The Vogue SoftTree is our flagship range, and is a revolutionary design unlike any other saddle on the market. The manufacturing process is unique in saddle-making, developed by myself and Nurseys of Bungay in Suffolk, England. Vogue saddles are still made for us in England by Nurseys, using the finest Italian leather.
Rishabh Sharma contacted me through the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA), 12 years ago, then aged 19, and looking for a job in the UK in equestrian wholesale and marketing, in which he had trained, as well as in saddlery manufacturing. I hadn't a job vacancy, but was impressed by Rish's polite and articulate letter and we stayed in occasional touch.
About 18 months later, he started a small manufacturing saddlery workshop in Kanpur, 'Horsekraft', and had sent me some bridle samples. I opened the box expecting the unpleasant smell of the Indian leather of that time, but to my surprise, the aroma of finest Sedgewicks bridle butt, wafted up from the box! I was astonished at the quality of the work and as I intended to experiment with making a flexible, leather treed saddle. It needed to be cheaper than I could possibly have made here in the UK, to offer a saddle with correct rider alignment to a wider range of riders, so I offered the research and development to Rish.
Quite how we managed to achieve developing the FlexEE, via Skype, I will never know! I couldn't go to India to work with the workshop, as I was also caring for my Father and Stepmother at end of life so all communication and design was done via Skype video and messenger.
The FlexEE saddle was first released onto the market nine years ago but has undergone further development over the years, to reach the very smart, versatile and functional saddle it is today. The majority of our manufacturing materials are sourced and imported from the UK to Rish's workshop, including finest Norwegian hide, Jacob wool flocking, and our enamelled head nails and cantle plates.
We sent top Walsall bespoke saddler, Steve Sturgess, out to Kanpur in October 2017, to work with our Saddlers to further refine the finish and quality. Steve, expecting an Indian sweatshop, was astonished at the cleanliness of the workshop, as most saddlery workshops are ankle deep in leather and foam scraps. Steve quipped "you could perform operations in here!".
Rish nowadays is more like a member of the family, my late Father and Stepmother adored him, calling him their 'Indian grandson'. Now married to Reena, Rish's family look on me as a family member too!
Last year, Horsekraft became the first Indian Saddlery company to win an innovation award at the BETA trade fair, with the judges remarking on the 'great quality and craftsmanship '. Rish was justifiably bursting with pride! Had you said to me, 15 years ago that I would be working with an Indian manufacturer, I would have thrown up my hands in horror at the very suggestion! However, things have rapidly changed, largely due to the Indian government initiating a training programme for saddlers, using highly qualified European and New Zealand saddlers like Peter Thorowgood who founded the UK firm of Thorowgood Saddlery before returning to New Zealand.
I hope this reassures those of you who have reservations about Indian Saddlery quality. Things have come a very long way since the bad old days!