From Rodeo Cowboy to Custom Saddle Maker

FRESNO, Calif. /*Al Gould*/ told us, "When I was in the 3rd grade my mother give me some beginner tools." The young boy would work leather and dream of riding in Rodeos.

Today he's a master with his swivel knife, carving images that come from nature, bill board's even tombstones. They grace the covers of custom binders or a handmade custom saddle. Each carrying his intricate, free flowing patterns, "You see the intricate work here, that's what the swivel knife is for."

His talent doesn't come cheap. You'll pay between 3 to 15 thousand dollars for one his saddles. The one her proudly showed us headed to an exhibition at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming.

Gould roped his share of steers and battled Broncos on the rodeo circuit in his earlier days but life brought him home to Clovis where his part-time saddle making became full time. His goal is always to craft a saddle that first fully functional and second is perfectly suited to the person who will ride it. He never duplicates a saddle. They all function the same but each is one is unique, "Each saddle is custom, each saddle is built for a particular person."

Eleven years ago he was asked to make identical saddles with no art work. They will be, he was told, a uniform for a new kind of cop.

Reserve Captain Terry Beaver is the trainer of the Fresno Police Department Mounted Patrol, "What we wanted was a top quality saddle that was good for the horse and the rider and would have longevity."

And they had to be identical. Gould accepted the deal and delivered on the challenge, "I had to make them appear that they're the same and they do." But each saddle is a different size to ensure it will fit as well as the officer's uniform. They were a hit with the cops and a decade later they still shine in at the horse barn or on duty.

And lovingly crafted with the same skills and commitment Gould uses every time he picks up a piece of leather. Just a cowboy who continues to marry function and beauty on saddles found in western museums and rodeo arenas across America.

Al Gould puts it this way, "It's no different than a person who sculpts or paints. The only difference is mine's on leather."

It's likely you'll find at least one lucky cowgirl or cowboy on one of Al Gould's saddles during the 96th edition of the Clovis rodeo. You will surely find plenty who don't but wish they did!

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