Marsh has several horses in various stages of work ahead of a planned comeback to cutting, and says time is his enemy – such a vast amount of things he wants to get done every day, and just not enough hours. Very few things in life remain unchanged over 40-odd years – but the way the Scone-based horseman creates a saddle is exactly the same as when Marsh did his apprenticeship with John Charlton all those years ago. ‘That was fairly easy. Mum kicked me out of the house when I was sixteen and said ‘go and do something constructive’. I was working in shearing sheds and stacking boxes in a prune factory and she said it was time to do something more.’ But efforts to find an apprenticeship as a butcher in Sydney came to nothing, and driving out of town through St. Leonards, Mr Carney saw saddles in the John Charlton saddlery window.
‘I thought I wouldn’t mind being a saddle maker,’ he said. ‘The trade in Australia hasn’t really changed. I was very fortunate, I did part of my apprenticeship with the bridle maker and strap hand and one of the old fellows, Arthur Small, who did boots and leggings – I picked up a lot of bits and pieces from Arthur,’ he said. ‘When I started there were four on the bench, when I left there were ten. We were making stock for the shelf, mostly English saddles – dressage and jumping and all-purpose saddles.’ Mr Carney confesses that in his younger years, dating girls who rode in dressage competitions and show-jumping enabled him to enhance his understanding of the requirements of those saddles and of other riding disciplines. But then he met Trish – a champion water-skier – and the couple married and in 1980 founded Marsh Carney Saddlery. It has grown from a small store in Scone to branches in Dubbo and Tamworth as well as a thriving online business.
In the early days Marsh had to be involved in the store, but canny management by his indefatigable wife means he is now free to focus on saddle-making, cattle work and riding at the 1012 hectare property at Parkville. Marsh rode in rodeos, campdrafting and cutting from his teens onwards and continues to ride and breed cutting horses. ‘I’ve always had an interest in cutting horses and have bred some good ones – I bred and owned a horse that won the National Cutting Futurity in 1979 and a few others that have finialled in cutting futurities’.
‘I’d like to think that being a competitive rider has certainly helped with the way I design saddles -- the seat, and the shape you put into the saddle to fit the horse and rider. I think that’s really important – the saddle has to fit the horse,’ Mr Carney said. ‘I think the thing I like the most is the art of it, to build something into an article that you hope the customer will be happy with, and will ride in for a long time – to create something starting with a tree and a bit of leather,’ he reflected
Marsh Carney Saddlery is also importing carefully selected western saddles for pursuits such as barrel racing, according to Trish. ‘I think having an experienced team is important, Marsh and I want to make everything right for our customers. We’ve been going 37 years and we are still expanding,’ Trish said.
Mr Carney has trained about ten apprentices, but said he was concerned that saddle making was a dying art. ‘But the way our apprenticeship system works in Australia for our trade, with the wages you’ve got to pay, and the amount of productivity you get from an apprentice, it’s not viable anymore. And there’s not many still involved in it,’ he said. Asked what made him proud, Marsh said: ‘Everything we do in our business, and there is still scope for us to do things a lot better. And we have made a lot of friends along the way.’
‘I always wanted to ride and breed my own horses to train and have a farm where I had enough cattle to work those horses. That dream hasn’t changed, and we’ve got the farm and the cattle and the horses.’
The couple are well known in the industry with regular stands at the ASHS Championships, the NCHA Futurity and Equitana along with their sponsorship support of various events and a long history of volunteering – daughters Paula, Belinda and Michelle have all been highly accomplished riders and Michelle has joined the family business after a stint Eventing in England. Marsh did many miles carting his daughters across the country to various pony club championships and he and Trish continue to be immersed in the hectic lives of their children and grand-children.