan from Abbey materials, the standard GP saddle is customised with removable pads and a handle to give extra support.All the New Barn Riders would like to thank Richard Brown, Richard Pickering and everyone else at Abbey England for giving up their evening and making us all so welcome.

Abbey England products are available from retail saddlers nationwide. For more information about the company, visit

New Barn Equestrian Centre goes international

August 31, 2012
New Barn Equestrian Centre in Ollerton, Chelford is playing host to a range of international trainers this year. The venue, owned and developed by Pam Rigby, a British Horse Society Intermediate Instructor, now boasts fantastic facilities including a double-sized indoor arena and lecture room. In the first 12 months since the centre was approved by the British Horse Society, four top level international trainers have used it as a venue.
French classical riding trainer François Lemaire de Ruffieu, who trained at the Cadre Noir in Saumur and is now based in Florida, held an extremely popular four day clinic in the spring, and will be running a second clinic at New Barn from 9th – 13th September.

Francois works inhand with Simba at last year’s clinic.

Centred riding level four instructor Nelleke Deen from Canada held a  training course and examination for British riders earlier in the year, while fellow Canadian Sue Leffler, a level four centred riding clinician, used New Barn as her north west base whilst on her British tour.
These clinics were organised in association with Lisa Pritchard of The Modern Horse, and further events are planned for 2013.
This summer, Karen Lewty from the British Horse Society organised a two day dressage course with Manuella McLean from the Australian Equine Behaviour College. Despite her busy Olympics and Paralympics schedule, Manuella returned by popular request at the end of August for a second clinic.
Finally, top Portuguese trainer Antonio Calamaros returns to New Barn for a second training clinic in September.
As well as hosting these top-level clinics, New Barn is also a popular venue for local riding clubs and instructors. The facilities include overnight stabling, accommodation for riders, a classroom and “Rocky the mechanical horse”, a riding simulator that’s proving a great asset for instructors. Locally-based riders and clubs can also hire the facilities by the hour.
New Barn also has its own riding club, New Barn Riders, who meet monthly for lectures, training and social events – find out more at
For more information on any of the events at New Barn, please phone Pam on 01565 652784 or visit , or