HELLO EVERYONE, MEET the Millers.
After meeting Guy and Kathy Miller last weekend I was excited to discover they are among the excellent artisans and craftsmen we have nestled away here on our Olympic Peninsula, but they’re the only ones I’ve met who make custom saddles.
Doing business out of their home as Guy Miller Saddlery & Leather Goods, they make custom saddles, chinks and all things leather for the horse and their owners, along with repairs.
Guy’s main interest is making working rancher cowboy stuff, but he also specializes in making items with the extra “bling” for show people.
“Most of my custom saddle clients are women,” he said.
“They don’t want to be lifting the heavier saddles made with wooden trees that weigh 45-55 pounds, so I make most using the carbon-fiber trees that are lightweight and tough as can be.”
Saw a photo
I decided to contact the Millers after I saw a photo on friend and local author Lisa Preston’s Facebook page of her new chinks she got from them.
I met them at their home and place of business located in a picturesque setting with a beautiful pond and surrounded by forest off O’Brien Road in Port Angeles.
After admiring their work I wanted to learn more about their business.
First and foremost Guy said, “I don’t make cheap equipment. I make everything high-quality and built to last a lifetime.”
Kathy said the idea to turn a hobby into a business started with Guy’s love of working with leather when he was in high school.
It was more than 40 years ago when he lived in Orange County, Calif., that he started working for a stable cleaning stalls.
He began working with leather when “the old guy,” as Guy called his boss, converted a stall into a workshop for leather repair and let Guy start tooling around.
Guy took full advantage of a nearby Tandy leather to start learning leather crafting.
After high school, Guy joined the Navy.
Every year on his 30-day leave he’d go to the local stables to hang out and work with horses.
After the Navy he was offered a job working around horses for some “wealthy people in the bay area” above San Francisco.
He started working for other trainers and also worked part time for a harness maker who did saddle and leather repair for the Army’s string of mules.
Soon he decided to open his own leather shop working out of his home in Atherton, Calif., making high-end custom leather goods for horse show people.
There came a point when he decided he needed to get “more serious about his life and career” so he attended college in Menlo Park to get his business degree.
A life-changing moment came after his mother, who was still in Southern California, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died shortly after.
He moved back there and got a job working for Laguna Beach Lumber.
One day a contractor came in and told him about a wonderful place his folks just moved to called Dungeness.
“I always had a fondness for Washington ever since I took an Outward Bound course in the Northern Cascade Mountains,” Guy said.
“We did a lot of hiking and mountain climbing and I just fell in love with the place.”
In need of a change he decided he was either going to buy a string of pack animals and move to an area near Lake Tahoe or move to Washington state.
A simple flip of a coin moved him here in the late 1970s.
He spent his first weeks meeting people and getting to know the area and then got a job offer to work for the former Snohomish Lumber, which was located off U.S. Highway 101 between Sequim and Port Angeles.
He was laid off in the early 1980s during a recession.
When searching for work he came across an old lumber planer in an old mill, “I bought it, took it home, worked on it and got it running and launched my new career planing lumber.”
He set up shop and a wood drying kiln on his property and soon his business was thriving.
He set up a circular drive to make it easy access for the semi-trucks arriving full of trees and for those leaving with finely milled lumber.
Most of which, he said, went into “building a lot of homes around here.”
After a severe winter storm brought down trees and wrecked a lot of his equipment he decided to move his business to a warehouse off Highway 101 near the area where Snohomish Lumber used to be.
He opened Miller Manufacturing there in 1993.
He had no employees, preferring to run the business by himself.
“He was a one-man show,” Kathy said. “It was hard on his body.”
Guy agreed, “I spent years dickering wet lumber and drying it in the kiln. My body was getting decrepit and I knew I needed a change.”
The two met at Baker’s Stables in Port Angeles.
For years Guy had delivered his dry wood shavings to several of the local stables.
It sparked his desire to have a horse again and so he worked out a deal with stable owner Dana King to board his horse there for free in exchange for free shavings.
The two quiet, industrious people who shared a love of horses fell in love and married 14 years ago.
It was a combination of the Great Recession starting in 2007, and his own body needing a break from such an arduous life that prompted his search for a different career.
His thoughts turned to his love of working with leather and he decided to learn saddle making.
In true Guy style he wanted to learn from the “masters and artisans of the trade,” and began attending saddle-making schools and seminars to learn the required skill set.
He has certifications from schools in Arizona and Idaho.
It was 2010 when he sold his manufacturing business and opened his leather business, Guy Miller Saddlery and Leather Goods.
Now, he and Kathy work the business out of their home off O’Brien Road.
The home, the large horse and hay barn and two leather workshops were built using lumber Guy manufactured.
Most of their business comes from word-of-mouth, and Guy likes it that way, saying, “I don’t want my business to run me again like the place off the highway.”
The only advertising they do is on Facebook.
Other than that they enjoy taking their truck and camper and insulated trailer stocked full of chinks, bridles, reins and leather goods to vendor and horse shows.
“Our favorite is the Back Country Horsemen annual Rendezvous in Ellensburg,” Kathy said.
BCH members themselves, the Millers know what riders need to be prepared on those back country trail rides.
One of several unique items includes a tooled wasp spray can carrier with WASP tooled on the outside.
His latest creation is a tooled saw/nipper scabbord, or sheath, that attaches to either the saddle or belt loop and comes complete with the high quality Fisker brand 18-inch saw and a small pruner.
As much of our saddles and leather goods around here are exposed to a lot of dampness, mold and rime — which causes the leather to decay over time — I asked Guy what’s the best thing people can do to care for and preserve their investments.
“Most people don’t even clean their saddles,” Guy said with an annoyed shake of his head.
“It just takes saddle soap and a lot of elbow grease.”
As simple as that.
For more information, see the Guy Miller Saddlery Facebook page, email them at guymillersaddlery @gmail.com or call 360-775-0543.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.