Saddles and Leather, LJ Saddlery is a dream come true for Willemsma
Scottsbluff, Neb. – Full-time custom saddlemaking is the career Logan Willemsma has always dreamed of, even when he was a kid.
“I grew up in my dad’s saddlemaking shop. Making saddles is something I’ve always been interested in,” states Willemsma, LJ Saddlery owner.
“There are pictures of me in the saddle shop when I was three years old, tacking leather scraps to a saddletree,” he recalls.
Willemsma’s father John started his career as a saddlemaker in 1977 after high school. He attended a saddlemaking school in Amarillo, Texas.
“My dad has been making saddles for over 40 years now,” states Willemsma. “He’s been a great motivator and inspiration for me.”
Originally from Guthrie, Okla., Willemsma didn’t start his own saddlemaking shop until about four years ago, in 2014.
“In high school, I got involved in rodeo and then went to college at Northwestern Oklahoma State University and competed in bareback bronc riding,” Willemsma explains.
He received a certificate in farm and ranch management in college and went on to rodeo in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association and International Professional Rodeo Association for 10 more years.
“I knew saddlemaking was something I wanted to come back to, so after I got hurt rodeoing, I went to work for my dad in his saddle shop,” states Willemsma.
In his shop, Willemsma makes custom saddles, tack, belts, wallets and other leatherwork – everything except boots. He also repairs saddles on the side.
Growing up, Willemsma made saddles with his dad but only started his own shop after working for his dad for a year and a half.
“I didn’t go to a saddlemaking school. My dad taught me everything I know,” states Willemsma. “He is my teacher and also my biggest fan and critic. He doesn’t sugar-coat anything but helped me find the good and bad in my work then pushed me to fix the mistakes.”
In 2014, Willemsma opened his own shop, and before coming to Nebraska, Willemsma and his wife Madalyn, a veterinarian in Scottsbluff, lived in Oklahoma and South Dakota.
“We settled in Scottsbluff in February 2016 because Madalyn got a job at the Pioneer Animal Clinic in town,” he mentions. “I work from home and take customers by appointment only.”
Love for leather
Willemsma says his favorite leatherwork is making saddles, and a plain saddle without tooling takes about 11 days to make.
“Every saddle is different. Something that worked on the last saddle won’t work for the next saddle,” Willemsma mentions. “There are always curveballs, and I want to show good craftsmanship.”
The saddles are made of 100 percent Hermann Oak Leather, which is a leather tanning company Willemsma buys from in St. Louis, Mo.
“I try to source all of my materials in the United States. The leather comes from Hermann Oak Leather in Missouri, the saddletree materials come from Utah, and I use 100 percent natural woolskins from the U.S.,” he adds.
Willemsma explains his custom-made saddles are not custom-fit because he tries to not make one saddle for one horse.
“A horse’s back changes over their whole life,” he states. “I want the saddle to be a good fit for a wide variety of horses.”
Willemsma’s custom-made saddles, when finished, come with everything except the front cinch strap.
Since moving to Nebraska, Willemsma has been working to spread the word about his business and says there have been a few challenges along the way.
“Here in western Nebraska, there’s a lot more farm country. Near Scottsbluff is mainly crops and farmers, which is a different customer base,” he notes. “Most farmers aren’t on horseback, so my customer base is limited.”
Being new to the area and trying to get his name out there is another challenge he faces.
Regardless, Willemsma says Scottsbluff is located near a lot of other people and areas to explore.
“A couple hours east of Scottsbluff are the Sandhills. Going up north, people in South Dakota are available, and going west, there are potential clients in Wyoming, too,” he says, “Basically, I’m only a couple hours from other potential customers, and they can get to me pretty quick also.”
Looking towards the future, Willemsma has a few goals in mind.
“Most importantly, I try to produce high-quality horse gear. If people order a saddle from me, they should want to order another saddle from me in a couple years,” he states.
Keeping the craftsmanship and quality of his work as the top priority is very important to Willemsma.
“I try to let my craftsmanship speak the loudest for my work,” he adds.
Another goal for Willemsma is to grow his business in the custom saddlemaking aspect.
“Making more custom saddles instead of supplementing my business with saddle repairs is something I am working towards,” he notes. “I know I need to be in business for longer to only make saddles, but that’s my goal.”
Current plans for the future include continuing to make more saddles and finding more customers, according to Willemsma.
“Ultimately, I want the business to be successful enough to support my family. Going into this business, I knew I wouldn’t get rich,” he mentions, adding good money can be made in the high-end market for high-quality, custom-made saddles.
“I have always admired the trade, craftsmanship and art of leathercraft and knew I would end up being a part of the trade eventually,” he states.
Visit Logan Willemsma LJ Saddlery on Facebook at facebook.com/LJSaddlery for more information.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.