Dual award winner has since seen many changes in the industry.

Lorna Hancock has been named ETN/SMS Bench Saddler of the Month for January. 

The award, presented in conjunction with the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS), recognises those who uphold the highest standards of leathercraft skills.

Lincolnshire based Lorna Hancock was always keen to work with horses. 

Saddle fitting is a passion for Lorna Hancock.

At 18, she started out as a riding instructor and spent a couple of years as a vet nurse, before working for the Ministry of Agriculture. 

Deciding this wasn’t for her, and uncertain about her future career direction, Lorna spotted an advert in Horse & Hound for the Cambridge and District Saddlery Course. It was to set her on a new path.

A little more research led to her enrolling on a year-long Rural Saddlery Skills course at Cordwainers College. 

“That was back in 1989,” says Lorna, “and I believe it was just at the start of the City & Guilds Rural Saddlery skills tests. I completed levels one, two and three.” 

From there, Lorna continued to do some teaching for her local Pony Club branch and started making dog leads and harnesses. 

By 1992, she had gone into partnership and opened The Tack Box, a saddlery shop which Lorna ran, and where she also did repairs. 

Saddle fitting influences

Lorna admits that the saddlery world has changed hugely since she started in the industry. 

“It was seeing the Balance Saddles in the late 1990s and the [Balance organisation’s] thinking about allowing the horse more freedom in shoulders that started to change my thinking about the importance of saddle fit,” says Lorna.

Lorna likes to spend Fridays in her workshop, with the radio on. 

She went on to take a foundation saddle fitting course through the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA), then carried on with the SMS training in saddle fitting, qualifying in 2007. 

Once she became a registered, qualified SMS Saddle Fitter, most of Lorna’s time was spent doing just that, fitting saddles - something she still thoroughly enjoys. 

“Leather work is relaxing”

However, she also relishes time at the bench in her workshop with the radio on while she focuses on leather work. It’s very relaxing, she says.

General repairs and making the occasional bridle for customers is majority of her bench work. She’s also recently finished making a lead for a police dog. 

“I do try and have Fridays in the workshop,” adds Lorna. “It's almost like a day off - and a good start to the weekend.” 

Positive changes

Lorna says she’s seen lots of positive changes over the years she’s been in the saddlery industry. 

“People are much more aware that they need to have their saddles checked by a qualified fitter on a regular basis. They're more aware of how a poorly balanced saddle can impact the horse’s way of going. 

“A lot of this is due to education on the part of the SMS and thanks to the research that’s been done. The use of Pliance [pressure] testing, for example, has highlighted the importance of correctly fitting tack.”

Football fan

Aside from work, Lorna owns a Thoroughbred called Freddie who did a season of point-to-pointing before he came to her as a six-year-old. Freddie is now 15 and a pleasure horse with whom Lorna does a bit of hacking and flatwork. 

Before Freddie, there was Robbie, another Thoroughbred who Lorna describes as her ‘horse of a lifetime’. Together they competed at novice level British Eventing and were on their riding club teams. 

Lorna is a big Lincoln City football fan and has been a Special Constable for 21 years. Her other passion is wildlife; she’s a member of the RSPB and loves to get out and explore the Lincolnshire countryside. 

Winning ways

Lorna Hancock (left) with her Equine Fitter of the Year award at the BETAs, with Lucy Atherton - Saddlers’ Company Immediate Past-Master who made the presentation, and joint-winner John Hirrell. 

Her highlight of 2023 was being named joint winner (with John Hirrell) of the Equine Fitter of the Year at the BETAs, the British Equestrian Trade Awards, in September.  

The award attracted more than 1,000 nominations from riders and horse owners. 

“It was a surprise to be nominated, let alone win it,” says Lorna. “The whole evening was amazing and the award is on display at home. 

“I can’t thank my customers enough for voting for me. The feedback I’ve had has been lovely.” 

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 and tell us why this person deserves to be put in the spotlight. Please include the bench saddler’s name and business name too.