After years on horseback, Clint Swopes handcrafts saddles for other riders
WALKER, MO. – Clint Swopes of Walker, Mo., and a native Vernon Countian has ridden horses all his life. His first paid employments were working on ranches and in feed lots out west.
When he decided to return to Missouri in 1990, he sought and won employment near Nevada, Mo., at Ortha Flex making and repairing saddles. All those years in the saddle made him a professional authority on the value of a proper fitting and functioning saddle.
For the next 11 years, Clint learned the ins and outs of the business. He had the opportunity to work on and repair saddles for movie stars and people from all walks of life.
In 2001, when Ortha Flex closed, Clint opened his own saddle making and repair shop on Main Street in Walker. Many of the clientele followed him. He receives saddles from all over the U.S. The majority of his business is repair.
Clint moved his business to a specially-built shop at his home on West Southern Avenue in 2010. He has horses on his property and an enclosed area where people can come and try their saddle on a horse and be sure it does what they want it to do.
“Some people even bring their own horses and try the saddles out,” Clint said.
What can go wrong with a saddle?
“Everything,” Clint said. “Other than the normal wear and tear – and accidents.”
He showed a saddle that he had completely replaced the fork on the front.
“This came about when a horse panicked and flipped over backwards.”
Clint has an extensive inventory of tools, which includes punches of all sizes. Tools to work leather along the edges and slot punches used for making belt buckle holes and used in lots of ways on the saddles. He has sewing machines in four sizes, saddle hammers, and other tools. He also keeps supplies of leather, foam, and things required for a speedy conclusion to the work.
“In order to make saddles, I have to be able to do metal crafting, woodworking, leather-working and sewing. It takes skills in all to do a complete job,” Clint said
“People bring in their saddles to get them oiled and cleaned even if they are no longer able to have horses. It’s a nostalgic thing and a way of life people hate to lose.”
Most of Clint’s business comes from repairs. He said winter is his busiest time, but he has major repairs all year long. Summer time is slow because, barring accidents, people are out riding and using those saddles. The majority of his customers come from saddle clubs, especially Endurance Circuit riders.
“They have their own special saddles they use during the riding year, but then want them gone over and make sure they are OK and safe for the next events,” Clint explained.
He even has a few people send in their new saddles and have him go over them and make saddle pads for them.
Clint makes leather fencing plier pouches which hang on the saddle.
“That way when you are out riding the fence line, you have your equipment handy,” he said.
He also makes leather belts, check book covers, wallets, and many other smaller items besides saddles. He keeps pictures of saddles he has made. Once, a person brought in four pictures and wanted parts of them made into one saddle. Clint made it.
“If you show me what you want, I can make it,” Clint said.