Nick Pernokas was born in 1957 in Boston, Massachusetts which is just about as un-cowboy country as you might imagine. However, something inside him drew him to the cowboy way of life and watching John Wayne movies helped. He became involved in quarter horses including showing and roping off them. The family moved to Rhode Island, a state smaller than Erath County, and at 17, Nick headed west to follow his dream of becoming a cowboy.
Enter Stephenville, and a place holding the answer to every cowboy’s wish. Here in the middle of Texas with Tarleton State University and all the advantages education offers, Nick Pernokas settled in. He enrolled at Tarleton and pursued his goals of showing quarter horses and roping, and for a while, entered bull riding events.
“I was never very good at riding bulls but I didn’t have a good roping horse at the time so I gave it a try,” he said.
Nick fell in love and married his sweetheart, Lindy a true cowgirl. After graduating from Tarleton, Nick and Lindy went to work for Calvin Allen Saddlery (formerly of Dublin now in Weatherford).
Today Nick and Lindy run a custom saddle shop in Stephenville. Through the years, saddle making has changed, not in style or fit but in obtaining the products used due to the out-sourcing of jobs to other countries, mostly Asia. Nick requires top quality materials in his artistry with leather and his custom made products start at $4,000. The highest priced saddle that he has crafted was the” Spagnola” which included elaborate silver trim that included a snake, a coyote, and a cactus among other intricate designs. This saddle sold for $7,000 to a European client. Holly Spagnola, noted for her beautiful silver jewelry, assisted with this custom saddle.
“To own horses and be able to outfit them in Europe, you must be in the upper class when it comes to income,” Nick said. “Therefore those customers are looking for quality in all products. They aren’t satisfied with anything less.”
At the urging of his clients and friends, Nick wrote a book about his business. “All the Pretty Saddles” was published in 1999 and is a detailed description, with pictures of the building of saddles with the distinction of the intended use, Roping, Pleasure, Reining, Cutting and Barrel Racing. The publication of this book led to Nick’s being asked to write articles for several horsemanship magazines.
Nick has won five American Quarter Horse Association High Point Year-End Awards and two Reserve World Championships in roping events. He has also successfully shown reining horses in the National Reining Horse Association and holds a PRCA Gold Card. Recently he has been recovering from a hip replacement and is just been cleared to rope again.
“A horse fell on me years ago and my hip has been in a less than great condition since that time. I finally decided to get the operation and it has been great. I’m so glad that I had it.” Nick said. “But while I had a little time to look at something else in my life, I got this chance to be in movies.”
A customer in the saddle shop who knew somebody who knew somebody asked Nick if he would like to be in a movie as part of the background for a scene in which he would be a cowboy. Always a big movie fan, Nick thought for a moment and answered, “Why not?”
Filming for the movies Nick has had a part in, has all been in the Dallas and East Texas area. This seems to be a real hot spot for making movies, partly because the actors don’t have to be members of the Screen Actors Guild due to Texas law.
“We get paid pretty fair wages but they don’t have to feed us, provide housing and other ‘perks’ if we are not members of the union.” Nick said.
Nick has played parts in several movies, some not yet released and last season he was a part of the cast of “Dallas.”
“I played several different background roles including a businessman where they helped me learn how to tie a tie and wear a suit comfortably,” Nick laughed. “We have been shooting for the new 'Dallas' season (to begin telecasting in January), where one of the parts that I play is a lawyer.”
Meeting Larry Hagman, famous as J.R. Ewing on the Dallas show, was a real pleasure for Nick.
“He would sit around with the rest of the cast between shooting scenes and talk. He always did fist bumping, not handshakes but he was just like everyone else. The minute that he stepped on the set, he became J.R. I’ll always consider him as a truly great actor. He was that good.”
One of the scenes in a movie titled, “The Merchant” cast in East Texas called for some real acting from Nick. Dressed as a Zombie, the character was asked to die a cruel death. Nick described his scene: “It was cold on the set, really cold and we were filming at night. This was my dying scene and I was asked to get down on the cold ground on my hands and knees and be shot in the head. Then I was to open my mouth and blood (Karo syrup and food coloring) would vomit out. Well there I was, freezing and vomiting fake blood for two hours straight as they shot the scene over and over. After each shot someone would come and clean up my face and give me a cupful of syrup to hold in my mouth until given the clue. Finally the director told me that he had a perfect take and that I could get up. I had to have help to get up but those standing around watching, gave me a round of applause.
“I really enjoy what I do. It is interesting and a challenge for me to ‘get it right.’ The best way I know to describe it is like tying a calf in 8!”