Leather & Life: Zane Tisdale on Roping, Family and Leather Work
Although header Zane Tisdale has a lot of pride in his leatherwork, it’s a passion that shares space with a full-time job, roping and, most importantly, his growing family.

Zane Tisdale, 32, grew up in Amarillo-Canyon wanting to be a cowboy. He’d been able to get his hands on a rope prior to college, but a multi-season commitment to baseball prevented him from really diving into it. What he could get his hands on, though, was leather.

“I started doing leatherwork in college—2008 or 2009, I think, is when I hand-sewed my first wallet. I wanted to have some cool leather stuff but probably couldn’t afford it. And, I’ve always been hands-on and wanting to build my own stuff. Even back in high school I took five years of welding in the ag classes and four years of workshop, so I try to build all our own furniture and things like that.”

As he continued his education in pursuit of his masters, Tisdale discovered a leather business was the perfect way to fill lots of awkward scheduling hours, not to mention make a little extra money to fund his growing need to swing a rope.

Zane and Kayli Tisdale, with daughter Lilly. Courtesy of Zane Tisdale

“While I was doing my masters, I worked at the BCRC—the Beef Carcass Research Center—and the meat lab. Well, the hours are sporadic—it was an hourly job and you couldn’t have a fulltime job on the side of it—so, just to supplement money and supplement probably my roping habit, that’s when it kind of transitioned.

“And, I like being creative,” Tisdale continued. “As much time as you want to put into something, you can.”

That is, until you have a newborn.

“A bunch of my customers that order the leather stuff are repeat customers and they’re very gracious. It does take me a little longer nowadays with a full-time job and having a daughter, so I’m very, very lucky.”

Of course, just because Tisdale is spending less time in the shop for the moment, doesn’t mean he’s spending less time devoted to his orders. His desire to keep elevating his craft remains strong.

“One thing I have been doing here lately and over the last few years is getting better at floral carving—doing my own designing and improving the way the tooled stuff looks. And that right there is a huge challenge. It doesn’t take a month or a couple weeks or anything like that. It’s tough to try and be creative on everything. So that’s always a challenge and that’s always the goal: To get better as far as designing and making my stuff look good.”

On occasion, Tisdale will post his leatherwork (he’d build roughout headstalls and reins for days, if he could, but he also does a lot of wallets and most recently customized his daughter’s diaper bag) to his Instagram account, @ztleather, which pretty much encapsulates the whole of his marketing efforts.

“I don’t want to flood the market,” he jokes.

Wallets are a high demand from Tisdale. Courtesy of Zane Tisdale

Really, most of Tisdale’s business is drummed up through word-of-mouth, which only adds to his sense of accomplishment when he comes face-to-face with his own creations out in the world.

“When you see this little kid who’s proud of his stuff that you made, and he totes it around at the rodeos and he’s proud of it. That right there is the most satisfaction I get out of it. When I get to go to a roping, not even here near the house, like at the World Series in Vegas, and I get to see guys riding my stuff because that’s what they wanted and I was able to make it for them, that’s big. That makes me feel really, really good. So, that’s where a bunch of my business comes from. Going to ropings and being involved in the industry sure helps.”

Roughed-out headstalls occupy this craftsman’s sweet spot. Courtesy of Zane Tisdale

Tisdale, once his schedule allowed for it, got the roping bug, hard.

“Love it, love it, love it,” he enthused.

And, when he found himself a good mount in 2010, the deal was sealed.

“I bought an older horse and rode him for a couple of years and got tired of getting my butt kicked, so I said I wasn’t going until I bought a new one and that’s when Barney came along. He’s an ‘02 model. That’s a special, special horse. He’s been a big part of my life and my wife’s. We took engagement photos with him and that’s the horse I’ve won everything on. Anything and everything I’ve won since I started roping has been on that horse right there.”

Just after acquiring Barney, Tisdale won the ProAm with Kory Koontz at the 2010 Spicer Gripp Memorial—an event his family has been involved with since its earliest years—and it marked the good times that were to come aboard Barney.

“My favorite win, hands-down, was in Guthrie at the Heartland. It was in 2013. I won $17,500 in two days. That was the biggest check and probably the most memorable win so far. I went over there with my buddy and I only had him with one run. I found another run with Chad Smith and it just worked. We placed the night before in the regular #13, and the next day I maybe won a round with my other partner, and then Chad and I ended up winning it.”

Currently, Tisdale’s roping—like his leather—is finding a new rung on his totem pole of priorities, but he doesn’t mind.

“Last year was the first time I missed the Finale in Vegas since I started going to the World Series, I’m pretty sure. It’s been 7 or 8 years in a row but, priorities happen and, I don’t know, it’s part of growing up, I guess. Priorities change. It’s been an awesome journey. When my daughter gets a little bit bigger and can come hang out in the shop and go out to the arena and go rope with me, that’ll be awesome. If she wants to. If she doesn’t, well, I guess we’ll be going to volleyball and basketball or whatever she wants to do, but, it’ll be cool.”

Luckily, Tisdale knows that the roping will be with him through the journey, thanks to associations like the World Series of Team Roping.

“Sometimes I feel like the World Series is the perfect fit. You get a good horse and, if you can’t practice a whole lot and you don’t really want to run very many, you can put a little bit of money up and have a chance to win big. I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to rope in the World Series and do good. It’s been a blessing, for sure.”

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