An Interview with Tony Woodley - a Racing Saddler!
Tony Woodley has been a saddle maker for thirty years, but only full-time for the last eight years. He lives in Rainford, near Haydock Park racecourse, and has a workshop unit two miles from his house in a converted hayloft on a large, busy livery yard.
Thanks to a background in racing, Tony uses this knowledge daily in his saddlery business, Custom Race Tack. “Our main customers are racing yards and point-to-point trainers,” says Tony. “We make everything from a saddle to a breast girth. We do make standard black and brown but a lot of our work is custom-made in customers’ own
chosen designs and colours.” Tony has created a lot of different items including headcollars, colour bags and handbags; however, his main focus is on bespoke designs of saddles and bridles, which are all made in all sizes, colourful and personalised. Most importantly though is how Tony is always thinking about the way to improve tack for racehorses and to help with their training, so his creations are always evolving.
Please visit www.customracetack.com for more information.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
I started riding at around six years old. I walked into a local livery yard to help mucking out etc and some of the owners decided it would be fun to teach me to ride.
How did you get into racing?
I was small and light weight. We lived near the racetrack in Ovrevoll, just outside Oslo in Norway, where they tend to train on the track itself, similar to the American system, so I started riding out before I left school.
What roles did you have in racing and for which trainers?
I rode in races in Norway but with only one racetrack and racing one day a week, the opportunities were limited there. When I moved Britain in 2005, I went to work for Bobby Elliot and Brian Baugh. I also rode out for Eve Johnson Houghton and George Baker. However, I found the constant travelling too much hassle so decided to concentrate on the saddlery business.
Please list your favourite racecourses:
Strangely enough, my favourite racecourse in this country is Wolverhampton as it reminds me of Ovrevoll and the now-closed Taby in Sweden.
How did you get into being a saddler?
I got into saddlery and leatherwork because my father was a saddle maker.
What type of items do you make and which materials do you use?
We make nearly all racing and training tack, in leather and biothane for use on the all-weather tracks. We also get asked to make whippet and greyhound collars and occasionally, we make stuff for the fetish fraternity!
Which items are aimed at racing yards specifically?
We have made saddles in all sorts of designs and colours including the Irish flag colours of green, orange and white. We also embroider people’s name or initials on saddles.
Just as an aside, before Christmas, I was asked to make an exercise sheet out of the traditional Newmarket blanket; I had some off cuts left over so came up with a bag design.
Please describe why your half-tree saddles are so excellent:
Our half tree saddles are built on an unbreakable nylon tree which can be widened and narrowed after the saddle is built. We are always updating and improving our pattern and I ride out on new style saddles to see how they perform. Our saddle panels are neoprene lined and wool stuffed, making our half tree saddles perform much more like a full tree and is much kinder to horses’ backs. We also make a flexi tree saddle which flexes and moves with the horse’s movement.
Where would you like to take the business in the future?
I would like the business to expand more into other countries; we already sell to most of Europe. I would also like to look into the idea of sponsoring an up-and-coming rider and supplying them with our tack.
Do you think riding and being a jockey has helped you make continuous improvements in your tack?
Yes, it’s certainly helped because I can speak to trainers and riders in their own language. I’ve also ridden out on our tack and that helps me to continuously make improvements. For example, about ten years ago, trainers started to have concerns about half tree saddles being bad for horses’ backs and many went back to using full tree saddles. As a result, I redesigned the panel on our half trees to make it much more like a full tree saddle. Consequently, the gullet is much more pronounced therefore not impeding on the horse’s spine; this also helps to distribute the rider’s weight better. Look at the enclosed photo of a recent half tree we made. You can see it looks like a GP or full tree exercise saddle but is, in fact, built on a half tree.