Ownbey grew up steeped in the cowboy tradition and spent much of his time rodeoing, breaking colts and day working at big ranches, until God delivered him another path.
“I was actually laid off my job the weekend I was getting married,” Ownbey recalled. “I was at home and [my dad] had some old machinery sitting around the shop and I think—well, I don’t think—I know it was God just giving me the calling and the talent to be able to do it. I remember I was telling everybody I was going to build bits and spurs and everybody laughed at me and thought I was being funny. But that’s where it started.”
It took a few years more before his wife, Jennifer, was able to join up with the endeavor full time, and now the pair is celebrating a decade of success with their Canyon, Texas, business, Joshua Ownbey Custom Orders. And though the idea for the business arrived seemingly out of the blue, Ownbey knew from the beginning that he would offer what few others do.
“I never wanted to cheat the process,” Ownbey said. “I’ve always wanted to do the most I could for the product and then the customer is happy, too, because I didn’t do any shortcuts along the way.”
The process, for Ownbey, begins with steel, which he works in the fire to create one-piece bits and spurs—no welding of shanks or ports.
“It takes me two days just to build the spur, blacksmithing. Meanwhile, most makers are building a full product in one day—mounted, engraved and everything out the door. I do everything the old-school way over here, and that’s what makes it unique. Very few others build a one-piece, hand-forged spur, and that’s what I still do.”
Ownbey explains that his dad tinkered in the trade for a few years before passing on his tools to his son, but it was growing up just a mere 10 miles or so from the shop of iconic maker Adolph Bayers that inspired his appreciation of the craft.
“Adolph Bayers is kind of the founder of our deal and Billy Klapper is one that learned from him. Billy is 83 now and there’s only about four or five of us that actually do build a forged-out, one-piece pair and still forge out bits, as well and other things.”
Ownbey also builds buckles and fills an occasional jewelry order among other miscellaneous projects, and each one of them is totally unique from the next.
“I didn’t want to be a mass production piece, so the only way I knew to do it was to just hand draw every spur. I don’t keep patterns. I’ll be honest, I don’t even keep my drawings of my spurs. Once they’re made, I throw the drawings away, and I go on to the next one. I don’t duplicate anything other than the shank and the rowel and the width on the spurs. Everything else is free handed.”
Expect a decent wait for Ownbey’s work, which has been commissioned by PRCA ropers like Lane Ivy, Chris Francis, Lari Dee Guy and Shane Phillips, as well as World Champion cowhorse trainer Kelby Phillips and World Champion cutting horse trainer Tarin Rice, to name a few. Though the wait is often a few years out, it’s not for lack of shop time.
“I try to start by 4 a.m. every morning, and I work until lunch, and I put in my eight hours every day. The only way I can get out of the shop is if I go do that after lunch.”
When the work load allows, Ownbey puts in time training and showing horses, as well as roping.
“Last summer, I helped my good friend Jason Thomas break in about 2,500 head of roping steers, so I was out there every day from probably February to May or June. I need to get to where I can go out there to Vegas. I need to go. I’ve got a really good head horse right now that I’m working on. His name’s Sniper, and he’s gonna be a good one, so my goal right now is to be able to go and train and try to get out there to Vegas to let him be seen more than anything.”
In the meantime, Ownbey will keep building for his customers and preparing for trade shows like Amarillo’s Annual World Championship Ranch Rodeo’s Cowboy Trade and Trappings show each November and tackling orders for the Christmas season, while his wife manages the rest of the business.
“She has the hard job,” Ownbey posited. “Other than talking to the customers and the building, she does everything else. All the errand running, ordering supplies, you name it. She does it, and my hat’s off to her. Jennifer normally doesn’t get much credit because she’s behind the scenes, but she keeps me lifted up and supports me to do all I need to. She’s truly the backbone of this business. It wouldn’t be a full-time business without her.”
Or without divine power, according to Ownbey.
“By the grace of God we make everything work around here. God gave us this talent and business and He provided it for us. I have to give all the Glory to God for being able to do this.”
For more information, visit jocustomorders.com or call 940-655-8227
By the NUMBERS
4140 The type of high-carbon steel Ownbey hand forges to build his products to ensure their strength and durability.
2 The number of days before his wedding when Ownbey decided he’d become a professional craftsman.
1 The number of parts Ownbey uses to build his spurs and mouth ports.
$800 The starting price for a set of Joshua Ownbey Custom Orders spurs, sans silver. Plain sets with silver start around $1,250.
350 About how many spurs Ownbey has produced in his 10-year career. Same for bits.
50–60 The number of hours Ownbey is likely to invest in each piece.