Saddlery to Stardom

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The small Colorado saddle shop that John Wayne brought to Hollywood and beyond.

Written by JocLene Davey

Decades after his death, and still a prominent presence, iconic Western hero John Wayne continues to accrue new fans and followers. Given that the onset of his career traces to the 1920s, Wayne is likely the longest-standing influencer of Western and cowboy culture in history. Take his long association with the company he selected to design and develop his famous saddles beginning with Duke’s classic film “True Grit”—Colorado Saddlery, which was established in 1945 by then owner Pershing Van Scoyk and began making handmade saddles in the historic downtown district of Denver, Colorado.

Colorado Saddlery co-owners Kim and Laurie Haarberg, and Lesley and Matt Wassam.

Colorado Saddlery co-owners Kim and Laurie Haarberg, and Lesley and Matt Wassam.

The company’s current co-owners—Matt and Lesley Wassam, and Laurie and Kim Haarberg—continue to nurture and grow the enterprise, which naturally still produce replicas of Duke’s original saddle styles. During the making of the film “True Grit,” Wayne had the opportunity to ride his stuntman’s horse and saddle. He loved the look and ride of the saddle so much, Duke halted production of the film until he could visit Colorado Saddlery for himself. “Wayne came to us seeking a saddle to be made for his movie, where he met with Pershing Van Scoyk,” explains Matt Wassam. “He wanted an authentic cowboy saddle, which is what our brand is known for; high quality, authentic cowboy aesthetics, and functionality.” Wayne was a big man and “required a larger than average 18-inch seat, 2 inches bigger than the norm,” Wassam continues. “Wayne also liked the floral tooling crafted onto the model he chose, but most of all, he wanted his saddle to have the look and ride of a real cowboy.” Duke’s famous “True Grit” saddle continues to inspire fans’ purchases to this day.


“Wayne also liked the floral tooling crafted onto the model he chose, but most of all, he wanted his saddle to have the look and ride of a real cowboy.”

— Matt Wassam, Colorado Saddlery

John Wayne in Colorado during the filming of True Grit. Photo JWE

John Wayne in Colorado during the filming of True Grit. Photo JWE

John Wayne as Marshal Rooster in 1969’s American western film True Grit. Photo JWE

John Wayne as Marshal Rooster in 1969’s American western film True Grit. Photo JWE

Throughout its history, Colorado Saddlery has remained true to the company’s vision: “cowboys making saddles for cowboys.” Its owners live this way too—personally, in business, and in the rodeo arena. “Today, we are modernizing our brand with lighter-weight materials, and through the use of state-of-the-art technology for craftsmanship,” shares Wassam. Steadfast in creating comfort for both horse and rider inspired the company’s decision to create the first-ever saddles specifically for females, making them super-lightweight and tailored to fit.

That its product is made in America, in a 45,000-square-foot facility in Denver is “one of the things we are most proud of,” says Wassam. He also notes that Wayne is not only an inspiration, but an integral influence on the expansion of the brand too. During his day, Wayne’s larger-than-life persona spring-boarded Colorado Saddlery from a small cowboy saddle shop to one of the most well-known Western brands in Hollywood and beyond. His spirit, it seems, is forever in the saddle.

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Photographs courtesy of Colorado Saddlery (except where noted)