By Rosemary on Friday, the 2nd of November, 2018
We are absolutely delighted and proud to announce that Martin has been awarded the title Master Saddle Fitter by the Society of Master Saddlers! This is a prestigious new award to recognise the expertise, knowledge and experience of the most senior and talented qualified saddle fitters. So far only six have been awarded and Martin is the only saddle fitter in England to have achieved this accolade. He was one of the first to have been awarded the status Qualified Saddle Fitter and has continued to build on his experience and expertise, researching and designing saddles for manufacturers and customers to ensure the comfort, safety and performance of riders whatever their discipline.
By Rosemary on Tuesday, the 1st of May, 2018
So, first time out today. I have had lots of saddle issues, which has caused some tension in harvey, and due to my back injury I am struggling. In last ditch attempt and being so totally confused by various differing advice from other saddlers, after a bio mechanics session I felt I needed to return to Martin Wilkinson. Martin spent ages with me, listening about my back issues, what my osteopath thought, what Russell guire from bio mechanics had said, and fitted harvey with a very nice new dressage saddle. Straight away I felt like I sat better and took more weight into my right leg. Something I struggle with. The back lady who sees harvey has noticed how he compensates. Last year my scores were 36/37 ish. Today at Aston we scored 28 and there is more to come. Followed by a double clear in my Martin Wilkinson fitted jump saddle.Thank you to all of you that has helped me.
Well, events overtook the blog and last Wednesday (25th April) Tracey took Harvey to Aston le Walls with a fantastic result!! In her own words, this is what she wrote on Facebook:
'So, first time out today. I have had lots of saddle issues, which has caused some tension in Harvey, and due to my back injury I am struggling. In last ditch attempt and being so totally confused by various differing advice from other saddlers, after a bio mechanics session I felt I needed to return to Martin Wilkinson. Martin spent ages with me, listening about my back issues, what my osteopath thought, what Russell Guire from bio mechanics had said, and fitted Harvey with a very nice new dressage saddle. Straight away I felt like I sat better and took more weight into my right leg. Something I struggle with. The back lady who sees Harvey has noticed how he compensates. Last year my scores were 36/37 ish. Today at Aston we scored 28 and there is more to come. Followed by a double clear in my Martin Wilkinson fitted jump saddle. Thank you to all of you that has helped me.'
We are more than thrilled for Tracey and Harvey and so pleased and proud to be part of this amazing turnaround.
So what happened when Martin visited Tracey? Tracey had been riding Harvey when Martin got there and so he first of all examined Harvey's back once the saddle had been removed. What he noticed was that Harvey had some areas of 'ruffled' hair just behind his withers and Martin explained to Tracey that this will have been caused by the saddle running forwards. So why do saddles run forwards on Harvey? Well Martin explained Harvey has a flattish back with a good lift when he works (ie his back will get flatter as he lifts his muscles to work) which means that if the saddle is not a good fit, it will shift as he moves. This 'running forwards' could well have been the cause of Harvey throwing Tracey when he was being broken and also his then reluctance to move forwards as it is most uncomfortable for a horse to have its hair brushed in the wrong direction.
He examined her other saddles on Harvey and explained that the problem with them all was that there was not enough height in the panel at the back. This meant that Tracey was not in balance and was sitting further to the back of the saddle than she should which again could contribute to Harvey not wanting to move forwards freely and would also cause the saddles to move forwards.
But, a confused Tracey said, the other saddle fitter said that an Albion tree would be suitable for Harvey, are you telling me now that it would not? Well Martin said there is sure to be an Albion tree which is suitable for Harvey, but the problem is that Albion, like most top manufacturers of saddles. make dozens of different shapes of tree. Also their saddles have a range of adjustments - high head, low head, different sizes of gusset in the back of the panel, short flap, long flap - all sorts of adjustments to suit different shapes and sizes of horses and rider. Buying off the internet is never advisable as the seller is unlikely to know the detail of the saddle design and it takes a fully qualified Albion fitter to recognise the exact detail of the saddle so the saddle fitter who made the blanket statement that 'an Albion tree would suit your horse, was correct in one sense but which tree??? And clearly he or she was not familiar with the Albion range and therefore not qualified to advise anyone.
Martin's length and breadth of experience and expertise enabled him to find a few saddles which would suit Harvey, one of which was an Albion SLK which he went well in but the difference when he tried the Fairfax Gareth was extraordinary - so much so that Tracey was nearly in tears! Martin Wilkinson Saddlers deliberately are not tied to any one make of saddle so that we can give customers the best advice on what saddle will suit them and their horse and we constantly keep up to date with advances in saddle design and manufacture - often advising the saddle manufactures on how their saddles fit and what type of horse they suit best.
Tracey's problem was budget - and she tried to do the best for her horse on a limited budget which is not unusual. We try to do the same - to advise customers on the best solution within their budget, but sometimes the budget has to be stretched to do the best for the horse. It is our experience that often its a false economy to buy a cheap saddle and hope for the best!
By Rosemary on Wednesday, the 25th of April, 2018
Tracey Day is a long standing customer of Martin Wilkinson Saddlers and recently we received a cry for help as she was at her wit’s end with her youngster. Harvey is a 5 1/2 year old KWPN by Contendro whose career so far has been a bit stop/start. Tracey bought him as a project 4 year old and broke him herself, she says ‘He wasn’t easy to break and he almost broke me in the process!’ On questioning her we discovered that she had broken him in a saddle she had bought from MWS – but fitted for her other horse, Tarry. ‘It looked ok’ she said – but clearly it wasn’t as Harvey reacted violently to the saddle throwing Tracey and leaving her with back injuries which still cause her immense pain. This is a brave and determined lady though and she persevered but didn’t at that time think that the saddle may have caused the problem. This is not unusual as we often find that misbehaviour in a horse is blamed on the horses’ temperament but often the root cause is discomfort from an ill fitting saddle. Moral – best to get a well fitting saddle to break your horse in so that their first experience of a saddle is one of comfort not pain!
Tracey struggled on but still felt that Harvey was not giving of his best. He was fine in the jump saddle she had (also fitted by Martin Wilkinson for Tarry) but couldn’t fathom why he still felt that he could give more. Tracey has a livery on her yard who uses a different saddle fitter and as she was on the yard seeing the livery horse, Tracey took the opportunity to consult her about Harvey. This saddler fitter only has one brand of saddle, a brand with air panels, and she recommended that Tracey find a saddle with air and she would then be able to adjust the air to compensate for Tracey’s back problem. Tracey said that she had seen an Albion K2 Dressage online same width and seat size as her jump saddle with air panels and would this suit? The saddle fitter assured Tracey that ‘an Albion tree would be suitable for her horse’ so she went ahead and bought the saddle. The saddle fitter said she would be able to adjust the air in the saddle to compensate for Tracey’s back problem and so she ‘pumped up’ one side of the saddle and sent Tracey on her merry way.
Sadly this didn’t seem to be the answer and after two weeks Tracey felt that things had not improved in fact she said ‘It went from bad to worse’. Not unusually, Tracey felt that the problems probably lay with her and that her back injury was causing the problem with the horse and that she just wasn’t sitting straight, so she booked herself on a biomechanics assessment day with Russell Guire, Centaur Biomechanics. Russell watched and recorded her riding and said that no, she wasn’t sitting straight but that it was the saddle at fault, not her! He confirmed that according to all the research, the best way to alter the balance of a saddle would be to use shims or felt under the saddle so that you had a more solid base – the air would just shift and the more you pumped it up the harder it got and the more ‘bouncy’ it would become!
By this time Tracey was several hundred pounds out of pocket and no further forwards! So this was when she approached Martin again and said help! Realising that this was not an unusual scenario, Martin asked her permission to use this as a case study to help educate and inform all the other horse owners out there who may be experiencing something similar!
Next: Read what happened when Martin went to see Tracey and Harvey
By Rosemary on Friday, the 13th of April, 2018
Martin Wilkinson Saddlers
Martin was one of the first group of Saddlers to achieve the saddle fitting qualification offered by the Society of Master Saddlers, a qualification which is now recognised world-wide. Martin went on to be an assessor for the SMS saddle fitting qualification and is now a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers. Supporting Martin, the business has two other fully qualified saddle fitters, Kate Watson and Nicole Louer, both of whom are also Master Saddlers. There is a common misconception that a qualified saddle fitter and a master saddler are one and the same thing but in fact they are two entirely separate qualifications - having both means that you are fully qualified to work on and adjust saddles, an important consideration when choosing a saddle fitter.
The saddle fitters are ably supported by Szylvia Komondi in the saddle workshop, who is herself advanced in her training to be a saddle fitter and is also a Master Saddler.
At Martin Wilkinson,
the horses' welfare is always the most important consideration together with
the riders' needs in all the various disciplines and equestrian sports so that
individual horse and rider combinations can achieve optimum comfort and
There can be few horse owners who now fail to recognize that the saddle, and the way in which it fits, is fundamentally important to the welfare, comfort and success of both horse and rider and at Martin Wilkinson the staff are actively involved in research into the effect of various types of saddle on the horses’ movement and comfort.
So why should you get your saddle checked and why, if a saddle has been made specifically for your horse should it need checking again? Well, fortunately, there is now a greater understanding that horses 'change shape' for a variety of reasons (growth, changes in work, diet, fitness, illness,) and so the saddle which fitted when it was purchased may require adjustment, alteration and even , in some cases, exchange at a later date. This means that it is vital that your saddle is checked regularly and that the horse owner keeps a watchful eye out for signs of discomfort or distress. Bear in mind however that you see your horse every day and gradual changes are hard to spot unless you regularly use a weigh tape to monitor your horses’ condition. Just like us, those few extra calories can make a big difference over time and you yourself don’t notice those extra pounds until you come to try on your holiday clothes! Also you must remember that the flocking in the saddle panel is natural wool, an organic material, and so will move and flatten over time and will need to be realigned and rebalanced.
So what should you look out for when checking the saddle yourself? Well, a very rough guide to signs that your saddle may need some attention are a feeling of being tipped forward or backwards, causing lower back pain for the rider, legs being pushed forwards or backwards and not sitting in the centre of the saddle seat. From the ground, you should be able to look to check that your saddle is in balance.
You should have approximately two fingers’ width clearance between the front arch and the horses’ wither. But this is only a very rough guide – a qualified saddle fitter will have spent at least four years studying conformation, gait, equine anatomy, saddle and tree design and fit to be able to give you an expert opinion on not just the fit of your saddle but whether or not it is the right saddle for your horse.
So what can you expect when you have an appointment with Martin Wilkinson Saddlers? Firstly the saddle fitter will take a template of your horses’ back and a photograph of the horse in profile. He or she will then check the fit of the saddle and may ask you to ride – if they feel the saddle is a bad fit and is causing the horse discomfort, they will not ask you to ride for obvious reasons! If your saddle is a good fit then they will congratulate you and go merrily on their way but if not, then they will advise you as to whether your saddle can be adjusted to fit – some saddles can be reflocked and rebalanced, others may need to be retreed or you may be fortunate to have a fully adjustable saddle. We always try the cheapest option for the customer first but on some occasions there is no option but to replace the saddle and if that is the case then we will search our range of second hand saddles first.
What sets Martin Wilkinson Saddlers apart from others is the level and depth of experience and expertise within the business – we are probably the most experienced team of saddlers and saddle fitters in the South East and so you know when you contact us that you will be offered an extensive range of saddles if you are buying new or second hand and that the advice you will receive is the most up to date and knowledgeable possible
By Rosemary on Thursday, the 1st of March, 2018
We're often asked after someone has sold their horse or pony what's the best way of finding a new home for an unwanted saddle?....
If you are not in need of the saddle any more, the first thing to do is to find out the current value of it. The best way to do this is to take it to your local Master Saddler to get it valued.
It may be that a straight sale to them will result, but certainly it would be a good idea to have the saddle checked for safety for a small fee, then if needed, made safe, either for a private sale or it can be advertised in equine publications and social media.
It is best to always recommend the purchaser needs to get the fit checked by a Qualified Saddle Fitter.