The seed for Nettles Stirrups was born in December 1986, the offspring of a rocking horse. Gala Nettles wanted a rocking horse for her first grandson for Christmas. Not just any rocking horse would do, though. This one needed to be an heirloom, something that could be handed down from generation to generation.
The months of November and December for Ronnie Nettles, a 35-year cutting horse trainer are engulfed by the NCHA Futurity. When that show ended that year, only nine days until Christmas remained and still Gala had not found that perfect rocking horse. She turned to Ronnie to solve her dilemma.
When Ronnie Nettles wasn’t on the back of a horse he enjoyed his woodworking shop. Quite the artisan, he had been educated in the skills and techniques of quality craftsmanship by his late father. The younger Nettles liked striving to achieve that quality, working hours on the minute details that set a work above all of the rest.
Tired from the long horse show and ready for a diversion, he took off his spurs and headed to his workshop to build the rocking horse. Night after night the lights burned late in the shop as he cut, glued, sanded and patiently brought to life a big-eyed rocking horse complete with a thick yarned mane and tail. He built the replica of a saddle out of oak and rather than pegs to set one’s feet, he constructed a small pair of oak laminated oxbows. The project was finished on Christmas Eve.
But Ronnie wasn’t finished. Building the laminated stirrups for the rocking horse sparked the idea to build himself a pair. He spent long hours in the saddle each day and the pressure of the stirrups against his shin kept his legs raw and bleeding. In fact, he usually wrapped his legs with horse’s vet wrap each morning. For months, he had searched for a pair of stirrups that would eliminate the pressure problem as well as foot fatigue. Nettles knew that the right stirrup would be more than just a place to set your foot. Indeed, besides alleviating any pain it would be one that helped the rider sit balanced in the saddle.
Using his expertise from 35 years in the saddle, Ronnie designed his own style of stirrup, one that had innovative designs to eliminate pressure, eradicate foot pain, ‘set’ the foot in the stirrup, and help sit the rider in the saddle. Nettles chose the lamination method for its extra durability and its cushioning effect. Since the only oak he had available was a wheelbarrow handle, he sacrificed it to build the first pair of stirrups.
“Had I known then what I know now,” said Gala as she reminisced about wood pieces in her kitchen pots boiling on the stove, “rather than complaining about the mess he was making, I would have been taking pictures!”
Today, the Nettles Stirrups are famous worldwide. Styles and décor of the stirrups have grown in direct proportion to the request of customers, one of the many services that make the stirrups so popular. Each design is tested in the arena adjacent to their manufacturing home so that no stirrup bearing the Nettles brand leaves the ranch without the approval of the master designer.
And as Ronnie learned his skills for quality craftsmanship from his father, he has passed these skills to the next generation and his son, Robby, who oversees the building process today.