Handmade in O.C.: Gary’s Custom Saddlery

Fullerton’s Gary Mathis builds his saddles using custom trees (frames), then works the Grade-A hides with hand tools, creates the silver conchos, and cuts and stitches the horn covering from a single piece of leather.

Q: Who buys a $12,000 saddle?
A: Somebody who rides for hours at a time, not somebody who spends a few minutes in an arena. If you don’t build a saddle right, it’ll be unbalanced, lay crooked, cause sores and back problems. A 20-minute ride in a bad saddle won’t hurt. But a five- or six-hour ride …

Q: Still, that’s expensive.
A: The best analogy is, “Do you want to drive a VW, or a Rolls Royce?” They’re both cars. Each of my saddles takes three to four months to build right. I don’t claim to be the best, but I am one of the better ones, because I’m not one to cut corners.

Q: So is the custom saddle business here booming?
A: The horse industry has moved out of Orange County to Murrieta, Fallbrook, south, east. There’s not a lot of local people looking for my caliber of saddle. But it’s OK. The Internet came along, and now people find me.


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