THERE are undoubtedly some aromas associated with horses that many owners could well do without.

But the smell of leather in a traditional saddlers' workshop is right up there with newly-made bread and freshly-ground coffee as one of the world's heavenly scents.

And the judges of the Countryside Alliance's rural retailers competition have followed their noses to the Malvern Saddle Company and believe they have sniffed out a winner.

They have marked up the business that is run by the husband and wife team Angie and Robert Jenkins as top in the Midland region of the competition's best traditional business section.

This means the couple will be guests at a winners' reception at the House of Lords in February when the overall national winners of the competition will be announced "We are absolutely amazed," said Robert. "We had no idea we were even in the running. But I am passionate about keeping British manufacturing alive, particularly when traditional skills and values are involved."

Passion is not necessarily a word associated with the intricate, steady work of the saddle maker, but Robert brings a quality and craftsmanship to his job that is immediately evident in the bridlework and saddles that come from the Jenkins' workshop at North Farm, Little Malvern, beside the road that drops down to Welland.

You can, literally, smell the quality as soon as you open the door.

A keen horseman who loved playing polo in his younger days, Robert studied saddlery and the art of harness making at the high temple of the industry in England - Walsall in the heart of the Black Country - where he won a special award for excellence.

He had the choice of working in a factory or learning to use a sewing machine and making bespoke saddles and bridles. He chose the latter and is now one of the few traditional craftsmen flying the flag for the British saddlery industry.

As Clare Rowson, Midlands regional director of the Countryside Alliance and one of the competition's judges, put it: "We really felt that if Robert Jenkins and his small team were not here, then the traditional saddle making business in this country would be in danger of dying out.

"With imports being the norm these days, this outlet, which specialises in side-saddles and making everything from scratch, is a phenomenally important traditional business, succeeding against the odds and supporting the equestrian industry in the Midlands."

Robert, who is a master saddler, travels all over the country to measure horses for side-saddles, a riding style that is enjoying a considerable revival, and then makes each bespoke saddle by hand.

"We also restore side-saddles," he added. "The oldest one I have worked on dates back to 1850.

"The modern side-saddle has changed beyond belief, as today's riders want a performance saddle, whereas in the 1800s ladies mainly just sat on them looking pretty."

Of course, Malvern Saddle Company also makes astride saddles, as well as bridlework and driving harness, to measure if required.

Leather dog leads are another product, as are sheepskin-lined leather bonnet straps for the Morgan sportscars made just across town.

It is a tight knit team, with Robert and apprentice Katherine Ferrari producing and Angie Jenkins running the commercial side of the business.

"We are delighted to receive the Countryside Alliance award, because it shows we are doing something right," he said.

"It's also good to be back on track, because the foot and mouth crises in 2001 almost did for us. Trade dropped overnight and I nearly chucked it in."

Fortunately for Britain's equestrian community, he didn't.