At a young age, Taylor Meeske knew he wanted to build something, whether it be bits and spurs like his late grandfather and professional bit and spur maker Don Meeske, or making leather goods like his 4-H friends.
“I always was building and making and hanging out with my grandfather when I was little,” Meeske, who now operates TM Leather, said. “I started hanging out with a friend doing leather work in 4H, and one thing lead to another.”
Meeske, 28, started focusing on the leather business in his early teen years. Fast forward, Meeske attended Hastings College in Nebraska, where he graduated in 2014 with a business degree and made a small shop in his cousin’s basement to work on leather orders for friends and family.
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“I went through college trying to make it so I didn’t have to have a real job. I was fortunate enough to have a cousin in town where I went to school that allowed me to set up in her basement and be able to keep working. I had enough to do for friends and family. Then just being out in a different part of the world more people saw my stuff and going to the college rodeos, more people started buying from all over. It just kept getting more steady to where, by the time I came home from school that summer, I set up in my grandpa’s old bit and spur shop at my grandma’s house. That fall of 2014 is when I opened up the store here at the Latigo Arena in Elbert, Colorado.”
Meeske finds great pleasure in the carving aspect of the leather work because of the great challenges and artistic pleasure.
“Aside from just a job of making stuff every day, that’s kind of the thing I like the most. If I could just floral carve and do the patterns all day long and have someone else do my building and the construction, that would be my end goal as far as a business plan. I want to get to the point to where I’m not having to do the construction stuff, and I can just do the artistic end and make the design come to life.”
Carving is more challenging than ever because Meeske cut his right thumb completely off in a roping accident on April 4.
“It’s been a challenge and a big learning curve. About three weeks after, I was starting to play with it pretty hard again. I’m having to do half of my floral carving left-handed. I have to completely relearn and teach myself how to do it left-handed. It’s been a deal. It’s been a process of relearning and reteaching and figuring it out. I thought it would have affected the leatherwork a lot worse than it has. I know from just enough of other life stuff it’s just a matter of perspective and mindset. If you let it beat you down, it’s going to. I know that’s been a huge thing for me is just keeping a positive attitude and figuring it out. I don’t know what else I would do if I didn’t rope and didn’t have the leather and saddle business. There wasn’t any option for doing anything else.”
In the last two years, Meeske has found himself adding saddle-making into his leather business. Building the smaller items like headstalls and wallets keeps him busy, but he is diligently working toward the goal of building one saddle a month.
“The saddle thing just kind of started taking off in the last two years. The belts, wallets, headstalls, notebooks and horse paper books are still the bread and the butter—the quick turnover stuff. One saddle a month is about all I can handle myself. Last year was the biggest year we did, and I did 16 of them last year—a little bit over one a month.”
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Meeske has his trust and faith in saddle trees built by Timberline Trees, which allow Meeske to order his own version of a team roper tree.
“Right now, I’ve been using Timberline Trees. They’re based in Vernal, Utah. Naturally, like any saddle maker, we make our changes and preferences and put our methodology to how one is supposed to fit. I’ve got my version of my team roper that I order from them. Here, in the last year, I’ve been branching out quite a bit more to the reining cow horse and building a lot more ranch cutters. In the changes we’ve made, I believe we’ve been able to fit a lot wider variety of horses with our bar shape, but I’m not going to be able to fit them all.”
Meeske showcases his products through social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, but he knows that clients are more likely going to purchase a product they have seen in person. If you’ve walked around trade shows during the National Finals Rodeo or the Bob Feist Invitational you may have seen Meeske’s finished products up on display.
“I have to work pretty hard to compete with the Larry Coats’ and the Scott Thomas’ and those brands that are so established. People know what they’re buying. I have to work pretty hard right now—up and coming—to get that reputation with people. That’s where the trade shows are big for me.”
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