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Here's the prototype for my new saddle

Hi Folks..  I’ve had my share of fun this year, I’ve had new adventures and met new friends.  So far this year, I’ve spent time in Iowa with Luke Jones, had a clinic at his place. Luke has Futurity horses for this year; I’ve been invited back to Luke’s in July to check on his progress. He’s got some Futurity horses as nice as anybody I’ve seen, he’s doing a great job. Luke is a Rodeo calf roper turned Cowhorse guy. After that I was in Wisconsin with trainers, Jody and Lance Sheppel. We had some nice clinics at their place, and they really had things set up well.

My travels have literally taken me into new country – it’s been quite interesting and the year is just beginning!  We’ve had a real wet year here in California, and as a result we’ve got grass up to our knees and wildflowers everywhere.  The temperatures have been nice at around 70.

Every year I go on the Rancheros Vistadores ride during the first week of May.  This will be my 36th year that I’ve attended that ride in a row, so consequently I’ve made a lot of friends. There are all different types of men that go on this, but most of them have the traditional western values and love the culture and the western life style. We have 1,000 guys that go: we have dignitaries, such as late President Reagan, who used to go;  We’ve had astronauts;  all sorts of actors/movie stars that have been or go on this;  and we have a lot of plain-jane guys like myself,  and a lot of world champion cowboys.  We do everything from team roping, to shoot cannons, trap shoot, throw horseshoes, a lot of regular horse contests, we have a regular horse show and we also have everything from pig catching to calf sorting. We do a lot of different activities, but the main thing is the camaraderie. I’ve met people there that are priceless friends, at this point I could not buy a ticket to meet them, because they don’t have time to meet people like me that are just normal.  As a result, I can call up a governor of some state and ask ‘hey buddy how’s it going?’ and carry on a relaxed conversation with them.  It’s quite a unique experience and I look forward to it each year during the first week of May.  The first thing I do when I get a new calendar is block off that date!

Last week I had another unique experience, I was invited to give a clinic in Utah hosted by Greg and Quinn Kessler.  They put on the Double Dollar Roping Horse sale at National Finals Rodeo, which is well known in horse circles. Quinn is only 16 years old, but he’s a 36 year old 16 – he’s already won over $500,000 in team roping!  He’s a sharp, sharp heeler, real interesting to be around, so I got to go there and help them with their horses and in return they helped me with my roping.  I think that I probably ran easily over 250 steers in three days which was a real asset to me as a low number roper, trying to get it together, especially before the Rancheros ride.  We got a lot done, had a lot of fun, came up with new concepts and ideas that will probably develop in the future and I’ll keep you filled in.  We are going to design a rope horse bit line and biting program for rope horses.  I don’t think that’s been done before.

As you know, I have two Futurity horses for next year; Scappy and Sassy who are two-year-olds right now,  but I’ve had a little bit of bad luck with them.  Scrappy is the one I had really high hopes for, he’s out of a Smart Aristocrat mare, named  Bellarista, who made the finals and won quite a bit at the Snaffle Bit Futurity when I showed her there.  Plus, this colt is very gentle, and he tries to act like a person, he never acts wild. Somehow he’s damaged his neck, we have no idea what the incident was, and no one will probably ever know.  We don’t know if it’s going to cause him problems down the road as show horses go or not, so I hesitate to put two years of training into this horse and have him possibly not be what he should be as far as maximizing his capacities because of this old neck injury. So he’s out of the picture as a show horse, and he’s really not of any use to me as of this point – so I’m going to give Scrappy away with a tear in my eye. And not just because of who his mother was, but because he’s by Tomcat Chex, who’s by Highbrow Cat and out of Miss Reed Chex, who produced the mare that is the highest money producing mare in the history of the National Rein Cowhorse Association. So although Scrappy has the credentials to be a super star, I hesitate to invest the time and money in him for the next two years to see if he holds together.

So I am going to give Scrappy away.  He needs a home with someone who is going to love him and treat him like he wants to be treated. He’s unique, he’ll be a riding horse for sure, and he could be a trick horse too.  When you’re around him, he literally tries to talk, he’s expressive, he does cute silly fun things all the time, he’s all over you, to be around him a minute or five minutes you will want to take him home. He’s super sweet, super nice. We need to get him out of the yard, he needs another home with someone who wants to care for him and have fun with him, and he’s the kind of horse that will be ridden without going into the highest level of performance. So much for Scrappy, he’s little, he’s a brown colt, and he’s average for his age. Whoever gets him will be glad that they got him; he’s up for grabs for free so call me if you’re interested.

We’ve had some other bad luck around here, because about a week or ten days ago, our favorite and world-renowned veterinarian, Van Snow passed away.  Van loved to go fast, loved things that were a little risky. He went from one sport to another, everything he did was fast, and he liked risk. He had an aerobatic competition airplane and this was a real hot rod, an ultimate as far as competition goes. Apparently something broke in the linkage or on the elevator stick that pulls you out of a dive, I’m not really sure, but shile he was doing a dive at a competition, he crashed into the ground. Our whole community, not just here, pretty much internationally was stunned for the loss of Van for two reasons.  Van could get a horse sound probably as good if not better than anyone in the world and quickly, he had unique capacities for diagnosing for bringing a horse back to a soundness level for competition without hurting the horse.  Plus, we all enjoyed him as a friend and a team roper buddy. Van is survived by his 12 year old son Cody, who is a little team roper and of course his wonderful wife Lindsay, who’s a cutting horse rider in the non-pro. We’ll miss Van a lot, most of you who are familiar with him probably heard this already, and it kind of set us back around here.

Dale Chavez sent me my first prototype saddle; I am doing a saddle line with Dale. Dale has really gone over some of my saddles and we talked a lot about what I was looking for, and last week he sent me the prototype.  With this one saddle, I can team rope, I can ride out of the herd, I can ride down the fence, I can rein, I can do it all!   It seems to give me an advantage in all of these different activities, because it positions me better and offers better technical support most of the saddles designed specifically for each of those specific activities.  I think we’re really on to something!  I’m going to ride in the prototype a little longer, then I’ll meet with Dale and we’ll do some final tweaking on it, but we should be ready to roll them out by June – I’m really excited about it!

Speaking of ‘reining’ it’s raining here today, I’m dying to put it on a horse again, maybe today, but it’s been pretty wet.   Spring is here, everybody is sniffling, and we’re pretty busy, so thanks for reading….

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There isn’t a single stoplight in the whole of Coal County, Oklahoma to interfere with the delivery trucks making their way to and from Raber’s Saddlery. So how does a tack production shop is such a remote country town, with a shoestring marketing budget, and no website not only survive, but thrive? It turns out one can still succeed the good-old-fashioned way – by word of mouth.

Robert Raber, with just a small team of local workers, has built a reputation for quality craftsmanship that has traveled far beyond Coal County’s quiet borders. He made his first saddle at the age of 19. Now a husband and father of five, his business is growing and he remains as committed to quality as ever. We are proud to be able to offer you many of his outstanding products on our website – once you’ve used one of his bridles or ridden with a set of his reins, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

How did you get started?
I got started by growing up in my dad’s boot shop doing leather work at 10-12 years old. I started sewing boot soles on by the time I was 12 and gradually started my own business from the age of 18. After I made my first saddle, it just kept growing. Now we primarily do tack and a few custom saddles. The custom saddles are a very limited part of our business, and primarily either cutter or working ranch saddles.

When shopping for tack, how can a buyer tell if it’s good quality?
The stitching and edges are the first give away of a quality piece of tack versus one that’s not. People should look to see if the stitching is refined and the edges are smooth. If somebody has taken enough time and pride to do that part right, then they probably used a pretty good piece of leather too.

I can look at the leather and definitely tell when I pick it up if it’s quality leather. That comes from spending years working with leather every day. One of the things that you want to look for when you pick up a pair of reins or something, is if they appear raggedy and soft. If they’re soft and raggedy when they’re new, they’re going to get really bad once you start using them.

When you pick up a quality pair of reins, they’ll feel balanced and somewhat oily. One of the things that I notice is – and this is not always true – but many times, if somebody is building tack or reins, and it’s almost dripping with oil, they’re not using the best quality of leather. They’re putting a lot of oil into it to make it feel good.

What goes into creating your products? To create a quality product you have to start out with quality leather. The most important thing is that we start out using only the finest steer hides. All of our harness leather comes from U.S. steer hides that are tanned in the U.S. by Hermann Oak

Leather Company out of St. Louis, Missouri.

We have a special tannage done just for us at the tannery that has added oils. Our harness leather is a little bit firmer than a lot of leathers, but that adds to the longevity of it. We also have our own proprietary oil mixture that has a blend of neatsfoot oil in it, and each piece goes through an oiling process when it gets to the shop that we feel adds life to the product. That’s the most important part, we build a product that not only looks good, but is very functional, and will stay

that way for a long time.

When we lay a side of leather on our bench, we figure about 40% of that hide is waste, because we are only cutting the very best out of that side of leather – the rest is not going into any of our finished products. You can build a piece of tack that looks good with that other leather, but once you start to use it, it will start to get soft and raggedy – that’s something you won’t find with our products. Also, our hardware is only stainless steel – we don’t use anything that would rust.

We have a 12-step process to build a pair of reins. One of the things that we do is number the reins as we cut them off a side of leather. Then once they’re all finished they’re put back in pairs, side-by-side, just like they came off the hide.

So, you get a balanced pair of reins – there is no difference in weight from one rein in one hand versus the other one in the other hand.

Our premium reins are a heavier grade of rein that have a heavier tail on them – they come from the thickest part of the shoulder. The heavier weight in the tail helps you flip the reins around easier and also makes it a little easier to adjust the length when you are riding.

The two most important things that I feel people look at with our tack is the stitching and the edges. Both play a big part in what sets us apart from a lot of production-line tack. We work really hard on having smaller more refined stitching than what you normally see. It takes longer to make a finer stitch, but it sure does look a lot nicer.

We also hand rub all the edges on every piece of tack we make. First we apply an edge-coat mixture, and then we rub all the edges by hand using a wooden stick that we cut a groove into just for that purpose. It really creates a finished look and feel. We also put a latigo-leather lining in our bridles so that they’re doubled and stitched.

Between just the refined stitching and good smooth edges, I’ve got people who have said from about 40 feet away, “I know who built that headstall.” That’s a pretty big compliment to me!

You’ve mentioned harness leather and latigo, what are the differences between the different leathers?
The basic types of leathers are latigo, harness, and skirting. Each type goes through a different tanning process at the tannery because each is designed for a different purpose.

Latigo leather is designed for things like tie straps. It gets softer with use, and it’s easier to cinch up on a saddle. So, it’s strong, but can remain soft.

Harness leather has more oil impregnated into it, so it’s more resistant. It’s good for areas where you get a lot of sweat, so it works great for headstalls and reins.

Skirting leather is tanned without any oils into it, so you can do your tooling and design work, wet it, and form it to your saddle. Once everything is built, you add your oils into it.

How do you come up with ideas?
We have people that will call with ideas, and we’ll sit down and draw the patterns ourselves – we don’t copy. If somebody comes up with a different idea, we’ll draw the pattern and work with that person until we get what they want. A lot of the ideas come from working cowboys. I’ve picked them up from people who do cowboying for a living and clinicians, just ideas that I see and just try to refine them. That’s where our line has developed from over the years.

We are a small business so we can keep to our quality standards. There are about 6 to 7 people in our company, so I can keep a pretty close tab on the quality. One of the things I tell the girls on the sewing machines is, ‘”If you make a crooked stitch, throw it out now, don’t wait until later.” We want to be proud of everything that goes out of this shop.

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