My name is Mathew Murray and I’m Head Saddle Maker at Riverina Saddlery, which I opened in 2011 with the support of my wife, Lyn. I grew up on a family cattle property in northern NSW where horses were a day-to-day way of life. I got into leather work because I wanted to make my best mate a pocket knife pouch when I was 10 years old. My parents were quite supportive and when I started to pull apart farm saddlery – much to Dad’s horror – so that I could try and put it back together again, they took me down to a local harness maker, Jim Hall, to get some pointers. I worked with Jim on weekends and holidays right up to his death in 1997 and I will always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me at such a young age.
When I was 14 I decided I needed a saddle and the only way I was going to get one was to make my own. It took almost a year to complete and wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I started, in fact it was pretty rough, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what I could have done to make it better. Around that time, a neighbour down the road asked me to repair some old saddles for him. By that time, I’d been pulling saddles apart and putting them back together for a number of years and was comfortable in doing repairs, however, one of the saddles had a broken tree. When I told our neighbour he said I should go ahead and build him a new saddle. From that point forward I kept building saddles when the opportunities arose.
When I attended Emerald Agricultural College I met Steve Geary, one of the instructors, who was also making saddles in his spare time. He helped me with the patterns and basic designs for my first Fender saddle and the College work experience program sent me to Dan Baker, a Western saddle maker in Brisbane, for two weeks to learn more. After this, I started making Fender saddles in my holidays and selling them to other students at the College.
After College I tinkered with saddlery in my spare time while I worked a variety of jobs, including contract-mustering in QLD, NSW, NT and Canada. In 2005 I decided to try and make saddles commercially as a side-line to my contract mustering so I set up base in a shed at a horse school in Proserpine, North Queensland. Not long after, I was contacted to build a saddle for Greg Hoare, a popular North Queensland identity who became a good mate and was always a great advocate of my saddles. I soon had orders for many other saddles. People often ask where I did my apprenticeship but the honest answer is that I’ve never really done a proper apprenticeship. My skills have been built in five ways:
- I’ve pulled apart a lot of old saddles, looked at how they were made and rebuilt them
- I’ve spent a lifetime riding in all types of saddles and understand what it takes to make one comfortable for the horse and rider
- I’ve constantly critiqued my own designs and constructions in order to improve
- I have an honest and avid interest in the stories and tradition behind how Australian saddles in particular have been made
- I’ve made a lot of saddles
In 2010 I met my future wife and in 2011 got engaged and moved to Wagga Wagga, NSW, where she was teaching. I spent a Wagga winter making saddles in our backyard shed. Between the freezing temperatures and my wife coming home from work to find a growing number of the Wagga horse community in the backyard, we realised we needed to take the leap in order to make my passion for saddlery a viable business.
We contacted retiring local saddler, Garry Hiscock, and organised to move his old bus – an icon on Copland St – and shop-fitted the back part of his building. With very little capital, we built most of our display racks ourselves and spent a great deal of time hauling our gear to all sorts of horse events, from Campdrafts in Tumut to Polocrosse in Ballarat, to boost our customer base. I must admit, in the early days, I would take business cards on my bike rides and drop one in the mailbox of any property that had a horse in the adjoining paddock.
Since moving into our premises we have continued to expand both our business and our family. We are the only saddlery in south-western NSW to do repairs and manufacture our own saddles and we now have three wonderful kids, Elizabeth, Daniel and Abigail, who are our whole world. We’ve moved twice more, the first time was when the kids started school. We built a shed behind our new house so that I could work from home and be there before and after school for the kids. It was a wonderful time for our family but the business kept trying to grow bigger. So we’ve moved once again, buying a commercial unit in the East Wagga industrial estate on Houtman St where we will have space to expand.
Our team has also expanded to include master saddler, Mick Axsentieff, apprentices Ryan Wolter and Codie Sutton and we have benefited from our connection with our sponsored rider and all-around top bloke, Codie Law, from Yarrawa Park Stock Horses. We’ve sponsored events, big and small, all over Australia but some of the stand-outs were being asked to provide trophy saddles for the NCCA Campdraft Championships, Paradise Lagoons Graham Acton Memorial and the ASHS Nationals Triple Crown Series, as well as winning the Australian Stock Saddle class at The Royal Easter Show.
While it is time-consuming and often frustrating in this age of cheap imported goods, to craft our products by hand, we believe that our customers deserve to be able to choose stylish, durable, Australian-made products and will strive to meet the growing need for Mathew Murray products Australia-wide.
Meet our team:
Mick Axsentieff grew up around Kyogle and Casino in northern NSW. He apprenticed with Rogan Saddlery before moving to the Riverina and working for Tom Klein. After taking a break from saddlery for awhile, Mick joined our team in 2015 and is responsible for our beautiful Cootamundra Poley stock saddles. We are very lucky to have one of the best Australian stock saddle makers in our team.
Ryan Wolter grew up in Wagga Wagga in the Riverina. He is a friend and neighbour and joined our team during the COVID lockdown in 2020 when he was unable to attend his TAFE/University courses. Despite not growing up around horses, Ryan has become a valued member of our team and helps build many of our Australian fender saddles.
Codie Sutton grew up in East Gippsland and has been around horses her whole life. She is a recent addition to our team but her hard-work and dedication to perfecting the skills needed for saddle making are already evident.
Codie Law is the owner and operator of Yarrawa Park Stock Horses in Glenn Innes. He is also our sponsored rider as we believe that his integrity, honesty and proficiency with horses represents all that is amazing about the Australian horse industry.