I grew up in South Somerset, the only daughter to parents who ran a restaurant. Even though we lived above the business and Mum and Dad had to work long hours they both always made time for me and shared their hobbies with me. Dad would take me fishing… one-hour mackerel trips when I was little, and as soon as I was old enough I would go for a day long deep sea trip. Mum shared her love of horses with me. A local family who had two eventing daughters came into the restaurant for an evening meal. They sat next to a portrait of my Mum’s last horse (Nutmeg, a stereotypical chestnut mare) and by the end of the evening Mum had been invited to ride out with them. This soon became lending a hand with evening feeds, and of course I would tag along with her. I remember being mesmerised by these gorgeous creatures – Foxy (a bright bay), and Jason (a dark bay), and it wasn’t long before I asked for “pony riding lessons” (I remember this moment vividly as I was staring up at Jason’s face whilst he leaned his head down to nuzzle my hand.)
This was the start of a lifelong journey with horses. I know I was lucky that ultimately led to Ladybridge Leatherworks.
2009 was a pretty crappy year… I lost my Mum to cancer, and we had to have my horse whom I had ridden since my pony club days (a 15.2 ex polo pony) put to sleep following an accident in the field. Four years later I lost my aunt (my Mum’s sister) and my Dad.
To say that I was lost was an understatement, I had grown incredibly close to my Dad following the death of my Mum and I felt rudderless. BUT I still had an amazing Aunt (my Mum’s youngest sister) and Uncle who stepped in and really helped me through those times.
There was one day when we were talking about what I could do to help myself move forwards and I was asked “if you could do anything, what would it be?” “Saddler!” was my immediate answer. I was one of those kids who was bookish and studied hard at school, so much so my Mum told me once that she and Dad were told when I was attending Infant School that I will go to university, so that became the narrative of my school life – you have a brain and will go to university. Saddler never came into the equation for me in terms of career choice when I was younger. Our conversation continued and I was doubting if I could do anything about this desire as I had a mortgage, had inherited my Dad’s dog and wanted to get a horse. But my aunt remembered seeing an article in a magazine about a place in Scotland that offered week long training courses at different levels of skill. My aunt also still had that magazine. This was how I found Saddlery Training Scotland, and it wasn’t long before I found myself in a B&B in Galashiels (in the beautiful Scottish Borders) attending my first beginners bridlework course.
Saddlery Training Scotland is run by Philip and Karen Howard who are both qualified members of the Society of Master Saddlers with over 50 years of experience working with horses and the saddlery trade. Philip and Karen also have a passion for teaching, and I loved the environment that they created in their workshop for myself and two other learners. Not only did I learn how to stitch and make my very first items, but I also learned some interesting stuff about differences in leather quality, not only between regions of the world, but also within a single hide. I made friends for life during that week. I received a lot of encouragement and compliments on my work, and I knew before I left that I would be back to learn more.
A few months later I went back to do the Intermediate and Advance Bridlemaking courses back-to-back. It was during these two weeks that I learned how to do “fancy” stitching, raised work, rounding, padding, and different types of reins… and this was the two weeks that really cemented my desire to keep doing this. I have been back one more time since, where I learned about making girths and a few more of those bonus feature techniques that make such a difference when offering bespoke work. I don’t have any more formal training on the horizon at the current time, but I won’t stop learning. There is an amazing community of leatherworkers ‘out there’ where I often pick up hints and tips, and a tonne of inspiration.
This goes back to Mum and Dad… they both grew up in Wiltshire (Wilcott and Huish respectively). On the Kennet and Avon Canel there is a bridge at Wilcott that is ornate. History says that when the canal was built the permission was granted by the then owners of Wilcott Manor on the proviso that the bridge was ornate, so it became known as mi Lady’s Bridge, which got worn away over time to Ladybridge. Mum grew up on a farm next to this bridge and often rode over it on her pony as a child. Walking in that area along the canal path, and simply pausing when on the bridge is one of the ways in which my family has always connected with our past, and we still do. So it seemed natural to use Ladybridge as the name of my business.
You get what you want, to your specifications.
- Want a different colour of leather or thread? I can do that!
- Want a specific buckle? I can do that!
- Want a special detail added to your item? I can do that!
- Have an animal that you are struggling to find something to fit them properly? I can make something that will fit them!
For me it is an amazing experience to hand over a finished item and see my client’s reaction. I will always remember having someone jumping up and down on my doorstep squealing with joy as they were so delighted with an item.
The materials and techniques I use
I use English “bridle butt” as the base leather for all of my items. The English tannery’s such as Sedgewick’s produce hides that are strong and durable yet is also comfortable for use to create an item to go on a horse’s head. When the leather comes to me it is in the form of “half a cow”. I identify the spine edge and cut a straight edge (by hand) so that I have a starting point for all of my projects. I work from the spine/shoulder of the hide as this is the strongest part.
There is a lot of preparation that goes into preparing the leather before I am ready to stitch as it has to be:
- cut from the hide,
- cut to length (with a lot of maths if I am making a bridle with the buckle and billet hook turns),
- edged (to smooth the edges and make the item comfier for the wearer)
- stained (modern hides are sprayed with dye which doesn’t penetrate the entire thickness of the hide),
- holes punched for buckles, and
- marked up ready for stitching.
I honestly think that 75% of the time that I spend on making a bridle, is spent on these preparatory stages.
I do all of my stitching by hand using waxed linen thread. I use a stitch known as saddle stich which is a more secure way to stitch compared to using a machine. What gives saddle stitch an advantage is that a knot is formed by each stitch. This means that if anything happens to the thread in one place the whole lot won’t unravel.
Oh, and have I mentioned that I do all of this by hand???
I make a high quality product, but we can’t predict for the one set of circumstances where something goes wrong.
- Dogs can be hurt or cause harm if their collar/lead breaks.
- Riders and horse handlers can be hurt, or the horse do damage if something breaks.
I used to be the treasurer for a local hockey club and we were low on funds. We questioned whether the insurance premium was a necessary expense. Our insurance company shared with us a few cases and the compensation that was paid out as a result.
I want to assure you that I do not create ANYTHING to fail, but I value the assurance I can give to you about my products and back this up with appropriate, industry specific, insurance.