Article by Roberta Johnston, Reprinted from April 2013 SouthWest Horse Trader.
Back in 1986 when NCHA Hall of Fame cutting horse trainer Ronnie Nettles designed his laminated wooden stirrup, he was primarily searching for a better product for himself. Since he made his living training and showing horses, another business never entered his mind. By the time he and his wife Gala realized the stirrups were indeed a business, it was too late to patent them.
This time, though, it’s a different ballgame.
When Nettles conceived another idea to improve on his stirrups, the first thing he did was patent it. The Nettles Stirrups, already known to help remove ache from the knees and pain from the hip, now has an addition known as The Leveler that does even more for the body and the ride.
The patented Leveler made its debut at the Denver Western and English Market, the trade show retail businesses attend to see what products are new for the coming year. The Leveler was touted by many as the best new product at the show.
“Word of mouth was great advertisement,” said NCHA Hall of Fame trainer and stirrup designer Ronnie Nettles. “People constantly came to the booth having heard about the Leveler and wanting to place an order. We were highly pleased, but then those who ride all the time know it’s the little things that make that ride better.”
The Leveler, which fits the throat of any Nettles Stirrup, removes even the slightest stirrup tilt caused from twisted stirrup leathers. Stirrups become unleveled when the twist raises the outside leather, which in turn raises the outside of the stirrup. An unleveled stirrup causes a foot to tilt, stressing the ankle. Like sand in your shoe, even the smallest tilt can cause discomfort.
I visited with Ronnie about his latest invention and received some valuable information from my questions.
1. What was your purpose in designing the Leveler?
Our company started building the crooked stirrup about 2 years ago and there was a lot of interest in it. I kept looking at that and thinking about the reason for it and just felt there might be another way to do it.
The purpose of designing The Leveler was to make the stirrup always level to fit the rider. Saddle makers twist the stirrup leathers and that raises the stirrup leather on the outside. When you hang the stirrup on the leathers, the stirrup is then not level.
People have added wedges to stirrups to try to make them level; they’ve put bushings in the stirrup crooked to level them, but all of these methods are fixed methods. In other words, they don’t change once you make them.
I decided a fluid product might work better and started experimenting to find something fluid and The Leveler is the result of that. Rather than being fixed it frees the stirrup to move in all directions – horizontally and vertically – with a great deal of ease. This makes things more fluid in the stirrup area softening up the ride and taking the stress off of ankles and knees. When you’re not riding level, your foot is tilted, and that puts stress on your body. I liked this system because it adjusts to any saddle you put it on leveling that stirrup for a balanced ride. It levels; that’s what it does.
When did you begin designing it and the Leveler product and how long did you work on the design before finalizing it?
I experimented with it off and on for the first year until I developed the system that I wanted. Then I tested it for a year and tweaked it a little bit during that time. After I had it performing like I wanted it to and it held up good I started the patent process.
Does the use of the Leveler only benefit the rider, or does the horse benefit as well? How?
The Leveler mostly benefits the rider. it enhances the rider’s ability to perform smoother and therefore that benefits the horse. The Leveler makes the stirrup more fluid, which softens everything up, helping to protect your ankles, knees and hips from stress.
Is the Leveler available for any stirrups?
No, we have a patent pending on the Leveler and it is available only with Nettles Stirrups.
How does it fit a stirrup?
How the Leveler fits the stirrup is another good feature. Since it replaces the throat part in a regular stirrup the stirrup with The Leveler fits your saddle like any other stirrup would. Since the stirrup leathers go around the stirrup’s throat the Leveler is virtually invisible, the same as with the throat parts of a regular stirrup.
Can the Leveler be added to any style of Nettles Stirrup?
One of the beauties of the Leveler is that it is sold in addition to the Nettles Stirrups and can therefore be added to any style. Every style of Nettles Stirrups was developed because a rider had a problem and the style was born to help with the problem. With the addition of The Leveler, the rider has even more softer, more comfortable ride.
Do you build the stirrups?
Contrary to what many think, I don’t personally build stirrups. I still train horses and I still give lessons. Our son Robby and our nephew Mark oversee the company, which is a stone’s throw from my round pen, so I’m close by.
Our family business started 26 years ago, when, looking for a better stirrup for myself I developed the original laminated stirrup. By the time we realized we had a business, though it was too late to patent them. That is why we have strictly adhered to our attorney’s advice with The Leveler.
The Leveler is patented?
The Leveler made its debut at the Denver Western and English Association Market in January of this year, – but barely. We received the patent pending information only a week prior to the show, so without any pre advertisement we carried The Leveler to the show and word-of-mouth did a great job of advertising. I am grateful for that.
Until we had the patent pending in hand our patent attorney advised against discussing it. We have a wonderful patent attorney whom I met 10 years ago when he called me to be a witness for him in a stirrup patent infringement case. That’s when I learned what a bulldog he was and made sure I stayed in contact with him!
Were you surprised at the attention the product received at the recent Denver Market?
I was pleasantly surprised because we had not had the opportunity to advertise it. We were totally dependent on saddle makers and storeowners stopping by the booth and then hopefully telling others. And that’s what happened. Friday was the first day of the market. Thankfully word traveled and from that afternoon until it ended, buyers were constantly stopping by to see The Leveler – and placing orders! We feel like this is a great start for the product.
How can I buy Nettles Stirrups?
Nettles Stirrups are sold by better western stores as well as better saddlemakers throughout the United States and also worldwide. Germany and Italy are great supporters of Nettles Stirrups and we appreciate that. At present we do retail to those who call us directly as well as having a booth at the 3 major Fort Worth NCHA age events each year. Our goal though is one day to be a completely wholesale business.