Profile: Dan Mayer

By Mike Thomas

For several years I hauled many loads of horses over Monida Pass in Southwest Montana past the sleepy old RR town of Lima, Montana. Often these trips were in the dead of winter and the snow was so deep I would often remark "The snow is so deep the people who live here must have daylight piped in to them at certain times!”

Little did I know I would meet a great young saddlemaker with exceptional skills that lives there with his treasured family of wife Angie and five children. His house is a stone's throw from the saddle shop. Dan and Angie’s children are: Alena16, Eva 14, Dee 12, Chrissy 9, and Kara 5 1/2 or 6. The time I was there, May, 2006, the saddle shop doubled as a bicycle repair shop as well.

My Mayer Saddle

Just a few years ago I decided my Dale Harwood Saddle needed to be used for Sundays and Holy Days only, and I talked to Buck Brannaman about a new Mayer Saddle I found around October, 2004. His words were: “If it is still there, grab it! Dan learned to make trees from Dale Harwood!” That I did, the same day, and have loved my Mayer Saddle ever since. I also decided that I had to meet Dan and get more appreciation of his saddlemaking skills. I have since gotten two good friends of mine to purchase a Dan Mayer Saddle and they love their saddles too.

Dan’s Early Years

Dan was born in 1965 and raised on a ranch near Lima, Montana. While going to school, his mother encouraged his leatherwork at 11 years of age and his Dad pushed him to make saddles at age 18. Dan had a book on Basic Saddlemaking, tools and supplies. He got a lot of help from George Holt on saddles in Dillon, Montana. His next step was learning from John Michuad (pronounced "mi’ sho") in a Tree Making School in Billings, Montana. John Michaud had a hand problem from a cattle chute that cut his career down and then started giving schools on tree making.

Dan and Dale: Learning

Around 1985, Dan took a tree into Dale Harwood’s shop seeking help! Dale really changed Dan’s life. He didn’t ridicule his early work and did everything he could to help Dan master the tree making process. Dan has always been amazed that Dale helped him and didn’t turn him away, and showed a lot of patience! He could spend a week on making various parts of a saddle, once just on a corner flower on one saddle.

Dan and Dale’s trees are very similar in detail and materials, and Dan is very grateful to Dale for the investment of his time and effort. Many saddlemakers would not give this kind of effort and time. Many Dan Mayer Trees were taken to Dale for approval. Dan also credits Dale for teaching him how to efficiently organize the process where the saddle comes together smoothly.

Tree and Saddlemaking Today

I only wish I could have spent the last two years, instead of the two days I had, in Dan’s Saddle Shop in Lima, Montana (May, 2006). For many years I could not give anyone a reason to stay in Lima, Montana - especially in the winter - unless you were there with someone you really love and admire. Dan has both, a great family and a great saddle shop.

I have had a couple of dozen custom saddles made for me in the last 48 years and I think I know quality work and craftsmanship when I see it. Since I have had, and still have two Dale Harwood Saddles, my standards are very high! Dan is one of the best and probably one of the best kept secrets in quality saddlemaking.

Dan does not run a “saddle shop mill!” Each one has to be special. He arranges his work around his family, and in the summer when he is riding one or more of his own on Mountain Springs Ranch with the family and cattle, and has done a lot of outfitting on big game as well. During the summer it’s horses, cattle and family in the morning and evening, and saddles in the afternoon.

When you get a Dan Mayer Saddle, just remember one thing: from the quality of work in the construction of the tree to the last piece of tooling done freehand - to the last stage of finish work - will have the same dedication that his family gets! Each saddle, in some detail, has to be better than the last one made.

I can’t wait to get my next one!