2 January 2024

Saddle fitting sees local business 'balance the whole lot' in more ways than one

| Claire Sams
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woman standing beside saddle

While saddle fitting might seem like a niche business, Paula Jeffrey said there had been a strong response across Australia since she started her business ten years ago. Photo: Performance Saddlefits.

Working with horses was inevitable for Paula Jeffrey, but it required hard work and resilience to make it her career.

“Horses have always been a passion of mine – I don’t know where it comes from,” she said.

“I don’t come from a horsey family, but somewhere in my blood was this love of horses and everything they do for us.

“I was a horse-mad teenager, and I begged my dad to let me get a horse – we got a rescue horse for $250, and I was desperately in love.”

Decades later, Paula built a career as a professional rider, coach and educator in Australia and Europe, but the next step would come when she was looking for something new (though still horse-related).

“When my daughter was born, we were both very ill for quite a long time, and it took me a while to get back on my feet – figuratively and literally,” she said.

“I was trying to decide what I wanted to do – I knew I didn’t want to set up a bricks-and-mortar store, so I decided to set up as an independent saddle fitter.”

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The result was the opening of Performance Saddlefits with just one location in the Yass Valley just over a decade ago before her business expanded to multiple franchises across Australia.

“I got so big, I needed help,” Paula said.

“I never set out to develop a franchise system at all.”

As a saddle fitter, she works with both horse and rider to choose the best-fitting saddle.

“It’s helping the horse owner to understand the horse’s unique anatomy,” she said.

“You’re strapping a rigid object – the saddle – onto a moving horse and then sticking a human being on top of that.

“It’s trying to balance the whole lot without causing injuries and to enable the horse to move with the least amount of discomfort or any injury.”

A woman using a measuring tool on a horse's back

While working as a saddle fitter is one of her passions, Paula says education around horse welfare is another. Photo: Performance Saddlefits.

A session takes at least one-and-a-half hours and sees both the horse and human studied so Paula can pick the best-fitting saddle or adjust one currently in use.

“It’s not a nine-to-five job – we often get called out of hours – and it involves a lot of travelling,” she said.

“I’ve had incredible personal and business growth trying to understand the needs of our customers, but also the needs of my franchisees.”

But at the same time she saw her team grow, Paula said the industry had also changed.

“It’s changed enormously, because of the rise of online education,” she said.

“Educating horse owners on the necessities of saddle fits and how saddles affect their horse’s health and wellbeing and happiness.

“People have really latched onto understanding the design between saddle design and biomechanics because they wanted answers why their horse has difficulty doing something or why they get sore.”

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This demand for online education had been growing over the past decade, Paula said, but was key during the pandemic – along with resilient thinking.

“COVID was a very hard time for us, as we weren’t considered to be essential services but still had to weather the effects of being closed,” she said.

“But we came out the other end of it!

“I tried to pivot to an online education platform, which was designed to try and provide education for our customers while we were in lockdown.”

Paula also recently attended a resilience workshop during Small Business Month, which is held annually in October across NSW.

This year’s Small Business Month included events across Yass Valley, with a focus on bringing businesses together so they could build new skills, network and support each other.

“It actually felt really good to get together with other business owners,” Paula said.

“It was really great to be able to go to something local, to be able to work on your business rather than in your business.”

For more information visit Performance Saddlefits.

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