Archaeologists believe that people were riding horses as early as 10,000 B.C. with the first stirrups showing up remarkably late in the horse-and-human relationship in Assyria at about 850 B.C.
Since then the technology of stirrup construction has morphed this way and that, but for a long time, the stirrups used in western saddle making haven’t changed much. However a local company, Crooked Stirrups outside Hico, has changed all that dramatically.
We spoke to owners David and Linda Jones – whose son is Stephenville’s Michael Jones, five-time NFR Qualifier and 2004 NFR Champion - about their innovative, made-in-the-USA metal stirrup system.
Q: Can you tell us about your Crooked Stirrups brand and how your invention came about?
David: We’ve got a line of saddles that we designed that are quite a bit different than the traditional saddle; they look the same but you sit more vertical and it’s easier to find and maintain your balance in them. With that more vertical situation, the way traditional stirrups fit, which to me never was quite right, became even worse.
From the time I was a little kid, I always had trouble with the way stirrups fit with the outside of my feet and little toes going numb. So we just started working on how to make stirrups different. The purpose of Crooked Stirrups is to put your balance where your feet actually are – away from the horse – because when the horse spreads your knees, then your feet don’t stay tight.
Q: How are Crooked Stirrups manufactured?
David: We started out with a solid block of aluminum. We had a very good machine shop that was right across the street from us and the owner wrote a program for cutting the first stirrups out of a three-inch by six-inch by eight-inch block.
When we got the first pair it was raining but I wanted to try them and make sure they were going to work the way I wanted them to. I put them on in the rain and there wasn’t anything slick about them. They were exactly what I’d thought they’d be except we had to change the angle a bit, but that was about it.
Over time we’ve altered and modernized the way the stirrups are manufactured. They’re sand cast at a foundry in East Texas now, instead of being cut out of a block like they first were. All of them are made from aircraft-grade aluminum. The alloy we use makes them very strong without being brittle and yet they’re still light. It’s also easier to polish them and you don’t get so much black from the aluminum oxide rubbing off on your boots as you do with other alloys.
Speedy Williams used them and won a national championship in them in ’99 in the National Finals. They were just demonstrators but he was the first to use them in competition. That introduced them to the public and since then we’ve sold around 85,000 pair now. We ship quite a bit to England, The Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, all over.
In the fall of 2002 the first of our stirrups were given away as first prizes at the United States Team Roping Championships in Oklahoma. After that, in combination with Equibrand, we put our stirrups on trophy saddles; 8,500 pairs went on trophy saddles in the next five years.
Q: A problem in many businesses today is knockoffs - people stealing the ideas of inventors and manufacturers and making cheap copies of the real thing. Have you experienced this with your Crooked Stirrups products?
David: Yes, it’s a problem and it didn’t take long for it to surface. As I said, we put them out at the U.S. Team Roping Championships in the fall of 2002 and by March of 2003 the stirrups were being imported from three out-of-country sources, so it only took four months.
They’re not made right because there are some steps in the process we use that aren’t obvious, so their products are automatically of inferior quality. But yes, knock-offs have been a tremendous problem. Even though they don’t use our brand in print because it’s trademarked, if you call those people up and ask for Crooked Stirrups they’ll tell you they’ve got them. There’s really no good way to resolve that with the way the current laws are.
You can check out Crooked Stirrups at the website at www.crookedstirrups.com.