Like many of the great American success stories, Tom Ballard began his saddle making business with little more than his two hands, his skill with leather and a lot of tenacity. He traveled from one horse auction to another selling his unique, handmade saddles, bridles and saddle pads out of the back of his 1972 Chevrolet pick-up. He maintained his business by selling tack and equipment wholesale to stores across the country. Thirty years later Tom still has his pick-up truck, and he still does some wholesaling, but he now works out of Norco at one of his six retail stores.
“That truck was my home away from home,” says Tom. “I worked out of it for years and little by little I began saving up to open a store. My first store was a small, refurbished shop in Pedley that I just used to manufacture saddles. I wasn’t there long before I moved on to Norco; that was 11 years ago. The store in Norco was my first real retail store. Now I own four more stores in that complex—a tack store, a boot store, a saddle maker store and a store that produces specialized horse wear and saddle pads.”
Over the years each store has received some very unique requests. Recently Tom finished a saddle that was covered in over 3,000 rhinestones. But that was run of the mill, says Tom, who once made an all pink saddle. From time to time Ballard’s also designs and manufactures specialty saddles for camels and elephants. “It’s a small market,” jokes Tom. “But it is definitely a market.” He also manufactures deep sea diving equipment for the United States Army and Navy. Tom jokes that he makes everything but the tank.
Quality and durability have been the secret of Tom’s success. All his saddles are made from a wooden and rawhide tree that Tom designed himself. There are no plastic or fiberglass pieces in Tom’s saddle. Through travels Tom also saw that many working horses were being bred to be stouter through the chest and shoulders with shorter backs, so many conventional standard saddles pinched. He designed his tree to be wider than most, so a Tom Ballard pony saddle will fit an average sized Quarter Horse; making them also ideal for Draft horses, Mules and Walking Horses.
“Everyone is trying to come up with a new gimmick to suck people in,” explains Tom. “When these great ‘new’ saddles hit the market they are the hottest things around, but a few years later they begin falling apart and you can’t give them away. No one but me makes my saddles, so I guarantee all my saddles for life, not just five years. After all, there is no mistaking my saddles, my name is on every one.”
Many equestrians have seen Tom’s saddles and tack and not even realized it. One of his specialties is creating custom historical equipment. He has created custom tack for Medieval Times as well as accurate vaquero saddles for major motion pictures such as Zorro and Hidalgo. “The same equipment gets used over and over again for different movies. I just saw a poster for the new movie, Appaloosa, and when I looked closely there was one of my saddles!”
For more information on Ballard’s Saddle and Tack visit www.ballardsaddles.com or call 909-877-3753.