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Meet Ken Lyndon-Dykes

PUBLISHED: 18:10 28 May 2016 | UPDATED: 18:10 28 May 2016

Ken Lyndon-Dykes

Ken Lyndon-Dykes

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

The world-renowned saddle and horse expert on the importance of a good saddle

With a career steeped in success, both in the saddle as well as designing and fitting them, Ken Lydon-Dykes, who owns Maidstone-based Saddle World, is determined to spread the word that getting an expert to help you buy and fit this piece of kit is vital. It could save the horse and owner a great deal of trouble and expense.

He explains: “Sensible owners know this to be true, but what really gets me these days is so many people buy online and they just find something and say that’s pretty, that’s the right colour, it’s the right shape and the right price.

“What’s even more galling is when people ring us up and say I’ve just bought a saddle online, could you come and fit it for me and check that it’s alright? We do it because we believe that the horses should be properly fitted, but the fact remains they cut us out of the equation but if they’d come to us in the first place, we could have done the whole thing; it wouldn’t have cost them any more money, and it would fit.”

Ken, who lives near Faversham, has travelled all over the world undertaking fittings and his team of eight saddle fitters has Society of Master Saddlers (UK) qualified status, believed to be the only professional qualification open to saddle fitters worldwide.

The current vice-president and soon-to-be president of the Society of Master Saddlers (UK), who has been involved in the saddle industry since the early 1970s, says using a saddle fitter with recognised qualifications who is listed on the society’s website is the key to ensuring the horse’s welfare is prioritised. There’s also a rigidly enforced full code of conduct for saddle fitters.

However, Ken is only too familiar with having to witness distressing cases where a saddle has not been fitted correctly. “We are talking about holes in horses’ backs and skin being taken off where the saddle has just been plonked on.

“We have come across horses where their back is so bad that I’ve had to say I’m sorry but I must refer you to the back person first, then we will come along when the horse is alright and do a proper fitting. Horses are very expensive to keep what with livery and shoeing costs, etc.

“You’d be amazed how many people will pay a fortune for a horse and then come to us and say I want the cheapest saddle you can do because I’ve just spent a load of money on my horse.”

A life-changing aeroplane crash in 1972 temporarily paralysed equine enthusiast Ken from the waist down and forced him to rethink his career plans. Saddle design was at the top of his list. “It was out of necessity; I had no job but I had a horse and I knew about riding. At that time the saddle industry was very old fashioned and really not in good order. I came in with a very dynamic view of the way things should be, designed saddles and it really took off.”

Ken was told he would never walk again but evidently this didn’t prove to be the case. He started riding again in 1974 and became a champion three-day-event rider under the expert guidance ‘and patience’ of Kent-based trainer, John Smart. By 1981 Ken had the highest scoring event horse in the world.

As well as making a successful eventing career, Ken has been at the forefront of the business world too, at one time owning a national chain of 56 retail outlets under the name of Kent Leather Distributors. He sold this company in 2001 save the saddle side of the business, now known as Saddle World.

He says: “We specialise only in saddles and keep 1,000 in stock. We still have them made, I still design saddles but I also sell all the top makes and we send them all over the world. Although we have a website, we hardly sell online at all, we don’t really like online because we think saddles should be fitted.”

Ken explains a master saddler is a craftsman who makes saddles, adding that some master saddlers are also qualified saddle fitters. “To be a good saddle fitter you have to understand the saddle industry, you have to understand horses and you can’t become a qualified saddle fitter with the Society of Master Saddlers until you have done at least three years and then you get assessed. That’s what I did for a very long time.”

According to Ken, the process of fitting a saddle can take an hour or longer depending on the condition of the horse and fitters qualified by the Society follow a strict procedure.

“You don’t just go and put the saddle on the horse you have got to see the horse trotted up and make sure the rider doesn’t bounce and if it’s a jumping saddle, ideally you just don’t want to see the horse walk, trot and canter you want to see it jump a small fence as well. I’ve known the process take three hours, whereas some horses are very easy, simple and sound.”

As to the frequency of changing a horse’s saddle, Ken says it depends on a number of factors, including the type and age of the horse and the type of riding and dynamics involved. New materials and technology have also made an impact. “Nowadays some of the modern saddles are terribly clever, they’re real scientific pieces of wonderment with adjustable trees, panels, billet straps and rolls for the rider.

“You pay more for that kind of stuff, but it does mean even if the horse is only four and it’s going to change shape like mad until it’s seven, then there’s a very good chance that you won’t have to change the saddle you just need to change the adjustments. The tree is like the chassis and it’s the most important thing – you build the saddle on the tree.”

And while there are lots of synthetic saddles which work perfectly well, Ken is a fan of the leather variety. “You can get some wonderful leathers which are very thin, whereas 40 years ago if you bought a saddle it would have been a single solid piece of leather and you’d have to oil if forever before it became soft. Today those (modern) materials are excellent for the rider in terms of comfort, grip and saddles have become lighter, stronger, perform better and in turn allow the horse to perform better.”

The use of extra blankets and sheepskins typically used underneath the saddle is not something Ken would advocate. “People do that because they think a bit of sheepskin looks nice. If the saddle fits really well you have to use a thin numnah (a pad made of sheepskin or foam) just to keep the saddle clean, but the extremes come when you have very old horses with steeple withers or horses in poor condition. Sometimes you need these pads just until the horse gets into a proper shape again. We prefer the saddle to fit perfectly without lots of disguises underneath.”

Ken adds that if a horse is a ‘happy hacker’ rather than performing at shows, one saddle could last a lifetime. “But if you’re going to be a three-day eventer, you’re definitely going to want at least two; a very good dressage saddle and a very good jumping saddle.”

Ken’s many equine-related achievements were recognised last year when he was presented with the lifetime achievement award by the British Equestrian Association, which he helped found in 1975. Come September, when he takes over as president of the Society of Master Saddlers, he is clear about his aim. “The message of proper saddle fitting needs to pushed more in the trade, which is rather quiet and respectable; use qualified saddle fitters, they will do a good job for you and your horse and it will be cheaper as in the long run you won’t have vets bills to pay.”

Society of Master Saddlers

• The Society of Master Saddlers (UK) Ltd was formed in 1966 to serve as a Trade Association for the craft retail saddler, but has since embraced all aspects of the Trade.

• The Society’s aims are to safeguard the quality of work, services, training and qualifications of all those who work in the saddlery trade from manufacturers and retailers through individual craftspeople and saddle fitters.

• The Society of Master Saddlers has various types of membership categories including a qualified saddle fitter, who will hold the Society saddle fitting qualification. This requires a minimum of three years’ experience.

• The Society’s Qualified Saddle Fitters course is open to members of the Society of Master Saddlers and their employees.

• The Introductory Course in Saddle Fitting, run in conjunction with the British Equestrian Trade Association, is open to Society members, retail members of BETA and some other equestrian professionals.

• For more information about your nearest qualified saddle fitter visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk or email enquiries@mastersaddlers.co.uk.

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