ALMOST every tackroom in Ireland probably holds within it a Berney Bros saddle and for good reason. The Kildare-based master craftsmen have been producing bespoke saddles since 1880 and, five generations later, the family business continues to grow. Berney Bros are now exporting to Britain, China, Australia and America and they have established themselves as one of the world’s most respected producers of quality tack.

It was back in 1880 that Peter Berney founded his saddlery business in a modest workshop situated in the Kildare town of Kilcullen. The business continued to thrive as it was handed down over the generations, enduring World Wars and recessions.

Thomas Berney is part of the latest generation to work in the family business.

“I think the reason we have survived so long is because we offer traditional, good quality value for money tack,” he explains, adding: “We are conscious of the latest developments and always open to working with new ideas.”

Berney Bros’ Kilcullen store sells just about everything for the equine enthusiast, catering for many disciplines such as eventing, racing, hunting, show jumping and polo. In addition to the well-stocked shop, the premises include two workshops and it is here that the leather goods are made. The company employs a full-time team of 10, with additional staff taken on for outside events such as the Dublin Horse Show.

While the majority of their saddlery is made personally by the Berneys, one staff member has been alongside the family in the workshop for 40 years.

“Tommy Farrell came to work here when he was 13 years old,” says Thomas. “His grandfather worked along with mine.”

Continuity through generations is a familiar theme in Berney Bros, with customers also returning generation after generation.

“In the racing game for example we have served many generations of Prendergasts, both Willie Mullins and his son are customers and the Walsh family have been great supporters. Ruby’s children are the fourth generation of Walshs coming through our doors,” says Thomas.

Berney Bros makes roughly 1,000 saddles per year, with each saddle taking about a week to construct. On completion, each saddle is quality controlled by fellow master craftsmen.


There is definitely an appeal to buying a saddle from the man who made it and Thomas maintains that his connection with his customers is very important to him because the company is led by them.

“Method and technique remain as it was 50 years ago, what has changed and improved is the raw material. The leather is of better quality and the trees are strength tested in order to pass a British safety standard,” he explains.

But the Berneys are not only saddle makers, they are riders too.

“From a design point of view, it is vital that you ride,” maintains Thomas. “I started out in the pony club and still hunt to this day.”

While generally saddlers may come to the customer’s base and measure a horse, Berneys provides a unique approach.

“We welcome clients to bring their horse to the shop itself,” says Thomas. Berneys provide this service at no extra cost and feel it’s a good way to view the horse as well as being able to try out a variety of tack. For international customers, Berney’s provides a template to be fitted to the horse’s back which is both easy to use and very accurate.

There are exciting times ahead for Berney Bros. In recent months, the company announced a new partnership with Team Ireland Equestrian which will see Irish team members riding in state of the art Berney Grand Prix range saddles.

The family worked closely with Irish riders including Melanie Young and Olympian Joseph Murphy to design a saddle that not only benefits the horse but is suited to both a male and female rider.

Thomas explains: “The core value was that we wanted something really innovative. You can’t get an Irish rider to wear a saddle just because it’s Irish. We designed a range of competition saddles which are traditional but with a modern cutting edge twist.”


The new Grand Prix range includes two jumping saddles, as well as a dressage saddle. The seat of the saddle is made with orthopaedic memory foam which acts as a shock-absorber and the saddles are flocked with sheep wool, resulting in a comfortable saddle that moulds to both horse and rider.

The Berney Olympic is a contemporary concept in a jumping saddle. It is suited to all jumping disciplines, but is particularly beneficial for cross-country riding as it only weighs 4.1kg.

This forward cut, close contact saddle has a shorter girth and is a monoflap design, which means there is only one piece of leather between the rider’s leg and their horse. This enables the horse to have full use of itself, while also the rider’s position.

One of the things Thomas wanted to do with the latest saddles was give them a distinctive branding which would ensure they were clearly identifiable. He chose a tan piping running along the back of the saddles which stands out against both the black and brown coloured tack.

“It is a signature but in a classic way,” says Thomas, “And it is very rewarding to visit the shows and spot my saddles in action.”

The year 2015 also sees the company embracing a new slogan above their door which reads “Traditionally Innovative since 1880”.

But what are Thomas’s hopes for the future of Berney Bros? “I would love to see every top Irish rider in a top Irish saddle,” reveals Thomas.

And if the family’s past success is anything to go by, it looks like the future could be filled with Berney’s tan-piped saddles carrying riders who are flying the flag for Ireland.

The author is a third-year student on UCD’s Animal Science-Equine four-year degree programme. This is one of the Bachelor of Agricultural Science programmes offered by the School of Agriculture and Food Science. It focuses on the applied sciences that underpin animal and veterinary biosciences, with emphasis on the horse. Research programmes in equine genetics, reproduction, exercise physiology and chronobiology support teaching in this unique programme. A five-month work placement within the industry is an exciting component.