From ground seats to stamped leather and stitching, Clint Robinson, 49, of Erda knows his way around a saddle.
Nearly 20 years ago, he started what has become more than just a means to keep his own equipment in top shape; Robinson started a business he has a hard time keeping up with today.
Inside the Robinson home, the kitchen table is covered with leather as Clint hand-cuts pieces of leather for his latest project. His work room is just off the kitchen, where rolls and rolls of leather lay piled up, hundreds of pieces of cut leather hang, and even more pieces of hardware fill the shelves. In this small room Clint creates his leatherwork — pieces of art, really.
Clint grew up riding and roping and working the ranch. As a young man working for a local ranch, 7C, he started building his own chaps and repairing his saddle, all his work being done out of necessity.
Today his business, Good Times Saddlery, isn’t just about fancy pieces of leather work; Clint takes pride in the building and crafting of his saddles, making the saddle perform well for both the rider and horse.
Over the years Clint has perfected his hand-stitching, tooling and sewing, but what he enjoys most is working on the ground seats of the saddle.
Clint credits Nancy Hoggan Martiny as his instructor on ground seats and rigging plates. Martiny is a saddle maker out of Idaho, and a long-time family friend of the Robinsons.
After Clint had a working knowledge of leather work and saddlery, he wanted to fine-tune his skills with ground seats and turned to Martiny to help coach him along. Martiny worked with Clint one-on-one at her ranch in Hamer, Idaho.
“Clint already had a basic knowledge and had already done some work when he came and worked with me,” Martiny said.
From one leather worker to another, Martiny knows the time and effort it takes to build a custom saddle, but Martiny acknowledges Clint for more than just his leather work.
“He is the toughest man in the world. To get up everyday and do what he does; he is an amazing man,” Martiny said.
Clint does all his leather work seated in his wheelchair.
At 23, Clint was thrown off a saddle bronc and landed on his head, paralyzing him from the waist down. His mother, Bonny Robinson, said after his fall Clint was alert and knew that something was wrong. He told everyone not to touch him, which she believes helped him.
It’s been 26 years since the accident, and Clint said doing this leather work has kept him around horses and rodeo a little bit longer.
“I started fixing and making my own stuff. People found out I was doing it and started bringing stuff over. Most of my business is just by word of mouth,” Clint said.
Today, Clint mostly builds custom saddles as well as chaps, chinks, and belts. Although it’s not his favorite, Clint also does some repair work, but said there are some things he just won’t do.
Clint keeps busy with many different projects and said that if he gets tired of one thing, he can move on to something else depending on what type of mood he is in.
Clint said a custom-built saddle can take anywhere from 60-80 hours to build. Some days his hands have a hard time doing the work, making the total number of hours for one of his saddles even longer. Over his leather working career, Clint has made 135 saddles. Clint stamps the saddle number on the back of the saddle, along with the month and year it was built and the owner’s initials.
“That’s probably not too many — 135 saddles, but it’s still quite a few,” Clint says.
Clint starts with the tree, a frame for the saddle. The tree is a cut piece of pine covered in rawhide. Clint adds the strainer, which holds the shape of the ground seat and keeps the leather from caving in. The ground seat is covered in three layers of leather on top and a thick piece of fleece on the bottom, all glued and stitched together, making the custom saddle not only built specifically for the rider, but also the horse.
“That’s were you want to start anyway, is taking care of your horse, because if he’s sore, he’s not going to perform,” Clint said. “You get sore; you can get off your saddle and walk a little ways.”
When it comes to stitching on his machine, Clint makes it look all too easy.
His original sewing machine is a 1917 hand crank model. Clint said he does most of his work on the electric machine these days, along with the hand stitching that is required. He guides the leather with just his left hand and holds a crutch in his right hand to press the sewing machine foot pedal, rounding a perfect corner in the thick leather.
When asked about how methods of leather work have changed over the years, Clint said his work continually changes.
“It’s just like anything else. You are always finding something that works a little better. You talk to somebody and they give you a pointer and you try it,” he said.
According to Clint, you can tell a good tooler by checking their lines, both vertically and horizontally, to see if they are straight. Although he doesn’t personally like tooling he said he doesn’t mind basket stamping. Clint’s hands give him a hard time when it comes to cutting the leather, or doing floral work.
Despite the hard labor, he enjoys the satisfaction of seeing his work out there being used.
“You go to a roping and you can tell different people’s styles. I can tell my stuff when I see it,” he said.
Bonny said it is fun to watch Clint do his work even when it constantly covers her kitchen table. She doesn’t say a thing about the leather that has taken over her kitchen.
“We just figure that’s life. We are easy; it doesn’t bother us a bit,” she said.
Clint Robinson may not be riding horses today like he once was, but he ensures that the saddles he’s building for his customers are ones he’d be proud to use himself.
“I take a lot of time on my ground seats and get them right. That’s what makes you comfortable,” he said. “When my saddles go out the door, they are ready to ride.”