We talk to Maurice Emtage about his busy life as a Master Saddler and SMS Qualified Saddle Fitter.
Well known for running Colne Saddley, one of the largest equestrian retailers in South West England, Maurice is also a Master Saddler, SMS Registered Qualified Saddle Fitter and former President of the Society of Master Saddlers from 2002 to 2003.
When Maurice was younger he admits he was not the most creative and it wasn’t until he embarked on his saddlery training that he realised he had a gift for craftsmanship. Horses were in his blood though and his parents ran The Silver Horse Riding School at Sevenhampton which they had started in Warwickshire.
Said Maurice: “My parents owned a riding school so I was brought up riding horses and ponies from an early age. When I left school I wanted to be associated with horses but not necessarily riding them every day so I went to a saddler in Gloucester called Mr Jack Edwards before going to Cordwainers College in Hackney. When I came back from doing the course my parents closed the riding school and between us we started Colne Saddlery, with me at the bench, some 48 years ago.”
When Maurice’s parents, Bruce and Beryl Emtage, ran the riding school they started selling riding hats and boots to their riding school clients. In the early days of Colne Saddlery, the family were initially selling from home and at a small retail shop at Gloucester cattle market in 1972, where they traded for 30 years. During this period they also had a small trade stand attending local gymkhanas and horse auctions.
Over the years this side of the business expanded to include major county shows such as Badminton Horse Trails. The trade stand also travelled abroad to Germany, Belgium and Italy. Throughout this period Maurice continued to ride, show jumping his home bred horse to just short of Grade A whilst also enjoying drag hunting with the Farmers Bloodhounds. The thriving business is now based in the heart of the Cotswolds, with a dynamic team of staff on board.
“Alongside the retail shop, a large part of the business is selling and fitting saddles. We have three saddle fitters who also work at the bench and have recently taken on a trainee saddle fitter. We have a busy office with staff dealing with our website, accounts and the frequent demand for saddle fitting and repair bookings.
“I still do bench work when I am not saddle fitting but usually it is repairing saddles.
The business used to attend a lot of shows with a mobile unit, now our main show is Badminton Horse Trials; we also attend six other local shows,” said Maurice.
His friend Mark Romain of The Saddlery Training Centre says: “I first met Maurice and his father Bruce in the mid 1980’s, they were both regular attenders and supporters of SMS seminars and AGM’s. I also used to do working demonstrations on the SMS stand at Badminton so a trip over to the Colne Saddlery stand was always a must.
“Over the years Maurice has sent many apprentices to me for their off the job training and we have become great friends. In years gone by Maurice would have spent much of his time at the bench but, with the development of the SMS saddle fitting courses, his focus has been towards saddle fitting. He is extremely experienced and respected for this and regularly mentors and assesses candidates for their saddle fitting qualification.
“Having said all that Maurice can still be found working at the bench and I suspect that he would be happy to have more time to do so. He has passed on his considerable skill and knowledge to many and will I am sure continue to do so. I am very pleased to nominate Maurice for the accolade of bench saddler of the month, a truly worthy candidate.”
Maurice has had some unusual requests over the years but his commission to re-cover a rocking horse with a real pony skin is probably the most memorable. Taking great pride in his work, Maurice recalls his favourite item being a harness.
Said Maurice: “I have made quite a lot of Heavy Horse Harnesses over the years. I made a pairs set for some Suffolk Punches and then went to watch the ploughing with all of my harnesses on, this has to be the piece I am most proud of. I am also proud so say I was involved in establishing the Society of Masters Saddlers’ saddle fitting course and I am currently an assessor for them.
“The best bit about the trade is to see what a difference well fitted tack can make to a horse’s comfort and performance. I also find it very satisfying when I have made and completed something. The worst part is dealing with challenging customers, and I don’t mean the horses. I am also delighted that my daughter Gemma is the third generation of my family involved in the business.”
After almost five decades in the saddlery industry Maurice has of course seen many changes.
“The Industry has changed over the years due to the internet, as customers do not have to come to the shop or trade stand to do their shopping now. However the saddle fitting is still something that can’t be bought off the internet. The imported goods have improved vastly over the years which are a worry for our country; however I do like to support English saddlery whenever possible.”
When Maurice isn’t busy working he now enjoys a large gin and tonic instead of showjumping or drag hunting.