Published on 24 May 2021
A Sunderland graduate’s quest to design the perfect saddle which improves equine welfare and performance has led to the coveted Queen’s Award for Innovation.
Dr Anne Bondi, who completed a Professional Doctorate at the University of Sunderland, carrying out research into saddle design and its link to the welfare, safety and performance of professional horse riders, which includes disabled riders, went on to create the SMART™ saddle range, with her company Solution Saddles.
The unique saddle designs flex with the movement of the horse’s back to allow unrestricted lift, bend, stretch and flex through their body and across their backs during exercise, encouraging freedom of movement and healthy back muscle development.
Dr Bondi said: “I am absolutely delighted that our business has been recognised with this prestigious award.
“It is, of course, a perfect example of what the University of Sunderland set out to achieve with the Professional Doctorate programme and I am proud to be a testament to its success. I remain grateful to my supervision team and academic staff both for seeing in me the possibilities and supporting me on my journey.”
Solution Saddles is one of just 205 organisations to be celebrated for their business successes this year with a Queen’s Award: either in international trade, sustainable development, promoting opportunity through social mobility or, for Solution Saddles, excellence in innovation.
The accolade carries additional weight this year as it follows an unprecedented 12 months of the Coronavirus pandemic impacting on all businesses. During this difficult period, Solution Saddles demonstrated a flexible business model to continue offering outstanding products and customer service even in the face of adversity.
Dr Bondi says: “I am immensely proud of our skilled and dedicated team members, every one of whom has played an integral part in the success of our saddle designs and the continued growth of the company.
“Most of our team are horse owners and riders themselves, so truly understand our quest to promote the welfare and performance of the ridden horse. As riders, we also know what good customer service means to our clients and how to deliver it. These are the core principles that our reputation for excellence is built on and we look forward to continuing our research programme and bringing more innovation to the equine industry.”
Founded in 2006, Solution Saddles employs 12 members of staff at its Derbyshire base, with over 20 approved saddle fitters supplying the SMART™ saddle range to horse owners across the UK and overseas. Launched in 2010, the range provides horses and riders at all levels with a modern solution to their saddle fitting woes and is believed to be the only brand of saddle to have earned a much sought-after Queen’s Award.
Now in its 55th year, the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the most prestigious business awards in the country, with winning businesses able to use the esteemed Queen’s Awards emblem for the next five years.
Senior Lecturer Elizabeth Gandy was part of Dr Bondi’s supervision team during her Professional Doctorate, which she achieved at Sunderland despite having no previous Higher Education academic qualifications.
The Professional Doctorate is the same level of academic qualification as a PhD and is designed for experienced professionals who wish to undertake a programme that is applied in nature and of practical value to their career.
Elizabeth, who continues to work with Dr Bondi on ongoing research projects relating to rider, saddle, horse interaction, said: “Anne’s supervision team at Sunderland are thrilled to hear the news of this award for her company, which is testament to her hard work and commitment in applying her research into horse, saddle, rider interaction to the design of innovative saddles to improve the safety, comfort and performance of both innovative saddles to improve the safety, comfort and performance of both horses and riders.”