Here we meet member of the Society of Master Saddlers, Issi Russell as she tells us about her story and what it takes to become a Master Saddler and make ‘Beautiful Bridles’.
I grew up in the centre of London (Southwark), and pestered my parents from an early age to learn to horse ride however the closest riding school (Dulwich Riding School) wouldn’t take anyone under the age of 10.
During these days I did seem to particularly enjoy tack cleaning and when the time came to decide on the course of my future and university, I wanted to do something with horses/animals as a career.
My parents knew that Cordwainer’s College in Mare Street did leather courses so we went along to an open evening.
I originally just wanted to make things out of leather. I was not really aware that Master Saddler existed but once I did know about it, the title then became my ambition.
I had an interview with Line Hansen at Cordwainer’s College at Capel Manor College, Enfield. I took along to the interview a miniature set of harnesses I had made for a model horse which seemed to impress as I was offered a place on the next course.
I started there doing the Cordwainer’s Diploma in September 2000. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Cordwainer’s, I achieved my City & Guilds Saddlery Skills Assessments at Level 1 and all three level 2’s as well as learning to drive and living part of the time away from home. During my second year at Cordwainer’s, Line put me in touch with Laurence Pearman of Stroud Saddlery and I started full time at Stroud the summer after completing my HND before eventually going self-employed making bespoke bridles which I do now.
What made you specialise in bespoke bridle work?
During 2004 I started playing around with the design of the bridle headpiece. At the time customers ordering a bespoke bridle were quite rare, we made maybe one every two months. One of our customers approached us with a horse that was very tender behind and below his ears. She asked us to try anything to get him to accept a bridle, as he was fine with a headcollar. After a couple of tries I came up with the design which is still in use today. Also in this year we started supporting Zara Phillips with bespoke bridlework. Zara was one of the very first to really use the design in competitions as well as at home.
I have fallen into specialising in bridles as I do certainly enjoy making them more than other saddlery items. I also enjoy the challenges of making the different designs of ‘bling’ browbands etc that we get asked for. I am always looking for the next big thing in the fashion of bespoke bridlework, which is always led by our customers and what they ask for. Most are amazed that they can literally have any width or length etc as each bridle is cut and made specifically for them and not at a price that makes it completely unattainable.
I get huge satisfaction in making an item that improves the horse’s comfort and therefore hopefully its way of going and will last a lifetime if cared for correctly but also in parallel an item that enhances the look of the horse and that is a beautiful item in itself. It must be the same for anyone working in a natural product but it is wonderful to create something that will become better with age and use.
To find your local SMS saddler, who can carry out any necessary repairs or bespoke work, or your local registered qualified saddle fitter visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk or contact The Society of Master Saddlers on 01449 711642.