Matt Wassam is back in the saddle(ry) again
He’s back in the saddle again — or rather, the saddle shop where Matt Wassam and wife, Lesley, are fulfilling a longtime dream. On May 1, 2017, the couple joined Kim and Laurie Haarberg as co-owners of the Colorado Saddlery in Golden, Colo. A deep cluster of Wassam’s personal and family roots transplanted him into his new venture.
As a 15-year-old boy, Wassam reckoned he wanted a ranch saddle like the one his dad rode. To earn the $700 for the fancy leather beauty, he diligently worked at starting colts for John Nelson in Morrison, Colo. His time spent being bumped and bruised atop frisky, green horses was lessened by his parents’ agreement to match any funds the high-schooler earned.
The now 42-year-old former pipeline contracting employee still has that Colorado Saddlery saddle he’s owned, used and loved since 1990.
Throughout his college years of 1993 through 1998, Wassam stayed in his good saddle while cowboying at Lidner Ranch in Durango, Colo., and Bermuda Hill Farms in Orlando, Okla. Following graduation, he spent two years riding it in Dubois, Idaho, for Medicine Lodge Ranch.
There are absolutely no gaudy rhinestones to be found in Wassam’s cowboy lineage. Both his parents, Corky and Carol Wassam, descend from Colorado homesteaders in Longmont and Tructon, Colo., (east of Calhan). Paternal great-great-grandfather, John Hugo Anderson, farmed and ranched in Longmont.
He registered his brand in Boulder County in 1880, before the Brand Commission was even established.
Like his abiding Western values, Wassam has never needed to replace his saddle.
“It fits a horse well and has held up to a lot of abuse,” he said.
Its durability lies in the craftsmanship of four young saddlemakers who’d learned leather-working skills at the world-famous HH Heiser Saddle Company. Their teachers were men who’d rode the open range and moved cattle herds north into Colorado. In 1945, and after Heiser closed up shop, the budding apprentices founded Colorado Saddlery to continue the former brand’s heritage, quality and price.
Beginning as a downtown Denver store, it was soon drawing customers from every part of the region. Colorado Saddlery has been a shopping destination for horse owners, cattle ranchers and other Western aficionados for more than 70 years.
Wassam recalled that Ivo Shults, grandfather of friend Todd Shults, was among all those countless cowboys who, for decades, bought every piece of their tack there. One day in 1948, Ivo mounted up to drive a herd from Meeker to Rifle, Colo. He loaded his steers onto a Denver-bound cattle train and rode right along with them to the Mile-High City. After studying an enticing, eye-popping inventory, Shults proudly picked out his new saddle and carried it with him on the return train to Rifle. The following morning he rode another train for two more days back to Meeker. Yes, Colorado Saddlery certainly was a destination then and, for Wassam, the company has always been in his blood as much as is the cowboy way of life. It was only a matter of time until he chose it as his corporate destination.
STORE AND ONLINE
Colorado Saddlery maintains not only a massive brick and mortar outlet for 21st century customers, but also offers a worldwide online presence (www.coloradosaddlery.com), plus overseas wholesale buyers and stores for its fine saddles and other equipment made in Colorado. This versatility allows horse owners in Germany, Sweden, Russia, Italy and elsewhere to easily obtain the same top-quality merchandise that American cowboys have long depended upon. Wassam reported that one of those faithful U.S. customers was actor John Wayne, who rode Colorado Saddlery saddles in many of his movies, including “True Grit.”
The brand’s Colorado Outlet Store in Golden offers more than 2,500 items to the general public. Saddles are displayed on modern racks, while bits, spurs, pack equipment, lariats, cinches and more line ubiquitous, vintage wooden bins that once graced the original Denver store.
Wassam noted that while heritage is a huge part of his business model, technology is carrying it into and beyond our current era to assure patrons the best of both worlds. For example, Colorado Saddlery has partnered with McCall Saddles of Vernal, Utah, to produce a new line called Colorado-McCall Saddles. Kevlar reinforcement makes them wonderfully lightweight yet strong.
“We have also updated our Colorado Mountain saddles (the ultimate for trail riding) and pack gear,” Wassam said.
He advised that the bounty of saddles to choose from in the outlet store (now also open Saturdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) assures most people will immediately find what they‘re looking for. That wide variety of inventory includes mountain, pack, cowboy, barrel racing, kids’, pony, natural ride, McCall, and lightweight trail saddles.
“Colorado Saddlery, at 13,000 square feet, is the largest tack store in the Mountain West,” Wassam said.
People desiring a custom saddle need only provide specs or bring their horse to the store for measurements. Turn around time is usually 4-8 weeks on custom orders.
Upbeat and excited about his new association with Colorado Saddlery, Wassam said, “Being in business with amazing people like Kim and Laurie Haarberg is a dream for Lesley and I. The employees of Colorado Saddlery are first class. Some have been here for over 30 years and are true professionals. Colorado Saddlery is built on a foundation of integrity. We have a 74-year-old ‘Handshake Guarantee’ that is still going strong. It means we do business the old-fashioned way. My goal is to continue Colorado Saddlery’s traditions while modernizing the designs and fashions in horse tack, saddles and equipment.”
When Wassam isn’t at the saddlery he’s in the saddle, usually competing at team roping events.
Nephews Zach, 11, and Hayden, 9, take turns riding their uncle‘s original old saddle, which he still treasures. He and Lesley have three Quarter Horses and raise cattle, as well as a daughter, Addie, age 4, and 2-year-old son Grady. ❖
— Metzger is a feelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.