Custom fit: Saddlemaker seeks perfection with each stitch

By Austin Jackson | Published Wednesday, November 7, 2018

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CRAFTSMAN – NRS saddle shop manager David Huey works on a custom saddle from his work bench. Huey spends over 100 hours on each saddle. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

With a small metal tool, saddle shop manger David Huey engraves a millimeter notch on a patch of leather.

After several hours, the intricate indentions spread and connect into a pattern. It’s part of a grand design.

He’s seeking perfection, the perfect saddle.

“Every saddle I make, I try to make it the best one,” Huey said. “That’s what I strive for. I’m trying to make this one the best one I’ve ever made. Next week, the next saddle I’ll try again to improve on it. It is constant.”

WELL CRAFTED – David Huey custom makes each of his one-of-kind saddles at NRS. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

There’s no assembly line at the custom saddle workshop, located a few boot clicks past the NRS Arena. In fact, there’s nothing industrial about Huey’s workplace. Instead of machinery and robots, the means of production are men with steady hands and unrivaled focus.

A saddle is a personal thing. It’s a piece of equipment that needs to function. But in the hands of Huey, it’s art.

Huey has been taking his art personally for more than 30 years, starting in 1984.

In that time, he has fitted seats for everyone from your everyday rancher to Prince Charles and Camilla.

“It was a roping saddle,” Huey said. “Bush said everybody gives them English saddles, so we gave them western saddles. Somewhere over in England, there’s a couple of M.L. Leddies roping saddles.”

Despite the saddles being commissioned by President George W. Bush, and gifted to actual royalty, Huey said his process was the same – making the best saddles he’s ever made.

Huey started out wanting to ride saddles for a living instead of making them. His father trained and rode cutting horses. He learned from his father, while growing up in Stephenville.

Eventually that door closed and another opened.

He got a job at Cajun’s Saddlery and found an informal apprenticeship. Over the years, he’s improved on his craft with his attention to detail setting him apart.

Huey makes each saddle by hand. Each takes around 100 hours.

“I wanted to be a cowboy and do cowboy stuff,” he said. “It didn’t pay real well, so I thought I could make saddles and be around it. The rest is history.”

He worked through the ranks. He worked for M.L. Leddy’s Boots and Saddlery, then eventually started working as the saddle shop manager at NRS, seeking improvement one stitch and one saddle at a time.

A custom saddle is a personal thing, and Huey specializes in making art that functions.

“I make them to use,” he said. “It’s like buying a nice pickup or something when you’re in construction. It’s the same thing with these saddles. It’s a piece of equipment that’s being used.”

“I make using saddles,” he added. “But there’s no two alike. I might use the same design, but they’re not going to exactly the same. Everything is done by hand. And I’ll switch it up. Change it to make it better.”

His goal is to make a beautiful saddle that can be an afterthought to the rider.

Most of his clients ride for a living and his goal is to have the horse and its rider performing at their peak.

It’s the cowboy way, a way of life and craft he’s pursued for as long as he can remember.

“It’s always been this western lifestyle for me,” he said.

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