Idaho Saddle Maker Inspires Next Generation
October 31, 2018
By: Olivia Weitz
Doug Kuntz is an Idaho saddle maker whose shop is located on the outskirts of Buhl. He’s packaging a saddle to be shipped out of state, though most of his clientele are Idaho cowboys who don’t mind waiting. Kuntz doesn’t get many visitors at his shop and he prefers it that way — he’s used to working solo. But he’s made an exception for 26-year-old Taylor Anderson, a ranch hand who is taking time off to learn how to build her own saddle.
“When I was 10, my parents got me my first horse because that’s just what I really wanted,” Anderson says. “I fell in love with horses because my uncle brought his team roping horse over and led me up and down the block and that was it. I was horse crazy after that.”
Anderson is in an apprenticeship offered by the Idaho Commission on the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Program. Kuntz is her teacher and he’s built many saddles—but this is the first time he’s taught somebody else from start to finish. And it hasn’t been easy.
“The verbalization of all this stuff, that’s part of the obstacle of it too,” Kuntz says. “Between trying to show someone how to do it—they have to see it and absorb it, as opposed to just be told it.”
Kuntz wears suede Merrell mocs and Wrangler jeans. A saddle maker in his late 50s, you can tell by this point he runs on instinct.
“You need to tighten all your stitches twice,” Kuntz says over Anderson’s shoulder. “You got them plenty tight.”
Anderson is sewing a decorative piece of leather onto the back part of the saddle seat.
“You can feel that back and forth through there,” Kuntz says. “Run it back and forth just a little bit so you can feel it. That’s one side, then you’ve got the other, now stick it in the middle.”
Kuntz says getting the right amount of hand pressure is about how you position yourself in relation to the saddle. It’s hard to push through multiple layers of leather. And, just when you think you have the perfect stitch:
“It turns and rolls.” Kuntz says. “Like everything else in a saddle, there’s basically no straight lines in a saddle. Everything is round or curved or something.”
For Anderson, it can be frustrating to be one of Kuntz’s first students.
“Sometimes I’ll ask him a question. ‘Well, what does this look like?’ And he’ll be like, ‘Well move, I have to feel it,’” Anderson says. “He can’t just tell me and look at it.”
Kuntz isn’t always able to explain how to do things. Anderson has adapted. When he’s doing something that she doesn’t know how to do yet, she’ll drop what she’s doing and go watch. He’s a bit stuck in his ways. He doesn’t really have a master plan for his student.
“That’s entirely up to her,” Kuntz says. “Truthfully. If she just puts it in the back drawer and never uses it.”
He continues to say it will help her own leatherwork—making belts and chaps. But here’s the thing: The word is getting out that she can now build a saddle.
“There’s already been people asking me, ‘Can you build me a saddle? Can I get on your list?’ and I’m like, woah,” Anderson says. “I’m still really confused at all this. There’s a lot that goes into it.
Anderson says it’ll be a while before she’s taking orders by mail like Kuntz. For now, she’s going to enjoy sitting in the one saddle she’s built for herself.
“I’m not a very boasty person, but it makes me kind of want to show it off,” Anderson says.
And for Anderson, this represents something deeper. In the coming years, you’ll likely see more custom-built saddles by Taylor Anderson.
“I would hope that they like the quality of it and think it’s a good product and that they know that I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it, and I think that should reflect who I am as a person,” Anderson says.
This piece was produced for the series Expressive Idaho in partnership with the Idaho Commission on the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Program and with funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts.