For a decade short of 300 years, a Malton institution has been serving the riding community of Ryedale. MATT CLARK visits the equine world's old curiosity shop

WALSALL may be the home of English saddle making, but it wasn't until the early 19th century that leather working became an important local trade there. And North Yorkshire has a much longer pedigree.

Saddlers were busy at work in the cellars at Parnaby's of Malton back in 1725 and the company still carries on the tradition of saddle making and repairing on the very same premises.

It's also a proper shop. Labyrinthine, with nooks and crannies full of all manner of things you never knew other people couldn't live without.

You can get anything equine in this Aladdin's cave, from riding crops and hats to jodhpurs and boots. There's even a rare dressage tail jacket. Size 36 in case you're asking, and if you're quick the last of the summer's Panama hats are a bargain at a fiver.

But some of the most interesting things aren't for sale at any price. Take the marvellous apprentice piece from Walsall, the smallest saddle you'll ever find, or the Vanner and Prest Molliscorium advertising clock; it's a beauty. The American firm sold horse embrocation and liniments to help soothe muscles in horses during the 1890s.

Parnaby's has another heady aroma; one redolent of a plush armchair in a gentlemen’s club. Sadly current owner Sylvia Milson is denied that particular pleasure these days. Having been here so long, she doesn't notice it any more.

"I really don't. But we get people coming in saying I'm just in for a fix off the leather and I remember when we used to do the banking, some of the cashiers would say they could smell the leather on the money."

A wealth of saddles on display is the reason for this. Sylvia says a decent one will set you back £800 to £1,000, but it's the most important part about owning a horse, so has to fit properly.

Which is not quite as straightforward as you might think. Made to measure is too expensive, fortunately there are many widths and shapes to choose from. Then it depends on what you want to use it for.

"Dressage saddles have big knee rolls to keep your leg in place," says Sylvia. "In dressage you sit into the saddle, so have a deeper seat that looks more like a U-shaped curve and you have your legs straight down. Jumping saddles are forward cut with a flatter seat. The flaps are much bigger which gives the leg more support and there is padding at the front of the flaps which your leg goes round so you can push in."

Some people like second hand saddles, they're broken in and softer. But not all have been well looked after. And that's where Andrew Marchant comes in.

Andrew works at Parnaby's every Wednesday repairing customers' riding gear. If you speak to him nicely, he'll also make you a bridle for a shade over £100. Which considering how much it costs to keep a horse, is surely little more than small change.

Andrew does things the old way; the right way, all hand stitched, that sort of thing. He also doesn't have much truck with cheap imports that cost £20 and only last a few years.

"The leather is not up to standard, nor are the fittings," he says. "If I make a bridle it will last someone a lifetime. Buy English, I say, preferably mine."

So take along a cheap one that fits your horse and from it Andrew will use the measurements to make a proper one for no more than the price of a month's livery.

"You can't afford to cut corners, there's one way of doing things and that's how they should be done," he says. "Girth straps, for example, they hold the saddle to the horse. If it breaks because of the wrong sort of leather or thread it could be someone's life."

Most of Andrew's time is spent fixing saddles or reflocking them which he only does with pure wool. Besides being natural it doesn't soak up sweat so much.

Andrew's regular customers know precisely what they want from him, but Anna Cooke has been working at Parnaby's for five years, now. Not long enough to lose her sense of smell, but long enough to have been asked for the oddest of things.

"It happens all the time," she says. "Some people don't realise we're a saddlers and a lot ask if we sell camping stoves. Toys for the dog is another regular request."

But if you don't need a gas cannister or squeaky bone and horses are your thing, head down to Parnaby's right now and you will snap up a real bargain. After almost 30 years in the saddlery business, Sylvia is reluctantly calling it a day, and that means it's sale time.

When the stock has gone, some other lucky individual will get to own this amazing piece of North Yorkshire's equine history.

"There is a covenant in the lease that says it has to remain a saddlery and I'd love to see that happen," she says. "I feel a bit like a caretaker, now it's time for someone else to look after the place."

Sylvia says the business would work well in the future by specialising in upper end markets, such as dressage and showing.

"There's plenty of people round here doing that sort of thing, who can't get what they need from normal retailers. They really do need somewhere like this."