I don’t know about you, but I definitely didn’t get enough of giving away my favorite things last week! I had 7 days worth of giveaways planned, and because I know so many of you were at Circle G, Buckhorn or Waynesburg this weekend, I decided our best bet would be to wait until today and tomorrow to do the last two giveaways. So today, you’ll meet my friend Joey Wenger, known to barrel racers as the sponsor of the JR Wenger Congress Barrel Racing Sweepstakes, and known by my Western pleasure friends as one of the elite saddle makers in the industry.
But JR Wenger Custom Tack is much more than just top-of-the-line custom pleasure saddles. The company also produces high-end barrel racing and roping saddles, and once you see them, you’ll have a hard time getting these gorgeous pieces of leatherwork out of your head! Joey knows how to a great saddle should fit, too, as his years of experience in both the pleasure and rodeo industries have taught him precision in saddle fitting.
On a business trip to the Congress last year, I picked up a work headstall and reins from JR Wenger’s Custom Tack. I just needed another headstall to throw bits on and off quickly, and I was sick of my boyfriend always hogging my split reins on his young horse. Since then, I’ve put those reins and headstall to the test on horses young and old. I’ve left them out in the elements (my bad :/) and ridden with them all winter long. The reins have been some of the best to break in I’ve ever had.
Approaching Joey to be a part of my Favorite Things week was a no-brainer after my great experiences with his work tack. So, today you’ll get to meet this young businessman and you’ll get the chance to win a work headstall and reins from his harness-leather work tack collection.
When did you get started in the tack business?
My family has been in the tack business my entire life, but I started my manufacturing company in 1998.
Who taught you how to do leather work?
When and why did you begin sponsoring the Congress Barrel Racing Sweepstakes?
We started the Wenger Sweepstakes about 5 years ago I believe. Our main focus is our show saddles and training saddles, but the barrel racing and roping are real passions of mine. The Congress gave us the chance to be the sponsor and we took it.
You’re making a name for yourself in the Western show saddle industry, but you grew up with rodeo. How does your working knowledge of rodeo affect the quality of the tack you produce?
Well I actually started in the pleasure industry first. Not many people know it but I was first a Congress champion in the pleasure long before I won it in the roping. However I did jump to the rodeoing after I got out of the youth. What I learned is that the fits of the saddles on the rodeo horses must be very precise. The pleasure industry is kind of far behind the ropers and barrel racers when it comes to the importance of saddle fitting. Most of what we do to make our saddles fit all comes from what I learned from some of the best saddle makers in the world like Billy Don Hogg and Bruce Chaney.
What makes your tack reliable?
We use all great materials of course but what I think makes it reliable is all the small important things that come from the knowledge of using the products ourselves. Most owners of the companies don’t have the know-how to make the tack themselves and most of the builders don’t ever ride or get to use the products. The fact that I can do it all helps me to constantly work on evolving our products.
What’s your favorite tack item to make?
I can’t say that I have a favorite item to make. I really enjoy working on saddles mostly. Headstalls and reins are very repetitive.
When someone approaches you about building them a saddle, what do you do to make sure that saddle is perfect for the horse and the rider?
The main thing I try to do is to communicate very well with them first to find out what they are needing out of the saddle. I can tell a lot just by having a normal conversation with the customer. From there we can utilize pictures and if we need to we can make molds of the horses backs to make sure we have the fit just rite.
Of all of the saddles you’ve made, which stands out as your favorite?
I can’t say that I have a favorite saddle because there is always something about every saddle that sets it apart from the rest and there is always something about each saddle that I wish I could change or do better.
You’ve worked all over the country selling tack. What is unique about the horse industry in Pennsylvania?
What are your goals for your company’s growth?
My future goals for the business would be to just continue to try to build the rodeo and the show end of what we do. At some point I would like to sell out our show end of the business and just continue to focus on the rodeo side of things. For the last couple of years we have been extremely focused on the show side and I am now trying to work harder on the rodeo side of things again. It is extremely hard to work at these two completely different markets, but I am not aware of any other custom saddle shop that makes top end custom show, roping or barrel racing saddles. Not only do I want to be diversified but I want to build the some of best saddles for each discipline.
Now, what you’ve all been waiting for! You can win a headstall and reins from JR Wenger by answering this question below in the comments section beneath this post. You might have to look back in earlier editions of The Barrel Racing Blog to find the answer. Remember, subscribers who answer the question correctly are entered twice to win! You’ll have until midnight EST tonight to comment, and we’ll announce the winner here at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning! We’ll use random.org to draw the winner.
Question: What time did Teddy Terrific run to win the 2009 Congress Senior Horse Pole Bending? (Check out the video, get chills up your spine, then answer below!)