Award-winning bridle-maker sold dog collars and belts to fund training.
Kelly Jones from Midhurst, West Sussex has been named ETN/SMS Bench Saddler of the Month for August.
The award, presented in conjunction with the Society of Master Saddler (SMS), recognises those who uphold the highest standards of leathercraft skills.
Kelly was nominated by Issi Russell, an SMS Master Bridle Maker and Qualified Bridle Fitter, who says: “Kelly has achieved so much in a relatively short time, going from making belts and doing repairs through to specialising in bespoke bridles and becoming a SMS Qualified Bridle Fitter.
“Kelly’s dedication to the horse and her knowledge is right up there with the best.”
About Kelly Jones
Kelly Jones was born in Hong Kong, moving to the UK when she was one. Her mother had horses, and Kelly and her sister learnt to ride at their local riding school before sharing their first pony.
“As a child, I had the full Pony Club experience,” says Kelly. “I loved eventing but enjoyed doing a bit of everything. A career with horses was almost inevitable.”
Kelly admits that she struggled at school as she has severe dyslexia. She also knew that an office job wouldn’t suit her.
“I’ve always been very open about my dyslexia and haven’t let it hold me back. I firmly believe you can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it,” she says.
It was her saddle fitter at the time who suggested she might consider a career in saddlery. Kelly duly enrolled on an entry level leatherwork course and made her first belt at the age of 16. Bitten by the bug, she knew it was the career for her.
After A-Levels, Kelly embarked on the SMS training programme at the Cumbria School of Saddlery and with Mark Romain at The Saddlery Training Centre.
Originally Kelly specialised in carriage driving harness, but soon realised that bridlework was her real passion.
“There’s a huge amount of flexibility and scope for customisation when it comes to making bridles,” she says. “Whether it’s adding some bling or colourful stitching, the options are endless.
“I also love seeing the transformation in the way a horse goes when they wear a bespoke bridle.”
Kelly has self-funded her training. In 2016, she set up Kelly J Leather and took stands at fairs selling belts and dog collars to help pay for her tuition.
She was awarded QEST (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) funding in October 2018 and by the following March started working with Issi Russell, who made the bridle Valegro wore at the London Olympics.
“Training with Issi was amazing,” says Kelly. “I learnt so much from her and we still chat regularly about all things to do with making bridles.”
Now an SMS Master Bridle Maker and Qualified Bridle Fitter in her own right, Kelly focuses on making bespoke bridles.
To help riders from around the world purchase their dream bridles, she’s developed a new members’ area on her website which enables them to design, measure and order bespoke products.
Away from work
When she’s not in her workshop, Kelly is out riding her horse Flame.
“I’ve owned him for almost six years,” she says. “He was bought to event but due to a number of issues we now compete in dressage at elementary level,” she explains.
Juggling running a business and owning a horse can be tricky, so luckily Kelly’s mum is on hand to help. Flame and Kelly’s retired event horse, Jack, are kept on the same DIY livery yard.
Kelly does the horses in the morning with her mum covering the evening shift, allowing Kelly to spend as much time as possible at her workshop.
Kelly has been a keen equestrian photographer too. Although she doesn’t have as much time as she would like to pursue this, she occasionally takes photographs of bridles she’s made.
How to nominate a bench saddler:
Everyone is invited to nominate bench saddlers they feel deserve to be named ETN Bench Saddler of the Month. Candidates for the award must be a member of the SMS and based in the UK or overseas.
To nominate a bench saddler (or more than one), email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why this person deserves to be put in the spotlight. Please include the bench saddler’s name and business name too.