Meet this Years Contestants

Nate Gifft


Nate Gifft’s deep-rooted passion for cowboy culture traces back to his early years, and has grown into the relentless pursuit of building quality buckaroo gear and the horses that pack them. Residing in Baker City, Oregon with his wife and two children, Nate spends his time as a rawhide braider and dayworking cowboy. 

He attributes his expertise to the guidance and mentorship of Bill Black, whose knowledge was instrumental in shaping his braiding journey.  Every step, from processing hides to dyeing strings, is a meticulously executed process that Nate takes great pride in. His participation in trade shows extends beyond profits. Rather, it serves as a platform to showcase his creative capabilities, engage with fellow craftsmen, and garner valuable insights for enhancing his work. Furthermore, it offers an avenue to establish meaningful connections with those who share a passion for gear making.

Nate’s commitment to learning and preserving the traditions of braiding and vaquero horsemanship sustain his dedication to this craft.

Mike Skinner


Living in Boise Idaho, Mike focuses on braiding rawhide gear for the cowboy community.  Mike’s interest in handcrafted cowboy gear began early in life and he got his braiding start through the State of Washington’s Folk Arts Apprenticeship program.  The goal with each piece of gear is to improve functionality and add refinements, making each piece a work of art.  Finding opportunities to spend time with horse owners and other braiders is key Mike’s success and he values the time I have been able to spend with other braiders who are willing to share and teach.

Ryan Erickson


Ryan started his journey into building bits and spurs in 1994. His education in the builders trade came from riding with horsemen and cowboys who were skilled in the finer points of communication between man and horse. His time spent in the saddle starting colts and cowboying for a living, have aided him in the practical application of theoretic principals. Along the way he would find established makers willing to impart skills and techniques that could improve the products he was making. Ryan and his wife, Kathryn, currently own and operate a breeding and training business in Stanley, NM, specializing ranch type show horses. This horse business and seasonal day work, provide immediate product testing opportunities, and allow him to get feedback from the industry professionals that purchase & use his items.

Richard Foreman 


Richard was born and raised in a small town in Illinois, where few would expect to find a future cattle rancher and rawhide braider. At 22 years old he began packing and guiding for big game hunts in Idaho, where he learned his love for working with horses. This love led him and his young wife, Cheryl, to work for cattle ranches across the west. In 1993 he ended up on the ZX Ranch in Paisley, Oregon. His time on the ZX ranch ultimately led to his passion for braiding rawhide tack. He had humble beginnings, initially starting to simply have the gear he needed to start training horses. His first bosal he made was made from borrowed tools and guidance from an old timer buckaroo on the ranch. This first bosal still hangs in his home to this day. But he didn’t stop there. He turned a necessity for tack into an art that he would trade and sell to supplement his meager buckaroo wages. Eventually he would acquire his own tools and style and travel to trade shows where he made a name for himself. Richard eventually settled in California and worked for an old cattle rancher till he was offered the opportunity to start his own cattle ranch. With a ranch and a young family he became too busy to practice his art. But when the 2020 pandemic began his youngest son, Cooper, left for the Marines and his oldest son and his wife, Cole and Ruby, returned to help work on the ranch. Their need for their own tack encouraged him to  crack open the books and used his newest resource, the internet and YouTube. He crafted a fine bosal and riata while helping his son and his daughter-in-law build bosals for themselves. These were his first rawhide work in 15 years. Now that he’s older and wiser, he is refining his craft with more patience and for his enjoyment, hoping to bring his rawhide braiding to his local cowboy community. 

Nevada & Levi Miller 


Nevada Miller, of the Nevada Watt Brand, creates heirloom quality silver jewelry from her studio in the middle of nowhere Oregon. She blends western influences with international cultures to create items that hit just a little differently in the market. While being a maker is an important part of her life she also supports her husband in their families ranching operation and is the proud mother of a spirited little girl, Clara! Nevada also founded an online school to learn the Western Trades called Be A Maker School. With this school, Nevada along with talented makers across the industry has provided a way to carry these trades forward with the infusion of new makers! 

Levi Miller is a fifth generation rancher who in his rare moments of spare time enjoys braiding rawhide akin to the type of gear he grew up using. He began his braiding career as a teen with initial guidance from his father Gary Miller. From that point he expanded his knowledge by spending time with Nate Wald during his undergraduate studies at Montana State University where he majored in Rangeland Ecology. He also has appreciated the time spent at the Northwest Braiders Gathering in Pendleton Oregon. Following his graduation he moved home to help manage the family cow calf operation with his father and two brothers. His time has been focused in a new direction when he and his wife Nevada welcomed their beautiful daughter Clara to the world March of 2023. 

Lane Cremer


Lane Cremer, along with his wife Mayzie and daughter Clara, live Big Timber, Montana where he is a full time rancher and builds bits and spurs in his spare time. Lane got his start building spurs out of rasps in college and became fascinated with the art aspect of California style gear. It wasn’t too long after his interests peaked when he bought an engraving machine and started scratching up steel.

Over the years he had the privilege to learn from some of the best makers in the business: Ernie Marsh, Wilson Capron, Dave Alderson, Shawn Didyoung, Eddy Mardis, and Russell Yates. Lane is constantly trying to push the boundaries of his abilities, but his main priority has always been to build high quality, fully functional pieces to last for generations to come.

Hey there! I don’t remember what name I put but if you could use Kaylissa Wells I just got married and I’m in the middle of changing my name thanks here’s the bio and picture. 

I’m from Lewiston, Utah, where I currently reside and my family runs around 100 head of cattle. I grew up riding and showing horses, helping out on the ranch and participating in many 4-H, and FFA activities, and Reined Cow Horse competitions. When I first started horse 4-H my dad gave me a gorgeous pair of braided leather reins to show with; I remember thinking they were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! As I grew, I gained an appreciation for braiding leather, and started braiding myself about two years ago. I absolutely love braiding, and I have high hopes for the future.

Jeremiah Watt


Jeremiah is entering his 48th year as both a saddlemaker and silversmith and has been self-employed for 35 of those years.

Within two years of when Jeremiah began his craft as a saddle maker, he began adding silversmithing and the metal skills of a bit and spur maker to his skills.

Apart from a nearly eight-year apprenticeship as a saddle maker, Jeremiah is self-taught in all other skills acquired. Jeremiah and his wife Colleen spent five years working on remote chuckwagon jobs on various ranches across the West. One of Jeremiah’s beliefs is that no skill is complete without the knowledge gained from using and testing the gear that you put your name on.

Jeremiah loves to build one of a kind bridle bits and has spent a lot of time understanding the mechanics behind a pretty bit. It has to be functional first then artistic.  He enjoys teaching and sharing with those who love to learn. He is a new “Grandpa” and thoroughly enjoys the role and can’t wait for more grandkids. Cycling, especially distance cycling and wild camping have become an avid passion, usually making one long trip every other year.

Jake Brown


Jake grew up on a ranch west of Winnemucca Nevada. He spent nearly 3 decades Buckarooing in Elko County on some of the biggest ranches in the west.

He is an accomplished rawhide braider and decided to give the bit making a try after a good friend of his (Curt Waddington) showed him some basic skills involved in building bits. His many years spent working on ranches around talented horseman has given him a unique insight into building functional bits. He quickly gives Jesus all the praise for his rawhide and bit work.

Him and his wife Riata live in Richland Oregon on a small working cattle ranch.

Dominic Valine, Pritchard, BC


The creative seed was planted early by supportive parents. With an interest in rodeo and a career in welding, the idea of combining art with the fabrication of unique working cowboy gear seemed a good mix. His contemporary style of arena spurs started his business. Now his passion is providing the working with a using bit that has its own visual twist. His mix of rich patina steels and contrasting silver overlays give an old-world flavor to his work. From snaffles to signal bits, spurs to buckles, each order is hand crafted to suit the horse and rider.

Dakota May


Dakota was born and raised in Nevada, and was always fascinated with the artistry and functionality of hand made gear. Fortunate to have Spider Teller as a mentor in his formative years he learned the old traditions that have been used for generations. Having worked on ranches in California, Nevada, and Idaho; Dakota applies the knowledge and techniques he has learned in his travels to each unique piece of gear he builds.

Justin Massar


Justin, his wife Kathleen, and son Jake, live near the base of the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming.

He has worked for the Tom Balding Bit and Spur shop for over 20 years as lead bit builder, silversmith, and sole engraver.  

In addition, he has a custom silver and metalworks studio at his home, where he does custom silver, metal, and engraving work.  Designs include jewelry pieces, western conchos, buckles, and bracelets, reflecting both western and outdoor themes.  The entries he submits for this contest each year are entirely products of his home shop.  All pieces are designed and built to exhibit both form and function, with bit comfort and functionality a priority.  

Much of his spare time is spent hunting, fishing, and exploring the adjacent mountains and wilderness area.  Many of his designs reflect his love of the outdoors and natural world.

Joseph Stanek


Joseph grew up in the Bitterroot Valley forty miles south of Missoula, Montana on a small family ranch, working with horses and cows. In his father’s library, he would spend time reading leather repair and rawhide making books. “I liked looking at the pictures, figuring out how thing worked, and got put together.” At eight years old he joined 4-H and took an interest in leather crafting, where he received instruction from a neighbor named Martha of Martha’s leather and crafted items for himself and family. Wanting good cowboy gear as he grew up, but knowing it was expensive, he decided to learn one of the crafts associated with cowboy gear, make extra, and thought he could trade for other items he didn’t have. A friend suggested that he pickup rawhide because there were a lot of good leather crafters, saddle makers, and bit and spur makers in the valley, but rawhide braiders were needed. The part of the journey began about five years ago with the desire to make good products. Self-taught the learning curve was steep and a lot of trial and error. Making his own rawhide he ruined a few projects and remade them until he was satisfied. By attending workshops and rawhide gathering rubbing shoulders with other rawhide braiders.  Joe is always learning and developing his own style. His hands-on working with hides has helped him develop the multi-coloring he attains in his craft. No dyeing is needed. To him braiding is math without numbers. You must figure out the pattern and rhythm of it. Time is at a premium with working construction full time and a husband and father of three children. Always looking for ways to improve, he strives to lean more towards artistic rather than production. And of course function is important too, if a product can’t do what it is designed to do, what good is it.  He loves the camaraderie between braiders and the challenge of doing things in a new way. Working with his hands in rawhiding, helps keeps him connected to the art of braiding and the tools needed for the cowboy lifestyle. “I enjoy being close enough to my family, that whenever they need help with the ranch, I can be there for them. Or just saddling a horse to help friends work cows.   It’s something most folks don’t even get a chance to experience. If they could, they would just fall head over heels for it. I feel very fortunate just to be able to touch it.”

Jerry Arbiter


Jerry spent more than 38 years as an aviator. His career included 20 years as naval aviator flying single seat jet aircraft from US Navy aircraft carriers. His military service included flying more than 200 combat missions from the USS Oriskany in Vietnam. Nowadays he’d rather be in the saddle on a good horse than in the cockpit of an aircraft…

After obtaining a copy of Bruce Grant’s book on making horse gear in 1968, Jerry dabbled in braiding, making a few scruffy projects. In 2010 Jerry began braiding in earnest, making reatas, reins, hackamores, bosals, quirts, rein chains and the like. He processes his own hides and strives for continuous improvement. He gives credit to other braiders and friends including Doug Groves, Kirby Orme and Mike Skinner who’ve generously shared their braiding knowledge.

The reins displayed here includes a set of 12 plait, 60 set, with a 16 plait romal, constructed from red angus rawhide.  The set is constructed with rawhide cores. 

Ann Kusler


Ann is a rancher from Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan. Together with her fiancé, Tyler, they own and operate a commercial cattle herd and breed/ raise ranch horses and stock dogs. After being introduced to silversmithing in College, Ann began dabbling in engraving and taking numerous classes. A year later, after coming home to take over the family ranch, she started “Kusler Silver Design”. What started as a small jewelry business has now expanded and encompasses working cowboy gear. Ann enjoys coming up with unique designs and strives for functionality. Now, 7 years into her engraving journey, Ann has started to make bits. She looks forward to continuing to learn while pushing the boundaries of traditional gear. Her hope is to bring unique bits to the working cowboys and gals of North America.

Matt Wilson


Matt “Grew up ah dreaming of being a cowboy”; Some say he did, some say “All he’s doing is keeping a good horse off feed! “ 

 Growing up in Central Oregon he learned roping and riding and enjoyed a great upbringing, starting colts, shoeing horses and team roping with his family and friends. Learning to ride cutters, reiners, rodeo horses and even dressage and jumpers, Matt was paid as an apprentice under accomplished trainers in all disciplines. He has an understanding of the horse. 

 Matt would tell you he learned all he knows about creating with his head and hands from his Dad. A man who is a meticulous fabricator at all he does. Everything from building fence, framing up a shed, carving an incredible wood headboard or welding and hammering out all sorts of projects from design to finish his dad can do it all. 

 Like many cowboys, Matt has always had an artistic flare to what he does. Be it decorating a fancy horse, painting, writing a song, carving stick horses or  building a longbow, he has always been lucky enough to meet those who were willing to share their knowledge. He has always made do, and built with, whatever materials he could muster up; materials including, but not limited to: broken corral boards, scrap metal, cheap guitars, second hand hound dogs and a gumption to try. 

  If you know Matt then you know he is proud of his family: his beautiful wife Rachel, who he’s been married to for 27 years, and their “five amazing daughters and two of the greatest son-in- laws they could ask for.”  They live in Silver Lake Oregon, where they have raised their family, herding cattle, riding broncos, chasing lions and bears, cutting firewood, hauling water for the house (when the well went down) and pretty much enjoying living on the edge of the Great Basin- one Hamm’s pork chop at a time! 

 Starting out with a vice on a stump and an anvil on another, a hacksaw, worn out files, and a welder he built his first bits. Eventually with his Dad they created a number of bits and had a successful small business after Matt was “nearly killed in wild and stupid adventures, for about the sixth time! Those bits are out there marked Wilson, and are still being traded around.” Today, he builds many different styles of bits, conchos, and all sorts of ideas clients come up with and request.  

  Matt is honored to be involved in this years Cowboy Arts and Gear bit building competition. “Designing my idea, building, and trying some new ideas on this bit I feel, has broadened my horizons. I’m not concerned about competing, I’ve enjoyed the experience and look forward to being in Elko.” 

Thayne Oian


My name is Thayne Oian and I am a 21 yr old rawhide braider originally from North Dakota. I enjoy keeping cowboy traditions alive with my rawhide gear. Residing outside of Elko NV after I recently moved last winter, I currently work on a ranch and braid and do leather work on the side. 

Through advice from family members and other great braiders and through social media I’ve been able to improve my skills and provide not only quality products but also a piece of art. The gear museum offers a great platform to advertise and show my work and also to help get my name out there. 

Justine Nelson-Graham


Rawhide Braider, Leather Worker, and Saddle Maker.Born in the Magic Valley of Southern Idaho. raised around horses and other livestock. Justine has always been fascinated by the western way of life; particularly the tack and equipment that are unique to heritage. From childhood she sought to create the gear she observed around her.Often using whatever materials she could find to build tack for toy horses.

At the age of 15 she was introduced to the writings of Bruce Grant. His books detailed the process of braiding rawhide into functional horse tack She was hooked, and immediately took to braiding anything she could get her hands on. Shortly afterwards she also began working with and tooling leather. Eventually going on to learn saddlemaking and opening her own custom leather shop.

In 2015 she was able to begin to learn the process of taking a fresh cowhide through the curing and cutting stages and then braiding the resulting strings into finished pieces. She has continued to hone her skills in this craft.. helped along by many of the top braiders in the industry. This hard and exacting process continually provides her with fresh challenges which she finds very satisfying.

Always one to use the gear she builds on her own horses she is able to maintain a strict quality control over the pieces she builds. Working in both rawhide and leather gives her a unique advantage as she is able to combine elements of both crafts seamlessly into her finished pieces. Her work is as functional as it is beautiful and is sought by cowboys, horsemen and collectors throughout the west and even abroad.

She currently splits her time between her leather/rawhide shop and the Wyoming cattle ranch where she lives with her husband.

Chris Cheney


Chris and his family live in Rexburg Idaho. He built his first bit in high school then he and his wife attended Miller Bit and Spur School in 2000 after looking for silver to mount on a saddle. He enjoys making California style spade bits and saddles and has tried to improve with each piece of gear he’s made.

This year’s bit features large 2 inch sterling flowers with 14 karat gold filled centers, sterling filigreed overlays that have been contoured, and fine silver inlays. The mouthpiece is a 4.25 inch Spanish spade, 5.25 inches wide and it’s been offset forward on the cheeks for improved balance.

It’s finished in a bright Nitre blue finish.

Amy Erickson


Growing up on her family’s sheep and cattle ranch in Utah, Amy developed a deep love of horses and nature. Her experience working on ranches, guiding for outfitters,riding colts for trainers and competing has greatly influenced her artistic approach, resulting in work that reflects her lifelong connection to the western lifestyle.

Amy’s interest in silverwork and bits and spurs was sparked during her teenage years when she attended the Elko poetry gathering. Although she initially couldn’t pursue her passion, she began honing her craft by learning leatherwork at a saddle shop in Vernal, Utah. Despite this detour, her dedication to silversmithing and engraving remained unwavering.

In 2013, Amy seized the opportunity to learn engraving from renowned artist Ernie Marsh at his shop in Etna, Wyoming. She further honed her skills by attending an intermediate engraving class at GRS in Emporia, Kansas. In recognition of her talent and potential, Amy was awarded the Art of the Cowgirl bit making fellowship with John Mincer in 2020. During this immersive experience, she learned various aspects of bit design and fabrication. The following year, Amy was honored with the Wyoming Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Fellowship, allowing her to work with Ernie Marsh again, this time focusing on spur design and fabrication.

Amy’s work is both functional and traditional, as she creates traditional styles with unique patterns and designs, as well as adding a contemporary touch.

Driven by her gratitude for the knowledge and opportunities she has received from generous mentors, Amy has recently started teaching basic engraving. Her goal is to pass on what she has learned and inspire others to pursue their artistic dreams. Amy currently operates her business, Erickson Bit and Spur, on a full-time basis from her shop in southwestern Wyoming.