Through her business ReRide Horse Tack, leather craftswoman Vicki McAllister gives used or damaged tack a second life, and at the same time, helps worthy causes. She is proving recycling can have multiple benefits.

A self-described horse fanatic from the get-go, McAllister traces her interest in refurbishing tack to her lack of horse gear when she was young. Growing up on a 300-acre dairy farm, her family didn’t have extra money for horse equipment. She started out her horse experience with a very uncooperative Shetland pony named Misty, riding her bareback with only a halter and lead rope.

“Needless to say that ‘Satan-spawn’ of a pony didn’t really teach us to ride proper(ly) but she did teach us to get back on when we fell, hang on or face death and duck fast or risk decapitation by clothesline,” said McAllister. “I believe my humble beginning with horses is a major factor in how ReRide became what it is and what I want it to be.”

Before his death in 2011, McAllister’s husband, Jerry, was employed with the Washburn County Sheriff’s Department. Through that connection, the couple learned about a bunch of rescued horses and the couple agreed to foster some of the horses. To raise funds for the horses’ care, McAllister decided to recycle used tack.

“We took some of those horses in and we were trying to figure out a way to help with the costs of getting those horses healthy and ready to adopt out,” said McAllister. “I thought what about taking used/broken tack and refurbishing it and repairing it. I wondered if there would be an interest in a good used piece of tack at a lower cost than new overpriced tack.”

So in 2005, McAllister started her leatherworking education by picking up used saddles and bridles at auctions, even buying whole boxes of horse tack or harnesses. When she got the boxes home, McAllister went through the purchases, repairing what could be salvaged and weeding out what was beyond repair.

“Most of my learning was done by taking things apart and seeing how it was made,” said McAllister. “I have several good leather making books that I go to for reference when I need to. A lot of the learning is also trial and error.”

She also spends time reading forums and watching videos of how other people do leatherwork.

“I don’t think a person ever quits learning and I love it when I pick up a new way to do something,” said McAllister.

The repair and refurbishing work led her to wonder if she could start making new tack, asking herself, “How hard can it be?”

“Those first few tries ended in a lot of waste, frustration and some pitiful looking halters,” said McAllister. “I look back now and wonder what the heck was I doing?”

When her husband died, McAllister came to a crossroad. She took a year off to decide whether to continue with the leatherworking business on her own or to let her dream go.

“I decided to keep going,” said McAllister.

She now works out of her newly finished Stone Lake shop making repairs and filling custom orders. Starting from the whole hide, McAllister cuts pieces freehand or uses a template.

More recently, she has branched out to working with other materials to make mohair cinches and webbed nylon and parachute cord to make halters and other head gear. Her skills aren’t limited to horse tack; she’s repaired tow straps, gun belts for law enforcement, hunting stands and horse blankets. In addition, she makes dog collars, knife sheaths and is considering expanding to gun holsters.

“I’m not afraid to try something unusual and will work with the customer to figure out a way to make what they need,” said McAllister. “I can make everything from heavy-duty working tack to shiny, blinged out show tack from chin straps to full spotted harness. Because I make my tack right from the hide, I can literally make any size or shape for that hard-to-fit horse.”

She accepts donated leather goods including broken tack, and she’ll recycle the broken items into something else using the hardware. Because of her experience with used tack, McAllister advises owners to care for their horse equipment.

“The biggest piece of advice I would have for people is to keep your tack oiled,” said McAllister. “Once leather reaches the point of dry rot, it is too late to save it. You should never be able to twist a strap of leather and have it break. Sometimes if you bend the leather it will crack, most times it is just surface cracking and a good oiling will soften it back up.”

Since beginning the tack recycling venture, McAllister has kept to ReRide’s initial goal of helping others. Through ReRide, she has donated to animal rescues as far away as Mexico and North Carolina. Tack sets are often donated to local fundraisers, and this year, she also donated to the Veterans Memorial in Spooner.

Customers are invited to contact McAllister through her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/reride810 to place an order.