All in a day’s work
Shirley Rankin, the long-standing owner of Murphys Saddlery in Somerset, on losing her sight in one eye, and the strangest requests she’s received
Legendary tack shop owner Shirley Rankin
Running the shop happened more by circumstance than
choice. I worked in the equestrian department at Lillywhites in my early 20s, but most of my life I was a groom. I met my late partner Grahame Murphy, who was running the shop 25 years ago and moved in with him to help run the business. Grahame sadly passed away 16 years ago so I bought out his two sons and continued to run the shop. I live in a flat attached to the shop with my two Jack Russells, Mouse and Poppy, and there’s 16 acres and a stable block for my three horses and a donkey.
I lost the sight in an eye after an accident while leading a homebred at home the year Grahame
died. I spent a month in hospital and didn’t ride for a long time, but I’m used to it now and can see a stride better now than before. The staff did a fantastic job holding the fort and the customers were very supportive.
One of my biggest bugbears is when the odd person comes in and wants to be fitted for
something, so you spend ages finding the item that fits best, only for them to go and try to find it cheaper online. It’s a risk you have to take. People also seem to think that calmers are the answer to their horse’s behavioural problems when, quite often, the horse just needs more work.
I don’t deal in cheap — all my leather is proper British leather
that lasts. I try to stock higherend clothing too. It is expensive but I’d rather sell that than the cheap stuff that is going to fall apart. Another bonus is that, if my horses need anything, they always have good-quality stuff from the shop.
There are a lot of different
aspects to this job — there are suppliers to juggle, and we also sell feed, haylage and bedding, and offer a saddle-fitting and rug-cleaning service, as well as a second-hand section, so there’s always lots to do. Having reliable, efficient staff is vital to keep it running smoothly and I’m very lucky that I have a super bunch of long-standing girls working for me. It’s also handy working, living and having the horses all in one place. It means I hardly ever have to travel.
I’ve had a few break-ins, which
were quite exciting. Someone came in through a window and took a lot of stuff but hadn’t reached the sensors so didn’t set the alarm off. A few weeks later the alarm went off so I went to switch it off thinking it must just be a bird in the shop or something, only to see the burglar legging it out of the window.
The best part of the job is the
customers — most of them are lovely and we have lots who are long-standing. We get asked some very bizarre things by customers and, over the years, I’ve written a lot of them down in a notebook. Somebody wanted a riding hat, but they wanted a “cheap and cheerful” one because they were always falling off and having to replace it. Someone else came in once asking for a hunt breastplate because they couldn’t stop their horse, and another person asked if a mesh flysheet was breathable. You try not to laugh but it’s not easy.
‘We get asked some very bizarre things by customers
and, over the years, I’ve written a lot of them down in a notebook — you try not to
laugh but it’s not easy’
NEXT WEEK International show commentator John Kyle