SKILLS SHOULD BE CHAMPIONED FOR THE NEXT GENERATION, SAYS AWARD-WINNER

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Sarah Stevens combines saddle fitting with her work as a bench saddler.

“I love sharing my knowledge.”

Sarah Stevens has been named ETN/SMS Bench Saddler of the Month.

Sarah Sevens treasures time at the bench, with only a log fire and fantastic view for company. 

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

Somerset based Sarah runs SES Saddlery. She’s an SMS Master Saddler, Master Harness Maker, Master Bridle Maker and Registered Master Saddle Fitter. She’s also passionate about training the saddlers of the future.

How it all started

A love of horses led Sarah to the craft of saddlery and then saddle fitting. After watching a saddler working at his bench, Sarah was hooked and decided to embark on her training. 

She spent a year with Laurence Pearman, a Master Saddler, gaining experience in the workshop working mainly on saddles and doing some bridlework too. 

Sarah then continued her apprenticeship with David Dyer at Frogpool Manor in Kent. Here, she continued to learn valuable craft skills in the workshop and became interested in saddle fitting too. 

“I completed my Level 2 and 3 under the guidance of Mark Romain at The Saddlery Training Centre,” explains Sarah. “In 2012, I became a Master Saddler and Master Harness Maker.” 

Setting up a workshop

The following year, Sarah set up her own workshop, SES Saddlery, offering saddle fitting, custom-made bridles and leather repairs. 

Initially the business was based in the Thames Valley where Sarah had built up a loyal base of clients. Then in 2021, she moved her workshop to Somerset. Sarah still travels back to the Thames Valley for saddle fitting customers. 

Passing on knowledge

Celebrating their successes at the 2024 SMS National Competition are, from left, Frances Roche (apprentice visitor who monitors trainees’ progress), Sarah Stevens, Charlotte Cheeseman and Harri Bruce.

“I love sharing my knowledge and skills, helping saddlers of the future,” says Sarah. 

“I’m on the SMS Executive Committee, and I’m always trying to encourage other Master Saddlers to take on apprentices. It is so important that these traditional skills continue to be championed and are preserved and passed on to future generations.”

Sarah finds training apprentices hugely rewarding. 

Charlotte Cheesman has just completed her apprenticeship with Sarah and is staying on at SES Saddlery. The pair won the Master and Apprentice Class at the 2024 SMS National Competition for which Charlotte made a headcollar and Sarah a foal slip. 

Harri Bruce, Sarah’s current apprentice, was also successful at the National Competition winning the Intermediate bridle class with a hunting breastplate with martingale attachment. Charlotte was runner-up.

Log fires and fabulous views

“Time at the bench is precious,” says Sarah. “It’s a time to forget about the admin and other tasks that go with running a business.

“I love making bridles and nothing beats taking time to do just that, with the log fire burning and looking out at the fabulous view from my workshop window.”

Quality of life

Sarah loves the outdoors and moved to Somerset for a better quality of life, although she says it’s still pretty hectic running a business. 

She enjoys walking her three Labradors who are working dogs. Although they work hard on shoot days, they tend to be asleep on the sofa the rest of the time, she says.

Sarah also owns two horses called Stan and Oli and admits that riding is a bit of a luxury. 

“I’m not competitive at all,” she says. “I’m happy if I get to ride two to three times a week. I like hacking and doing a bit of dressage. Essentially my horses live the life of Riley.”

Sarah also offers leatherwork courses from her base. The practical, introductory-level training enables Sarah to share her knowledge and skills with aspiring saddlers and encourage them into the industry she loves. 

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 members of the SMS and based in the UK or overseas.

To nominate a bench saddler (or more than one), email editor@equestriantradenews.com and tell us why this person deserves to be put in the spotlight. Please include the bench saddler’s name and business name too.

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