Cowboy Finds Professional Niche Repairing Saddles And Boots

For the Love of Horses

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“Flint Hills Leather is your place for custom leather work and repair done the cowboy way.”

That’s how Mike Hazelbaker promotes his business. Success as a “real cowboy” is living proof the leather worker knows firsthand what he’s doing.

With an Alma address, the Flint Hills Leather shop is near McFarland west of Topeka. “We’re in the beautiful Flint Hills where cowboying and ranching are a way of life,” Hazelbaker verified.

“We provide a variety of custom leather work including saddle and boot repair,” continued Hazelbaker in business promotion.

“Our wide range of work features high quality leather chaps and chinks,” he explained.

Growing up at Fort Scott, Hazelbaker was a cowboy from get-go. “I’ve been riding horses ever since I could get on,” he remembered. “We rode in all of the local horse playdays actually the Mideast Kansas Western Horseman’s Association circuit shows.”

A natural transition for a true cowboy, Hazelbaker soon expanded from patterned horse racing to rodeo competition.

“My first rodeo was at Colony, where Floyd Rumford was the stock contractor,” he said. “I rode rough stock, competed in local rodeos and on the professional circuit for a number of years. I was able to win some money, at least enough to keep traveling.”

Hazelbaker’s winning record extended in years beyond that of many bronc and bull riders. Proof is readily verified with his titles collected at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association annual Linn County Fair Rodeo in Mound City.

“I won the bull riding at Mound City in 1981, then won the bareback bronc riding in 1982, and again in 1996,” Hazelbaker said.

Becoming interested in working with leather from his dad, Hazelbaker decided to start his own business after moving to Leonardville.

“I had been a mail carrier at Fort Scott, but changed occupations in 2008,” he said. “I bought the leather equipment when a shop closed at Abilene and started my own leather business in my basement.”

An acreage near McFarland in Wabaunsee County was purchased in 2013 where Hazelbaker and his wife Susan moved.

“It took a while to build my clientele,” Hazelbaker admitted. “But I’ve been in the leather business fulltime working out of this metal building since we moved here.”

While he does work for a lot of people in the immediate area, Hazelbaker serves customers from hundreds of miles away.

“People can drop off boots and equipment needing repairs at Salina, Topeka and Emporia,” he said. “Or they are welcome to mail us what needs fixed, and we’ll send it back when finished.”

Services like those offered by Hazelbaker are quite limited nowadays. “There just aren’t many businesses that work on saddles and equipment,” he said. “Nearly every town used to have places that did shoe and boot repair, but not anymore.”

A full line of leather equipment is in Hazelbaker’s shop. “I have a handful of sewing machines,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about keeping them in working order.”

Personal experiences working with horses and horse people gives Hazelbaker a knowledgeable edge on horse equipment repair. “I know how important good equipment is for working cowboys,” he said. “I always do my best repairing saddles, tack and boots and am fair with everybody.”

Although he has custom made cowboy boots, Hazelbaker explained that they are expensive for customers to buy. “Still, the boots will fit better, be more comfortable and last longer than other over-the-counter name brand boots,” he added.

All boots are high priced these days, and repairs cost more than they used to. “It’s still more economical to have boots fixed than to buy a new pair,” Hazelbaker said.

High demand has been found for custom-made chaps and chinks. “Certain cowboys have definite ideas of how they want theirs made, and I work with them every way possible,” Hazelbaker insisted.

Although there might be demand for custom made saddles, Hazelbaker doesn’t build any saddles from scratch. “I have completely rebuilt lots of saddles, replacing horns and put in new saddle trees,” he said.

“When a saddle has a ‘guaranteed tree,’ manufacturers replace ones that break, but charge for labor and shipping,” Hazelbaker noted.

Saddles have also increased in value during recent years. “Just like boots, it’s usually more economical to get a saddle you like repaired than to buy a new one,” Hazelbaker commented.

To extend life of horse equipment, saddles, and boots, Hazelbaker said, “Keep them clean and oiled. Dirt and manure will ruin leather faster than anything.”

Although he doesn’t ride much, Hazelbaker has two horses in his front pasture. “Our grandchildren enjoy them when they come to visit,” he said.

Slowed down this month with hip replacement, Hazelbaker, 60, sees expanded need for his unique trade. “I enjoy working on leather goods and will keep right on doing it the rest of my life,” he concluded.

CUTLINES

At his Flint Hills Leather shop near Alma, Mike Hazelbaker repairs boots, saddles, and other tack while also custom making leather items.

Chaps are made to meet requests of customers at Flint Hills Leather.

Favorite old boots are almost new after Mike Hazelbaker works on them.

Old saddles become new or even better after they’ve been through Mike Hazelbaker’s Flint Hills Leather shop near Alma.

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