“It’s not art to me,” Terry Henson said.
Henson, an Oklahoma native now out of Azle, Texas, had his start in leatherwork before apprenticing with a saddlemaker.
“I grew up around the stuff and I’ve studied it my entire life. So, I understand what makes something work and why it works that way, and what you do to achieve certain results. You know, it’s just all about function.”
Between then and now, Henson was also a full-time air traffic controller for 20 years—a career that was once considered one of the most stressful in the country, second only to being an emergency room doctor. Henson admits that, sometimes, there were some terribly stressful situations, but when the shift was over, he got to leave it all behind, which meant he could keep building saddles when he wasn’t in the tower.
“When I was a controller, I probably built more saddles than most full-time makers do,” he said. “I was building 20, 25 a year the whole time as a controller. And I just rolled back into it full time when I retired.”
These days, instead of taking custom orders, Henson is a contract builder mainly for two Texas-based shops: Big Bend Saddlery in Alpine and Lazy H Saddlery in Holliday.
“I just got to the point [where] I was just trying to slow down,” Henson explained of becoming a contracted builder. “The shops I build for put zero pressure on me. They’re just happy I build them something. There’s never any rush. They drop-ship me all the materials. Now, mostly I build cowboy saddles and rope saddles—team roping saddles or calf roping saddles. Not that I wouldn’t build something else, it’s just that the shops I’m working for right now, that’s what they cater to.”
Ironically, as Henson—who has built rigs for world champions in all manner of disciplines—was pushing to slow the crafting down, COVID arrived and had Henson sitting at home.
“My wife wouldn’t let me go anywhere and we couldn’t travel anywhere, and I had nothing to do but sit at home, so I morphed back into building between four and six [saddles] a month,” Henson said, chuckling. “Just out of sheer boredom. I needed something to do.”
For Henson, who’s long spent each of the week’s seven days working, he’s aiming steadily at slowing down production and tapping into the enjoyment he gets from making. It’s a similar approach that he’s applied to his roping over the years, as well.
“I grew up from a real early age showing horses; rode a lot of reiners, a lot of Western pleasure horses. I rodeoed for years and then, as an older adult, I team roped quite a bit—not that I was ever accused of being a team roper because I probably wasn’t, but I went to a lot of local jackpots and stuff.
“I’d go to little 100-man jackpots because it was fun,” Henson continued. “You got to rope and socialize. If it wasn’t fun, there wasn’t any use of doing it to me. It was a stress reliever.”