Building a saddle right Custom saddle maker learns from years of experience
Mitchell, Neb. – Dan Flower still remembers the first saddle he ever made working for one of the premier saddle makers in the U.S. A customer had requested two roughout saddles for prizes at a trophy roping on the edge of Phoenix, Ariz. Flower thought the designs were ugly.
“I decided to pretty them up a bit by putting smooth leather on the horn, stirrups and billets. I fixed them up to look really pretty, but my boss, Mr. Porter, didn’t think so,” Flower recalls. “He told me when the customer puts in an order, I am supposed to make it exactly how they want it, no matter what my personal preferences are.”
“I ended up having to take the saddles I had just made apart and replace all the smooth leather with the roughout leather they requested. It was a hard lesson I have never forgotten,” he says.
Flower has come a long way since that first saddle.
He and his wife Jo own and operate Nile Valley Saddlery in downtown Mitchell, Neb. Flower builds custom-made saddles that he ships all over the U.S.
They sell a variety of custom-made leather goods like belts, guitar straps, saddle bags, gun holsters, rifle scabbards, custom knife sheaths and cell phone cases. They also carry a line of Twisted X shoes and boots.
Flower moved from Gering, Neb. to his current location in Mitchell, Neb. in 2016. The name Nile Valley Saddlery derived from history in the area.
“Before there was irrigation in this area, it looked like a desert,” he explains. “Some businessmen were standing on top of the Scotts Bluff National Monument, and one commented that it looked like the Nile Valley when it was greening up. That stuck in this area.”
“There are several businesses here with ‘Nile’ incorporated into their business name,” he says.
In fact, history is important to Flower, and wherever he has located a saddle making business, some aspect of history has been incorporated into what he names his business.
He had Slick Rock Saddlery, which referred to a rocky area on the north side of the Grand Canyon, and Remuda Ranch Saddlery, which referred to one of the larger ranches where he set up shop at one time.
As one of six boys in his family, Flower took a liking to saddles and horses as a young boy.
“We started riding at a young age, and then, we started showing horses,” he recalls.
At the horse shows, Flower would notice all the different types of saddles the equestrians used.
“It was at one of the shows that I actually saw a saddle made by Porter’s. Seeing it was what got me interested in making saddles,” he explains.
Flower did some leather crafting as a teenager through 4-H and school, but when he was in his 20s and approached Bill Porter for a job making saddles, he initially turned him down.
“Porter’s was the most renowned saddlery in the U.S.,” Flower says. “They wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have enough experience, but he did send me up to Ralston to work with Hamp Brand, who used to work for the saddlery.”
“He taught me how to build saddles and do strap work. It was where I got my start,” he notes.
After training, Flower became one of four saddlemakers at Porter Saddle Company, where he worked for the next five years.
“When I decided to go out on my own, he actually recommended some of his customers to me,” Flower recalls. “That really meant a lot.”
From there, Flower opened a saddle and tack shop in Fort Collins, Colo. that he operated for nearly eight years. There, he built rodeo equipment like bronc saddles, bareback riggings and ranch and show saddles.
He eventually developed his trademark saddle, which he calls the Ranch Hand.
These days, Flower custom makes saddles to order, using only the finest materials.
“I buy my leather from Hermann Oak Leather in St. Louis, Mo., which is a premier tannery in the U.S. All my trees are wood covered with rawhide, and they come from Texas,” he explains.
With 48 years of saddle making under his belt, Flower has learned more than a few tricks to the trade.
“By building saddles and showing horses, I gained a lot of insight into building saddles that fit. As long as the customer stays with the same type of horse, the saddle I make for them should fit multiple horses,” he says.
Despite the role of the horse changing in the modern ranching world, Flower says some people still see a real need for the custom saddle maker.
“Saddles need to be built properly using good leather. A saddle doesn’t have to be made from heavy leather for ranch work. It just needs to be durable,” he says.
For more information, visit nilevalleysaddlery.com or find Nile Valley Saddlery on Facebook. Dan Flowers can be reached at 308-765-1020.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.