January 29, 2019
By Marlee Moore
Above from left: Continental Saddlery owners Oliver and Heike Dusterhoff travel to major reining discipline shows throughout the year to see the company's hand-crafted saddles in action. Continental saddles are made by a team of expert craftsmen in Ider; after being cut and embellished with patterns, the saddle leather is finished by hand. Saddle prices start at $1,850.
Atop Sand Mountain in the town of Ider, made-in-the-USA craftsmanship reigns supreme at Continental Saddlery — the reining authority for equine enthusiasts.
The company specializes in reining discipline saddles for horsemen that include trainers and professionals, even celebrities like William Shatner, a repeat customer who thanked Continental for his custom saddle in a 2016 Wall Street Journal article.
“A lot of people say reining is like figure skating for horses,” said Oliver Dusterhoff, a German native who owns Continental Saddlery with wife Heike. “You have a pattern to perform on horseback, and you get judged on that.”
Despite its name, reins hang loose in reining, and riders control the horse with their legs using pressure commands.
“If the saddle restricts the horse’s movements, it won’t perform maneuvers to get a good score,” Heike said.
After stints in Indiana and Georgia, Continental Saddlery found its home in DeKalb County 20 years ago, around the time Heike and Oliver — a former certified public accountant and salesman, respectively — started managing the company. The couple assumed the business’s reins 10 years ago.
Continental Saddlery's approach is old-fashioned and time-tested. Its team of expert artisans crafts around 500 saddles a year and has worked in tandem nearly two decades.
Saddles are made for customers’ unique needs and tastes. Once the 100-percent-American leather is cut, craftsmen adorn the material with designs, usually florals or basket weave patterns. But Heike said some customers buck the trend and have requested bear claws, paws or copies of tattoos.
The leather is then finished; clips and trim are attached; and the pieces are hand-stitched around the tree, or foundation.
Oliver said it’s a tedious process requiring patience, heart and dedication from employees.
For reining riders like Josiane Gauthier, Continental saddles fit the bill to help connect the rider with its horse.
“It’s always been a challenge for me to find the right fit, and Continental did that for me,” said Gauthier, a National Reining Horse Association professional. “The flex tree helps mold to the horse’s back, and it’s been comfortable to execute what we need the horse to do.”
The Dusterhoffs travel the horse show circuit annually, observing how Continental Saddlery gear performs in Oklahoma, Texas and the Southeast.
“I like going to horse shows and hearing how our saddles made a difference for people,” Heike said. “The saddle is a tool, so if we make a tool that helps them do their job, that’s awesome.”
Visit SimplySouthernTV.com and view episode 424 or go to ContinentalSaddlery.com.