National Hunt racing is one of Yorkshire’s most popular winter sports and the new season at Wetherby, Doncaster and Catterick, the county’s three jump circuits, was welcomed in last week at a special Go Jump Racing in Yorkshire event held at Wetherby and hosted by John Sexton chairman of Go Racing in Yorkshire and general manager Charlotte Russell.
Unsung hero of the scene, master saddler Wendy Hoggard was on hand, providing expert advice on latest developments in riding wear and horse haberdashery for stable lads, lasses, jockeys, trainers and owners. Wendy has seen her White Rose Saddlery business based just out of Malton, that she ran with her late husband and former jockey Chris, and that she still terms a cottage industry, develop further in recent years due to embroidery on kit in the form of sponsorship.
“My heart is with the saddlery repairs and the workshop, but the business is now more about riding wear. Owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff come here for riding-out boots, jodhpurs, gloves and everything else. We sell to the stable lads and lasses every day. We are on a lovely road where all the racehorses come back from the gallops. It’s not so busy with human traffic, but it is very busy for equine and horse boxes can park right outside.”
Wendy grew up in Huntington in York and in her teens had a pony at Elvington. She would cycle ten miles on a night after school to look after it. Year later she rode in several flat races at Musselburgh, Ayr, Redcar and York and rode out for Colin and Karen Tinkler and Brian Ellison, who has his yard next door to White Rose Saddlery.
“Mum was against me finding work with horses because she felt it would be hard for me to earn a living that way. She said I should go to college so I took a secretarial course at York Tech and went to work for a solicitor in Fulford.”
The pull of working with horses proved too strong and having visited a Job Centre, Wendy found a job and apprenticeship with HC Frank Saddlery in Escrick. Inadvertently, in the late 80s, she also found herself caught up in the miners’ strikes.
“By now I had a horse and I had moved it from York to Escrick when I took the job. My horse was on a farm down a road that led to a mine and the picketing miners, thinking I was breaking the picket line, used to try and pull me off my moped.
“I learned my saddlery craft from the bottom, teaching myself a good deal while with Charlie Frank who had served his time with Fox’s Saddlery in Wetherby. I was the one who had to go and collect hundreds of smelly horse rugs from stables in Middleham. I’d done sewing at school and very quickly learned to use a sewing machine. Saddlery isn’t so much about making saddles. Making even a small new saddle can take at least a week and more, and that wasn’t even viable in the 80s against factory produced saddles.
“Master saddlers can make or repair anything equine related from leather bridles to repairing saddles, mending dog leads, boot zip repair, putting on new straps, patching and manufacturing bits such as a part that a lady currently wants for a new breastplate she can’t buy off the shelf. There are still some bespoke independent saddlers around who can afford to make a saddle from scratch, but not many.”
When the Franks business ceased in 1987 the now 20-year old Wendy still had three months of her apprenticeship to complete. Future husband Chris, who had been taking work to Franks offered Wendy the opportunity to work in his relatively new shop and workshop in Castlegate in Malton. They later married and eleven years ago moved the business to where Wendy continues today.
“Chris started here as apprentice jockey to Jimmy Etherington when it was Wold House Stables, so it was quite nice for him coming back here.
“We’ve since grown the business and I have a great team. We’ve all ridden at a good level and have considerable equine knowledge. Les (Evans) joined seven years ago and was a professional eventer. He’s a qualified saddler. Fiona (Wallace) who was with Chris and I in Castlegate came back to the workshop and Liz (Stubbins) manages the website.
“I love this time of year with the new National Hunt season and the Point to Point season to come. We’ve sponsored the Yorkshire Ladies Championship for the past 20 years and I love supporting the amateurs as they also support me. We also sponsor John Dawson who has won the Yorkshire and National Point to Point titles several times and have previously sponsored James Reveley and Russ Garrity.
“Embroidery in terms of sponsor-ship on clothing has become a major part of our business. At one time we were farming it out but I realised just how much we were giving away, so we bought a machine and then a second one and haven’t looked back.”