A Legacy Company Helps Keep Horsemanship Alive
Longtime Denverites might remember when lower downtown was once home to the Western wear and tack industry, a remnant of Colorado’s earlier agricultural and livestock-based economy. The venerable kings of the neighborhood included Miller Stockman (a retail mercantile for all things Western), Karman Western Wear, Rockmount Ranch Wear, and above all, Colorado Saddlery Co., the latter located at 15th and Wazee in a red brick building that housed both showroom and production facilities.
In business since 1945, the company and its founder, Pershing Van Scoyk, might never have envisioned the fast-growing megalopolis we call home, or the generations of horse owners, now far outside the city’s limits, who still want the company’s saddles on their horse’s backs. Time has passed, but Colorado Saddlery has never changed its mission, even in face of the changing trends. The company may have vacated lower downtown to ambitious developers, but never stopped producing the kind of equipment the West was built on-- quality leather gear, made to last for the long ride.
Few urbanites realize how deeply rooted the equestrian tradition is in Colorado; not just for recreational riding, but also for outfitters and trail riding, dude ranching, and of course, cattle ranching, to include those full and part-time cowboys who work today’s herds from the pasture to the feedlot. For each of them, the most important piece of equipment they own is a good saddle and Colorado Saddlery is among the sources with the the equipment they need.
Matt Wassam, current CEO and company co-owner since April 2017, said that for the last seven decades the wholesale manufacturer and distributor has remained true to the founder’s original vision: “To build the highest quality saddles at affordable prices for the working cowboy.
“With care, any one of our saddles can easily last a human lifetime, or those of successive horses. Now in our first retail location open to the public, we not only sell our handmade, bench-built product, we also restore and recondition used saddles (ours and anyone else’s) and have added a full complement of leather trappings, bridles, miscellaneous tack and brushes, quality, wool saddle blankets, and more.”
Still a family business in many ways, (grandson Brian Van Scoyk occupies the corner office), Colorado Saddlery welcomes customers with a warm western handshake. Wassam, a sixth generation Coloradoan, is a real cowboy himself as well as a businessman. Up until this past spring, he and his wife worked cattle in Larkspur.
Relatively new to the company, he’s definitely not new to horses and their needs, also being a proud member of Colorado’s prestigious Round Up Riders of the Rockies, an elite group of dedicated horseman who trail ride together every summer. In addition to redefining the company for today’s consumer, Wassam believes in being an equity employer with an emphasis on service.
Continuity is clearly the company’s mantra. Employee Bill Robinson, a dedicated staff member for more than 32 years, remembers customers by face and name. He’s also one of the companies’ professional saddle fitters. And therein lies a challenge; saddles today come in specific sizes, not just small, medium or large. Various saddle tree types and templates help make the precise determination.
“The confirmation of the horse in this country has changed radically,” Wassam says. “In the early frontier days, typically narrow-withered, long-necked horses pushed cows across the Western states. Today’s stockier, short-backed, more muscular Quarter Horses require a completely different adaptation. Regardless of their confirmation, we’re still making saddles using rawhide-wrapped trees, hand-tooled leather, and hand-carved seats with craftsmanship based on classic traditions, but we’re also pursuing the preference for lighter weight products, incorporating composite materials and Kevlar when necessary.”
One of the company’s strongest products is the pack saddle, a cleverly engineered contraption made of wood and leather that straddles a horse, mule or burro’s back and carries supplies in large rectangular panniers along each side, plus bedrolls or other equipment on top. The regular working saddle collection is made from famed Herman Oak leathers from St. Louis, Missouri. In all, the company offers 3,500 items, from stirrup leathers to bridle reins, from cinches to halters. Vintage and modern machinery is used to sew, cut and assemble the parts that make the perfect piece of equipment.
Located at the foot of the Front Range in Golden, the company’s 12,000 square-foot facility welcomes customers Monday thru Friday, and is open Saturdays in the summer.
With saddle prices ranging from $1,100 to $10,000, the company is poised to make its legendary gear for the next 75 years, with a range of goods to suit both the working cowboy and the saddle collector. After all, back in the day, film legend and Western actor John Wayne was one of their best customers.
The Colorado Saddlery Co.
765 Moss St., Golden, CO 80401
Corinne Brown, a freelance journalist and award-winning novelist, has been a horse owner most of her life. She first learned about this saddlery when she was growing up in Denver in the 1950s.
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