Here I am with my saddles I built while apprenticing under Master Saddle Maker and member of the TCAA,
My name is Mitch Chyczewski and I've always been an artist and a perfectionist, a lot longer than I have been a saddle maker. I often get the question when I go to shows to display my work or when I have someone who stops in the shop, "Mitch, how does one get into a career of saddle making?" I always smile and answer, "How much time do you have?" My story may not be some action packed shoot 'em' up type, but I promise it is an interesting one. I took the saying "Go with flow" literally, and life guided me to where I am today.
My career in saddle making did not start like many others on a working ranch. In fact my family were anything but ranchers, vaqueros, or agriculture in anyway. The closest my family got to farming was going to the grocery store. I fell in love with agriculture at an early age, while other kids wanted big wheels for Christmas I wanted a tractor. I've always been attracted to the western lifestyle. After a few years of summer horse camps and private lessons, at the age of eleven, I purchsed my first horse. Yes, I purchased my first horse. I did many odd jobs and saved $800 dollars and bought a horse for that same amount. I cleaned stalls and tack, and turned out horses as a child to pay for my board. I was constantly looking for a way to be able to afford my horse. I guess you could say I was destined to be self employed.
Fast forward many years, I've graduated college with two agriculture sciences degrees and had a successful business as a Therapeutic Farrier. I thought I had the life. That was until the economic recession. I lost everything, my clients, my horse, my trailer, and my home. I was the ultimate Country Song. Depressed and broke I seeked out and landed a job at tack store in Southern California. There was a leather repair shop in the rear along with shoeing supplies and a showroom full of equestrian tack and goodies. I figured I would take full advantage of the situation and I would network my farrier skills to the customers that shoped in the store. I would also entertain myself by studying the tack and comparing all the production line companies to see which ones were superior to the others. I would read all the books and magazines and follow the newest trends in the western world. I would even pick the brain of the leathersmith doing nothing but repair work in the rear of the store. This was unfortunately still a dead end job...or so I thought.
Since my business tanked, and I had a meaningless job, I made the decission to go to Tandy Leather and purchase a starter kit and stimulate my artistic side. I would sit in my loft and practice carving and tooling leather into the middle of the night. I found a new happiness that was fullfilling. As word got around that I was pretty artistic and handy with leather, people started asking for custom work. Small custom jobs were coming in more frequently and I began needing more hours in a day. I was working in the store part time, doing farrier work on my days away from the store and every evening I was in my loft working late into the night doing custom work. Many nights I would see the sun come up and I realized I would have to get ready and go back to the store or shoe some horses. One afternoon while working at the tack store, I met this amazing women. Her name was Lisa Calder. She had this amazing glow about her and she just moved to town (lucky me). She was starting her business as a Horse Trainer. We became immediate friends and helped each other out with networking. We would send clients to each other on a regualr basis. At some point I knew I was going to burn out, I needed to drop one of my three jobs.
The farrier business was slowly growing and so was the my custom leather business. I just had a fear of letting the tack store go, it was safe and I could depend on the pay check. Lisa helped motivate me to open my own custom leather and repair shop. I was still pessimistic, I didn't have the money to rent out and invest in a shop. I was worried of failing one more time and scared to take another risk. Lisa was persistant along with other family members and friends and I decided I would go for it. I had $1800.00 saved in my bank account, but where or how I would start was still a mystery. It just so happened at that time, the tack store I worked at lost their leathersmith, so I offered to rent out the shop. Now $1800.00 is not a lot of money but living on a tight budget you learn to be very creative and thrifty. I made that money stretch for four months before I had any money coming in my new shop.
I remembered when I was employed at the store, there was a Western Horseman that was featuring an article on Pedro Pedrini, the master saddle maker and a member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association (TCAA). I just fell in love with his saddles they featured in the article and I knew I wanted to learn from him. Still broke, but not worried how I was going to fill my truck up with fuel, I could not afford to go to Pedrini's school. So I continued to struggle to grow my clientel and kept my nose to the grind stone. I saved every penny I could to put away to go to his school. I knew I was destined to make some of the best western saddles. In order to be amongst the best you need to learn from the best.
A year down the road, Lisa informed me that she was moving to Northern California. My heart sank, I was crushed I grew another successful business and the a women that I cared for was going to leave. Lisa offered for me to move with her, but I was torn because I just started getting back onto my feet and moving would have meant starting over. I know all of you are thinking that if I cared for this women the decission would be easy, well it's not. I had family and friends to think of, finances, and all the other fears that followed change. I took some time to think about it and came to my senses that the move would be good. Before my depression I was adventurous, I did not care where money would appear from it just did. I went with the flow. Some where in my life I stopped going with the flow and thats when my fun life stopped as well.
So I took a deep breath and said "What the Hell Lisa, I'm coming with you." So I helped packed her truck and decided to close my shop. I finished all my remaining projects while Lisa got the house in order up north. I stayed down south packed up my shop and personal belongings and moved up. I was going with the flow again. You wouldn't guess how my life changed. Without knowing it we moved twenty minutes away from my mentor, Pedro Pedrini. That fall I enrolled in his class and apprenticed with him. I got to learn from the best to become the best. Thats how I became a Custom Saddle Maker.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read about my story.