By Nick Pernokas
Sometimes it takes a while to find out where you’re supposed to be. In the case of Scott McCulloch, he wasn’t that far away; it just took a few years to get there.
Scott grew up in Galt, California. Scott’s dad, Bill McCulloch, made saddles and sold animal health and pharmaceutical supplies. Both Bill and his wife, Terri, roped. Bill built mostly swell fork ranch ropers with a few slick forks as well. When Scott was ten, Bill went into saddle making full time. Scott grew up in the shop and always had a project going, from gun scabbards to rope cans.
“I can’t imagine the amount of leather he let me ruin,” says Scott.
Scott finished college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo with an ag business degree. He had rodeoed in college and competed in the timed events. Scott also had a PRCA card and had won, or placed, at many of the notable rodeos across the West. Rodeo is a tough lifestyle though and Scott returned home to recharge. To raise entry fee money, Scott rode a few colts and did some repair work for his dad.
“I never thought I’d go into saddle making as an occupation, even though I’d built a couple at my dad’s. It’s not an easy job and you only make money when your hands are moving. I needed to make some money after the College National Finals, and I went back to work for my dad. I just fell into it. I didn’t realize how much I loved it until then, and I kept after it.”
There had been several good saddle makers in the area. Scott found that pulling their old saddles apart to work on in Bill’s shop, gave him a lot of insight into different methods of construction.
“If you can get some good quality saddles to work on, it’s a good way to start out.”
Eventually, Scott started building saddles on his own and opened a shop in Moro Bay, California and he stayed out on the coast for about 15 years. Taxes and living expenses climbed as the area became more built up. Scott had a family by then and decided to make a change.
Two years ago Scott, his wife Kirsten and their two children moved to Meridian, Idaho. He’d spent a lot of time there when he was rodeoing and had numerous friends in the area.
“Idaho is really small business favorable,” says Scott. “California was getting crazy with all the regulations.”
Most of the things that Scott likes to do are close now as well. Besides roping, Scott likes to hunt and fly fish and the whole family likes to ski. There is also a good market for the saddles Scott builds.
“There is a community here that values custom handmade saddles.”
Southwestern Idaho has a strong ranching tradition and this gives Scott a pool of potential customers, in addition to the ones that he knows from the rodeo community. Seventy-five percent of the saddles he builds are some sort of ranch roper. Most of these are for horsemen who will use them every day for work, but still like to go somewhere to rope on the weekends.
Scott builds a saddle that has a Northwestern flair to it. He likes an in-skirt rigging with hardware in both the front and back – for durability and to keep things laying a little flatter. A majority of his saddles are hard seats with a few inlaid and overlaid seats. He uses a high-end saddle tree built by Bill Bean. Scott’s base price on saddles is $4800.
Scott does a lot of three-quarter and half tooled saddles that are carved with a broad range of patterns. His carving is beautiful, which may be why he doesn’t get many orders for geometric stamps. He highlights his work with antiquing because he thinks it creates a good first impression.
“It seems like most guys would rather have less carving than more geometric stamping.”
Scott’s dad started him on carving leather, but he’s developed his own style. He studied his dad’s copy of Sheridan Style Carving, and tried to imitate the tooling it depicted. He was impressed with Chester Hape’s work displayed within the book.
“I always really liked Chester Hape’s stuff and the long lines, turn backs and transitions that he had. That was the earliest thing I remember seeing that had a big impact on me.”
Scott feels that time management is an important factor of success, and that you need to be committed to whatever time you set aside each day for saddle work. He feels that he raised the level of his work when he quit riding colts for half a day and concentrated fully on the saddles. He has quit building other leather goods and most repair work, in an effort to focus on his saddles and get them out in a reasonable amount of time.
Scott thinks that saddle makers just starting out shouldn’t be afraid to ask more experienced craftsmen for help. He notes that there is a difference between that, and asking for tree specs though.
“As long as you’re specific and show interest, most of them will help you out.”
Scott also recommends checking out the variety of leatherwork on social media. There are a large number of creative artists who are posting inspiring work.
McCulloch Saddlery is now located in a 1200-square-foot shop in back of Scott’s house. Scott, now 36, has one person, Kelsey Cook, helping him with the saddles. The last few years Scott has just been team roping. A roping arena is under construction though, and when it’s done, he plans on getting back to calf and steer roping.
To find out more about McCulloch Saddlery, go to www.mccullochsaddlery.com or call 559-287-5569.
2155 South Black Cat Road
Meridian, Idaho 83642