If you mention the name "Nettles" in Madisonville, the name Ronnie Nettles probably comes to mind.
Nettles is a champion cutting horse rider and trainer. But these days, his horse barn is transformed into a full-scale production facility.
And what's made there by a man and his wife who love horses, makes sense. Ronnie knows a thing or two about horses. He's been riding all his life - all 67 years of it.
And he's made a good living at it. Ronnie is one of the best cutting horse riders and trainers in the world. In 1984, he won The National Cutting Horse Futurity in Fort Worth - the Super Bowl of cutting.
But over the years, riding took its toll. His steel stirrups -- the only ones available at the time -- were uncomfortable.
Ronnie says, "I realized the things that were happening that hurt my feet, and so I started trying to change those things. I started trying to figure ways where you didn't have those sore places on your leg and where your feet didn't hurt and those kinds of things."
Ronnie's wife Gala admits her husband spent a long time searching for a solution.
"He'd been searching for about a year for a pair of stirrups that would help him sit in the saddle better and take the pressure off his legs," said Gala. "Ronnie had a lot of problems with his legs and would often wrap them in vet wrap, which we use on horses legs because his would be sore."
When Gala and Ronnie got back from the Futurity, she asked him to build their grandson a rocking horse for Christmas, complete with saddle and stirrups. It was those tiny stirrups on that toy horse that sparked an idea.
"The first pair I made was out of a wheel barrel handle," laughed Ronnie.
Knowing a thing or two about comfort in the saddle, Ronnie built himself a pair, and then had his buddies test them.
"I put those stirrups out with the best trainers in the industry because they were all friends of mine," remarked Ronnie, "so I got a lot of really good feedback as to what worked, what they liked and didn't and so forth."
Gala said, "I got tired of him making them for his friends in my kitchen at night and it moved to the garage workshop."
And eventually it moved to the horse barn. There are more machines and wood in the barn now than horses. What were once stalls are now wood working stations.
What's being produced 20 years later is simply extraordinary. Every Nettles stirrup is hand-made, hand-crafted with machines that Ronnie designed himself.
Ronnie said, "As business grewm we tried to increase production, and of course, you can't go buy a piece of equipment or machinery to do this. So we were manufacturing machinery along with this to keep up with demand. We were afraid to advertise because we couldn't supply what we had already, and really, we're still in that situation."
In the industry, a Nettles Stirrup is well known, not just here, but across much of Europe.
"We had no idea 20 years ago that it would become this," said Gala. "We were totally involved. He was a cutting horse trainer and I was a writer for the equine industry. That was our total life. We never dreamed of this."
And what's interesting, Gala says, it that this may all be news to the folks right up road in Madisonville.
"This community probably doesn't even know what takes place out here," she said. "We have always been a training operation out here and that's what they think is behind here. No one would ever believe what's in this indoor arena."
What's the main selling point? You'll find it under a black, felt cowboy hat. If they're good enough for a cutting horse champ, they're good enough for anyone.
"They'll never ride anything else once they ride on of our stirrups," said Ronnie.
For more information on Nettles' Stirrups, call Ronnie or Gala at 936-348-6541. Or visit their website - NettlesStirrups.com.
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