is Sandon Saddlery right here in the heart of England!
That is where I bought my beautiful and comfy off-side side saddle from -the last of three that Miss Dodd-Noble, the eighty-something owner of Sandon Saddlery, has owned during her long and interesting life! She is quite a woman with a quick mind who works out all the prices plus tax in her mind and gives you a hand written receipt. She will also tell you stories about horses she has owned and showed me old photos of her partner riding side saddle on a horse they bought for £200.
It's not a fancy tack shop- it doesn't stock trendy brands like Ariat or Kingsland nor does it have expensive French saddles like Butet or Devoucoux. It's been around since the 1950's and alot of the stock is 2nd hand stuff Miss Dodd-Noble has bought over the years and it's just accumulated but she does sell quite a bit of new tack as well. It's a mix of old and new. Some people don't like it as they say "it's where tack comes to die" and granted quite a few things ARE moth eaten and/or in questionable condition but to me, it's a the perfect tack shop.
Even if they didn't have any side saddle bits and bobs there, I would still love it as it's the kind of shop where everything is piled up and you have to dig through to find what you are looking for. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea as many people like to shop with ease and convenience but as an antique dealer, I like to dig in amongst the muck to find the treasure so it appeases my craving to search and find yet I get to buy tack!
The window on the left has some modern and old tack on display in it while the window on the far right, has all miniature bridles and other mini tack on display!
When you go through the front doors, you are hit with clutter everywhere in the front room. The stairs to upstairs are right in front of you and there are book shelves with horse books in them right beside the doors inside, piles of saddles to your right near the till (there was an Indian made side saddle on top of the saddle pile) along with a stack of saddle pads on sale near the door as well.
They even sell candy and toilet paper there too!
Then you go into the next room and this is where the chaos hits you! There are hundreds of astride saddles stacked in here, I didn't get to look at any of them as I did't have that much time as well as bridles, reins, bits and other accessories all over the place. Josie found a nice pair of black leather reins with diamante trim on them. There were antique bits and stirrups hanging up near the ceiling too along with wooden display cases full of stuff in them too. Please bear in mind that the room wasn't that big, probably the size of a good size modern day living room.
In this room was where the little side saddle section was too. Apart from my off-side side saddle, there were 6 other side saddles on display or for sale. I say "or" as Miss Dodd-Noble doesn't sell all of them, some are from her own collection and are for display only. She will not sell them for any price as other people have tried and failed!
There was a nice but dusty tan leather c.1930's looking Champion & Wilton that had moth eaten panels (I really liked this saddle), a c. 1870's- 1880's Victorian side saddle with fancy stitched safe (I don't think this one was for sale), a Victorian child's reversible side saddle pilch with fancy stitching all over it (this was NOT for sale!), a rather large seated c.1920's Mayhew (it was for a woman taller than me and with a bigger bum!), a newish modern side saddle (which looked to be a 16" seat and was a consignment side saddle) and a nice looking c.1920's- 1930's Mayhew with doeskin seat and pommels which looked like it would have fitted Josie quite well. The side saddles that were for sale, seemed to be mostly about £1200 and up.
I believe the pilch side saddle is the one she told me the story about how when she was a young woman, she used to walk miles or hitch hike to the different auctions to buy tack. She went to one auction where they had about 7 side saddles which had belonged to a Lady who died the month before. No one wanted them in the auction room and the auctioneer offered them to Miss Dodd-Noble for 1 shilling each just to get rid of them. She could only afford one and even if she had the money for all of them, she would have had to walk all the way back from Cambridgeshire to Hertfordshire with 7 side saddles! She ended up only buying the pilch side saddle which is why she will not sell it as she is so proud of it.
None of the side saddles were a wide fit (except the pilch), all seemed to be in the medium/ medium/wide range (except for the Victorian one which was narrow) and all (except the Victorian one and the pilch) looked like they would fit Hattie. Darn her accommodating Thoroughbred shape!! If I were flush for cash (or had a bit more left on my credit card!!), I would have liked to have bought that comfy looking large seated Mayhew and the nice C&W with the moth eaten panels. Both looked like they would have fit Hattie. The C&W was my size but I think the large seated Mayhew would have been a bit too long for Hattie's back. Still I can dream...
I wish I could have taken photos but it was too dark in the shop!!
Then where the side saddles were, was a couple of buckets and boxes of side saddle "stuff". There was one cardboard box full of old dusty (some mouldy!) side saddle covers- you know the old canvas ones which were stitched to fit a particular saddle. There must have been about 20 of them in there in all sizes but none for an off-side saddle.
There was box that had some old side saddle stirrup leathers, lots of old small pony sized balance girths, a weird lightweight aluminium leaping head without a cover and an old 56" three fold Fitzwilliam girth (I would have bought this had it been 2" shorter for Hattie). I spotted a Mayhew one in the box but the rest were Champion & Wilton ones. There were more old C&W ones hanging up on the wall where the saddles were too but no Owen ones or any strange ones from lesser known brands. The stirrup leathers started from about £20 and went up in price depending on condition.
The the last box were other oddments like old chamois numnahs for side saddles and astride saddles and side saddle queens. That is where I found my matching set:
They were being sold as a pair but I don't mind as I can quite happily use both! The fixed pommel on my off-side side saddle is so dinky and narrow too that I need something more substantial for my leg so the off-side queen is perfect.
The rest of the queens were just standard foam and elastic ones so I am very pleased with my posh doeskin ones!
There is also a big selection of saddle pads, blankets, correction pads, horse boots in the other rooms in all shapes, sizes and condition but I didn't have time to dig through everything but Josie found a nice non slip gel pad for Chance there. That is where I bought my fleece side saddle numnah there. They are new as they make them there and come in a few different colors as wel. I bought the brown off-side one but I ordered a red fleece one and another brown fleece one for my near-side side saddle today as they are reasonably priced and are of good quality. They also made thin quilted cotton ones too and the sizes are small, medium and large. Medium fits both my 17" side saddles and the large white one I have, is a bit long.
In another room were helmets, body protectors and piles of old hunting breeches and old fashioned flared hip breeches all folded up on shelves including some old Harry Hall ones. Quite a few were moth eaten as they are all wool but they were interesting to look at to see how fashions have changed over the years! All of them had button fronts, I think I prefer zippers though especially when I'm busting and have to go for a quick pee in the stable (sorry Hattie!!).
Upstairs was full of riding boots in all shapes, sizes and conditions. I would have liked to have looked for another pair of leather dress boots to wear with my habit as my current ones, I bought 2nd hand and were made for someone who had MUCH narrower feet than mine. Every time I wear them to a show, I dare not get off Hattie or else I'm crippled from blisters and badly rubbed feet. If I ever get to go back to Sandon Saddlery again, I'm going to look for a another pair of riding boots.
There were also racks and racks of all sorts of show jackets (new and used), hunting coats, quilted riding vests, all sorts of riding jackets and coats along with a side saddle attire section!!
I spent a LONG time in this section as well going through every apron to see if I could find an off-side one or anything in my size to fit. There was a good sized selection of odd aprons, new, vintage and used, but most of them seemed to have a 24", 26" or 28" waist, with most being in the 24" range (grrrr!!!). There was an Edwardian grey shadow striped one that I liked that was only £17 but it had a tiny waist and was completely moth eaten. You couldn't wear it or displayu it as it was so holey, only take a pattern from it as it was that bad. There were some new light blue schooling aprons for only £10 but again, there were only 24" waists left. There was a new apron that had a 30" waist that I liked but was out of my budget and a good selection of riding habits in smaller sizes. It would be a good place to go if you have skinny teenage side saddle riders and there were a couple of new girl's habits there too. Not much for the busty more mature lady though! I was kinda glad though as my bank account couldn't take anymore battering.
Prices for aprons ranged from £10 for schooling aprons to over £100 for a nice new wool one. Habits vintage or new, ranged in price from £100 to over £500.
Out of all the aprons and habits I looked through (or sucked in my stomach to try and get into), there was one lonesome off-side apron there for me and at a price I could afford (and a price that my husband would not shout at me for, LOL!). It has a 28" waist and if I hold my breathe, I can suck in my 32" waist small enough to get into it!! The length is good on me and I've already lost 7lbs so just need to lose 15lbs more and I should be able to get into it by the end of the year.
It's lovely and it's made from black melton wool. Miss Dodd-Noble said that it had been made for a customer but I guess the customer never came to get it so they sold it off cheap since not many people ride in an off-side.
This tack shop may not be to everyone's tastes but to me it was a bit of heaven and I hope that when I get to Miss Dodd-Noble's age that I'm just like her, sharp in the mind and with a place full of tack.