By Liisa Andreassen
Tod Slone, an icon in the western saddle making industry, had no idea that one day, saddle making would be his business. But here he is, 24 years after the founding of Slone Saddles (1996), where he and his wife, Lonna, currently employ more than 50 people, including their daughter, Kailey, and sons, Ace and Leske.
“Built to ride; fit to win” – that’s the tagline at Slone Saddles, a premier custom and trophy saddle provider that specializes in rodeo competition saddles, equine boots and saddle pads. Headquartered in Cuero, Texas, Slone designs saddles to meet the needs of the horse and the rider, and it all started when Tod was about to make the finals for the first time.
Tod’s rodeo roots go deep. He roped calves at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in 1987 and qualified for the WNFR seven times. He won the average in the tie-down roping in 1994. Some of his greatest career highlights include winning the $50,000 shoot out back to back in 1989 and 1990, and winning the California Rodeo (Salinas) and San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo (both early 1990s). He sent his full-time cowboy career out with a bang by winning the average at NFR 1994.
He spent his rodeo career on the PRCA circuit for more than 20 years before retiring to the saddle manufacturing business. He keeps his pulse on the heart of the rodeo industry now by competing in team ropings.
Saddling up for success
“I can assure you I didn’t set out to get into the saddle business,” Tod says. “My degree was in finance and I always thought I’d work in insurance or banking or something like that.”
But fate had something else in store.
“When I first started rodeoing, I had a horse that was wide and stout and couldn’t find a saddle to fit him. I went to work with several saddle and tree makers and we came up with different measurements and trees to come up with something that we thought would work for him. In the meantime, he had completely quit working with the saddle I had and I was about to make the finals for the first time.”
It took about a year for the first saddle to be built and when it was, it worked. After tweaking and experimenting with measurements and trees, the saddle was perfected – saddle pads made a huge difference too.
“That horse made me a believer in saddles fitting horses,” Tod says. “People would come by my house and practice when I was roping everyday and they would be having the same problem I was having. Back then saddles were built differently. I wanted my saddle to sit down in the front for leverage purposes and also wanted a smaller seat. People would take their saddles off and put my saddle on, and the horse seemed to get better and the rider liked it better.”
The rest is history. In the very first year they built 29 saddles; now Slone builds 29 to 35 per week.
“We operate our office and home base manufacturing facility with around 10 employees. All saddles and products go through the finishing process in our Cuero facility,” Lonna says.
Leather supplies come from an array of sources, depending on what line of saddle is being built.
“We consider our saddles made ‘in house’ because we have complete control of the manufacturing and design process,” she adds.
Their top selling saddle is the Diamond S All Around Roper. It’s a calf roping saddle with a team roping horn that allows multi-event athletes to compete in the same saddle for all of their events. The Original 100 percent Wool Felt Tod Slone Saddle Pad is their number one selling accessory.
“We believe it’s still the best quality on the market,” Lonna says.
And, while Slone has built saddles for too many world champions to mention, Lonna says that Garth Brooks is a Slone family favorite artist, and they admit to being especially proud of building a saddle for his daughter years ago.
Saddle certificate program – seated in joy
A particular source of pride for Tod is the Slone Saddles Certificate Program. Their certificate program goes the extra mile to ensure that an association’s dollars are going to be put to good use and be seen in the arena.
Saddle certificates allow contestants to design their saddle to ensure that each individual gets exactly what works for them and their horse. All saddles are required to have the association lettering and sponsors. Without spending any extra money, a saddle certificate allows champions to get the correct seat size and tree fit.
Tod’s favorite story about the business comes out of the certificate program. A high school rodeo athlete who had won more trophy saddles than she could ever ride, finally won a Diamond S Slone Saddles certificate. This was a significant win for her, enough to bring her to tears, because she had never been able to ride any of her earned trophy saddles before. They were never the right seat size and the fenders were always too long for her.
“Because of this win, we were able to design a saddle for her that fit her and her horse like a glove, without her family having to spend any additional money. It brought her and her family to tears and will always be a favorite story,” Tod says.
Riding into the future
Today, Tod works in customer service, manufacturing and as design guru; Lonna manages the financial details, back-end business and daily office operations.
“I never dreamed we’d get here,” Tod says. “When we first got started, I told my wife that this would be a supplemental income till we got something better going.”
That was 24 years ago.
Lonna admits that surviving the year of COVID-19 may be the greatest challenge this business has to face, but says, “We plan to keep on rocking and rolling in the trophy and custom saddle industry. We’re constantly improving and honing our saddle tree designs, innovating our design ideas and patterns. We plan to be a leader in the industry for years to come.”
Tod still ropes and rides three to five times per week and is excited to pass on the love of rodeo and the business to his grandchildren.
As the old saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” Tod says.
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