Kelly Jones of KellyJ Leather crafts bespoke bridles and other small leather goods from her studio in the West Sussex countryside. A true perfectionist and passionate equestrian, Kelly has overcome dyslexia to become a member of the Society of Master Saddlers and work with leading riders in several disciplines. I had a chat with Kelly on a recent sunny lockdown afternoon to find out a little bit more about her journey and her hopes and dreams for the future!
Horsey from the very beginning
“I was born in Hong Kong and moved to the UK when I was 1. My Mum was a really keen rider and secretary of our local Pony Club. When I was tiny she would take me to the yard with her, leaving me in a pram at the stables while she rode! My sister and I both had ponies, with my first very own four-legged friend arriving when I was 5 or 6 years old.”
“I struggled at school and always seemed to be in trouble – I never, ever did my homework! It turned out that I was dyslexic and not, as my Headteacher had labelled me, ‘special’. This fired me up to prove her wrong and I achieved GCSEs all at A*, A or B grade! I knew I never wanted to do an office job. As a child my dream jobs included being a zookeeper, farrier or drug detection dog handler. As fate would have it I enrolled on an entry level leatherwork course and made my first belt at 16 – I had the bug!”
Training with the Society of Master Saddlers
“It was then that I entered the Society of Master Saddlers’ training programme. I originally fancied specialising in carriage driving harness, but I didn’t enjoy the process of working the leather. It was a little boring and traditional for me. I did however find that I fell in love with the fun side of bridlework. Adding bling or colourful stitching is so much fun!”
“I made my first bridle for my beloved old horse Russel. I was competing and at a tack check someone gave me the most lovely compliment. At that point I was making lots of dog collars and leads, but this person’s words gave me the boost I needed. I applied for Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust funding in October 2018 and in March 2019 I started working with Izzy Russel. She had made a stunning bridle Valegro wore when he won his London Olympic gold and I was starstruck to be trained by her. Under her tutelage I started crafting my first 4-ring drop noseband. She is still my mentor to this day and I’m always amazed by what she comes up with.”
Ready to level up with brand ambassadors
“My bridles were becoming more and more popular with local riders, but I knew the key to taking the next step lay in finding a sponsored rider to raise my profile nationally. I go to Badminton every year (apart from 2020 it seems…) and Burghley when I can. I was on the hunt for someone without a tack or bridle sponsor when I spotted Alicia Hawker. She rode the most brilliant cross-country round at Burghley, making a stiff course look so easy. She’s also very active on social media and definitely a rider on the up! I got in touch with her straight after her show jumping round the next day. I’m so proud that she is now one of my brand ambassadors alongside a good friend of mine Kat Bentz. I love working with dressage riders – they love bling – and eventers.”
“My next step for KellyJ Leather is to make more bridles for competition and performance horses. I’ve been working on some innovative designs to help enhance performance. If a bridle relieves pressure it is scientifically proven to improve the horse’s stride pattern and breathing. One of my dreams for the future is to see one of my bridles go around Badminton or Burghley. Maybe even one might be on a horse competing at the Olympics! I’m so lucky with Alicia already at such a high level that I’m sure I’ll see my dream come true soon.”
Down time with a speedy eventer
“Before I’m absorbed in the KellyJ Leather workshop each day I’m generally found in the saddle. I got my new horse two and a half years ago and he’s been a challenge! He really needed some TLC and although he was a cheap purchase, I’ve spent a lot on him. A TB x warmblood who is quirky and particular, we head out eventing together at speed. We once completed a hunter trial with an optimum time of 6 minutes 30 seconds in 3 minutes 30 seconds… He is bum high and flat heeled but I love him (most of the time!). My riding hero is Tina Cook. She proves time and time again what you can do with normal, basic facilities if you’re dedicated to improving.”
Do you like the sound of having your very own bespoke leather bridle? Or perhaps you’ve been after a noseband for a sensitive horse for a while and not found what you’re looking for? For all kinds of innovative, bespoke bridlework take a closer look at KellyJ Leather.