Equestrians who value well-built, American-made, custom products can find them at Double H Ranch Saddle Shop east of LaPorte.
Since the 1970s, founding craftsman Mark Howes has been creating masterpiece saddles that grace the backs of horses around the world. In addition to tack, many other beautiful items are also available.
Unlike some professions, Howes’ skills were born of practicality and passion.
“As a kid, I worked on a guest ranch,” recalled Howes. “There were always busted saddles and I figured out how to fix them. I even tried to build one.”
In the mid-1970s, Howes’ career future set a true course when he met a real saddle maker, Terry Bath of LaPorte. He worked with Bath to build a saddle and gathered invaluable tips as he learned. But his budding craft would take a part-time backseat to other pursuits for a while.
Howes, a Colorado native, was raised in Golden and Grand Lake. He moved to Fort Collins in the late 1960s to attend Colorado State University. He’d met fellow-CSU student Linda while in high school and competing at the Little Britches Rodeo. In 1974, they married. They moved around quite a bit as Howes cowboyed and managed ranches. In 1976, he began running the American Ranch in Kaycee, Wyo., owned by his in-laws. He purchased land in Kaycee and went on his own in 1982.
In Kaycee, Howes built quite a few saddles that he sold from his own shop. Good thing, too, because a bad drought had his back firmly pinned up against a barn wall. Howes had 350 cows about to calve and enough resources to feed them for only 14 days. The saddle shop’s profits sustained the family.
That crisis initiated the decision to return in 1986 to a ranch he’d purchased in LaPorte a decade before.
In Wyoming, Howes’ leather work increasingly became the primary source of income for his family. The northern Front Range area, more populated than rural Wyoming, was home to larger numbers of working riders able to purchase custom saddlery. Nature’s weather tantrums wouldn’t directly affect profit margins. Linda could coach and teach ice skating — her avocation besides riding — at Edora Park Ice Center. And, the children’s 1½-hour-long Wyoming school bus ride would be dramatically shortened here. Once back, the family was home to stay.
Over the years, Howes’ Double H Ranch Saddle Shop on North Taft Hill Road has expanded its product lines, trademarks, marketing methods and reach. If an item is riding-related and can be worn, carried or used by equine or human, Double H probably has it.
Among its sundry custom-made leather items are saddles: Western, trail, Australian stock, Roman cavalry, and Renaissance jousting. For riders (and landlubbers, too) are chaps, bits, spurs, gun and cell phone holsters, scabbards, wallets, gear bags and canvas rope bags. Under his clothing brand, LaPorte Clothing, Howes fabric line sports Scottish wool vests, prairie and riding skirts, canvas or sailcloth LaPorte Pants. Also available through Double H are high-end antique reproduction spurs and bits manufactured in Germany by Andy Rumbaugh.
Besides direct retail, Howes markets by mail order, short-order production work for other retailers and online at his website dhrss.com.
Howes uses several commercial leather machines, stamping equipment and antique hand tools. Besides hides, he begins his saddles with high-density polyurethane and carbon fiber manmade trees; both are lightweight and high strength. The Poly Tough Tree was developed by the LaPorte Saddle Tree Company, owned by Howes’ son Shawn, who continues to build trees for Double H.
In 2000, Bob Wattus of New South Wales, Australia contacted Howes about possible franchise opportunities. A deal was quickly struck. The cable rigging and hybrid versions of the Poly Tough and carbon fiber trees were shipped down under to meet the needs of Aussie riders in their unique weather conditions. Kent Saddlery in Queensland continues to build traditional Aussie stock and American Western saddles on Howes’ sturdy trees.
As if he doesn’t have enough HH irons in the fire, Howes conducts saddle making and roping clinics. He’s also a long-time painter and sculptor who markets his works in Denver galleries.
Talents genetically spilling over, Howes’s son Cody of Eaton is also a sculptor. Another son, Heath, owns and operates Chicago Stockyards Saddle Tree Company, based in Chicago but operating in LaPorte. Heath also works at the Double H shop.
Seeking further outlets for his diverse abilities, Mark Howes rides, ropes and competes. In 2008, he and several partners founded the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stock Horse Association (rmrrsha.com). The group promotes traditional cattle handling techniques and holds ranch roping and stock horse competitions throughout Colorado.
For additional information on Howes’ custom saddlery and clothing, clinics or art, visit www.dhrss.com or call 970-482-6229.