Success stories: McCoy family’s stirrups prevent wrecks
Laurel, Mont. – Knowing full well that the risk of getting hung up in a stirrup and dragged by a horse is high when working on a ranch, Montana’s Mike McCoy decided to do something to lessen that risk when his kids were old enough to start riding.
“My dad has been in the cattle business his whole life, and he’s been dragged himself, and he saw a guy killed in Wyoming,” says Jake McCoy, Mike’s son. “When we kids started riding, he was pretty sure one of us would get dragged, so he was always helping us with our feet and none of us rode with stirrups until we were pretty old.”
It was after Mike heard about a kid who was killed at a branding that he sat down with a man in Billings, Mont. to partner on the original breakaway stirrup, and that’s when he founded Saddle Technologies Incorporated. After the design and mechanics were worked out, Mike also took input from cowboy friends and engineers to fine-tune the stirrups.
“Today the principle of the mechanics is the same, but they have been engineered and fine-tuned over the years,” says Jake. “Today it works a lot better, and will last a whole lot longer, but the firing pin function is the same, at 45 degrees forward and 72 degrees back.”
“The most difficult part of making the stirrup is the design,” he adds. “It’s a bi-directional firing pin. Most firing pins will fire when the spring coils going into its natural position, but since we have a forward and backward release the spring also has to fire when it’s uncoiling, so everything really has to be right with our parts.”
Building a business
To finish the stirrups, Jake says he does the rawhide, while Rotie Twitchell from Park City, Utah takes care of the stitching.
Pricing on the stirrups ranges from $320 to $600, depending on how fancy the customer wants them.
“We do some custom tooling and silverwork, but typically with custom saddles we prefer to sell a bare pair of stirrups so the saddle maker can match them to the saddle,” says Jake.
Customers come from all 50 states and 14 countries, including quite a few in Canada.
Of the market for the breakaway stirrups, Jake says that on their best year they sold between 500 and 600 pairs. The McCoys advertise through their website, as well as in magazine and occasional television ads and a few shows.
“We’re about as much of a family company as it gets,” says Jake. “It’s my folks and I, and Rotie who does the leather covering.”
“Normal use varies from customer to customer, but we sure build these to last,” he comments. “We put a five-year warranty on them, and judging from saddle wear, they last about 70 percent the life of a saddle. Some guys wear them out, but they wear out saddles and horses, too. For an average pleasure rider these days, they shouldn’t have any trouble getting a lifetime out of them.”
In addition to the stirrup business, the McCoys also raise purebred Charolais cattle.
“We bounce back and forth between the ranch and the business end of the stirrups,” says Jake.
Jake says there are many stories about how the stirrups have prevented wrecks.
“The one I’m most familiar with saved my own neck,” he says. “I was riding a colt and he spooked at a log. I brought him back around to face the log, and he dropped his head like he was coming to his senses, but before I knew it he was back around and in the air, and I was out before I knew he was bucking. I was buried in the stirrups and managed to kick them on the way down, and the stirrups and I stayed on the ground.”
He also mentions a Canadian customer whose son was pole bending when the horse went down and the stirrups released.
“All in all, we’ve had 247 customers call back to tell us that the stirrups worked and saved them from a wreck,” says Jake.
For more information visit breakawaystirrups.com. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.