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November 27, 2017

Skeeter’s Saddles makes, repairs all things leather

Photos/Cassandra Brown
“Skeeter” Hambry uses specialized knives to cut pieces of leather for one of about 20 custom saddles he’ll make in a year.
He uses quality materials and stands behind everything he does. He takes his time, and he hand makes it. It’s a dying art.
— Mary Rekow
Skeeter’s Custom Leather & Tack Shop
• Owner: Edward “Skeeter” Hembry.

• Address: 5377 Telephone Road, Warrenton.

• Phone: 540-347-0488

• Opened: New Baltimore, 1978 to present; Fairfax, 1970-78.

• Products: Custom-made Western saddles and leather products; repairs all types of saddles and tack.

• Website: Click here.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The rich smell of leather permeates the workshop.

Sheets of tanned hides hang on a wall covered with dozens of saddles — Western, English, old, new, simple, detailed.

In a small shop off Route 29 in New Baltimore, Edward “Skeeter” Hembry, 78, designs, shapes and sews custom Western saddles and repairs horse tack.

Mr. Hembry has owned Skeeter’s Custom Leather & Tack Shop for 39 years in New Baltimore.

He enjoys working with his hands.

“This is a trade that I like, and I stuck with it,” Mr. Hembry says. “I learned a lot and read a lot, and it’s been very successful.”

Mr. Hembry’s custom saddles take about 20 hours to make by hand over five days.

Carefully cutting and gluing the leather pieces together, he forms the leather to fit a wooden “tree” or saddle mold he orders from Texas.

He adds designs to damp leather with metal stamps and uses a 100-year-old industrial sewing machine to stitch through the thick hide.

Mr. Hembry makes about 20 custom Western saddles each year, with prices at $1,200.

As a teenager, he worked as a horse trainer in Herndon for the Harrison family. He spent the winter months learning the basics of saddle making and repairs at Lazy “H” Saddlery in Mclean.

Through trial and error, lots of reading and advice from other craftsman, he has perfected the art of custom saddle making over the last four decades.

For a custom saddle, Mr. Hembry starts by taking measurements of the rider and his or her horse, asking about the breed and use of the saddle — trail riding or roping cattle.

“You get it to fit you,” Mr. Hembry says. “Whereas if you buy one in the store, you’re buying one because of the way it looks and you might get home and say it doesn’t fit right.”

It’s “more comfortable. You can get extra padding in the seat,” he says.

Amissville resident Mary Rekow purchased a custom trail riding saddle from Mr. Hembry last year for her draft horse because she couldn’t find one that fit correctly.

With the new saddle, “the horse is comfortable. She’s happy and I’m happy” on four- to six-hour trail rides, Ms. Rekow says.

A saddle is “like a car. It can last you 10, 15, 20 years,” she says. “When you get it, you want it to last. You can find fancier saddles on the Internet, but a lot of them don’t have the craftsmanship behind it. They fall apart. Or you get them and they don’t fit your horse and they are not returnable.”

“He uses quality materials and stands behind everything he does,” Ms. Rekow says. “He takes his time, and he hand makes it. It’s a dying art.”

From 1970 to 1978, Mr. Hembry owned a store that sold clothes, boots and saddles in Fairfax.

With rising costs and competition, he decided to move his shop to New Baltimore in 1978 and focus on making and repairing custom saddles.

Today, the bulk of his customers come to Mr. Hembry to get saddles or other tack repaired.

He repairs about 300 Western and English saddles each year. In addition to saddles, he makes custom leather goods such as chaps, gun holsters and belts.

“If it has to do with leather, you have to go to Skeeter,” Ms. Rekow said.

A well-known horseman in the community, Mr. Hembry still breeds quarter horses on his 10-acre farm about two miles from the shop.

For 25 years, he judged shows around the country and Canada for the American Quarter Horse Association.

Born and raised in Herndon, Mr. Hembry started training horses at age 15.

Although he didn’t finish high school, Mr. Hembry worked several part-time jobs at restaurants, a dairy farm and country stores, but he found a knack for training horses and making saddles.

One boss gave him the nickname “Skeeter” because he finished his work so fast.

His work’s rewards include “talking to people and making things that people like. It makes you feel good,” Mr. Hembry said.


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DavidStang · December 19, 2017 at 10:03 am
I count on Skeeter to repair whatever tack I've managed to break or wear out, and to adjust tack that doesn't quite fit right. He is clever and capable, honest and frugal. You can just bring him the tack that needs work, or you can bring him your entire horse or mule if it is a question of getting the fit right. He can do modest repairs while you wait. I find that he grossly undercharges for his effort, and always pay more than he quotes.

I love talking to Skeeter, and in a better world he could earn a living by lounging at a pot bellied stove and teaching us all. I wanted to buy him a rocker for his front porch, but he'd have none of it. Skeeter is not a man for sitting. He's full of work, and full of life.

Skeeter is a local treasure, unknown to many horsemen. Go meet him. I
selhaverramos · November 28, 2017 at 8:14 pm
There's no one like Skeeter! No one can replace him either! He's been up to every task we've ever asked him to do and rarely charges enough for the quality work that he does. The last thing we had him do was to make boots for a traveling goat named Miles who was with the Needle2Square project. Yes you read that right, boots for a weary foot sore goat. Thanks to those boots, Miles was able to finish his walking journey to New York City! Skeeter...you're one in a million!
McMnatl · November 28, 2017 at 8:18 am
I count Skeeter as a great friend and craftsman, he has trained horses, repaired saddles, and made gun holsters for me, he is a great person to sit down with at the local restaurant and share a cup of coffee with. A great American! Scott McMichael
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