Local saddlery business changes riders

Kent Frecker, the new owner of of the former Johnson Saddlery store on West Bannack Street in Dillon is shown in his new shop. M.P. Regan photo


One of the oldest surviving businesses in Dillon, Johnson’s Saddlery recently gained a new owner and new name, but will continue to offer a similar line of high-quality products that have made it popular amongst ranch and rodeo professionals, and amateur horse enthusiasts for the past century.

Kent Frecker, the longtime owner and operator of Frecker’s Saddlery in Idaho Falls, has purchased Johnson’s Saddlery and moved his business into Johnson’s Dillon location, 125 W. Bannack St., just across from The Metlen.

“I like Dillon,” said Frecker, explaining why he’s transferred the successful business he’s operated for a quarter of a century in Utah and Idaho to southwestern Montana.

“I’ve always liked the feel of the town and community and thought it would be a nice place to be a part of,” added Frecker, a regular visitor to Dillon in years past to see his daughter, Anna, who lives in Dillon along with her husband, dentist Dr. Justin Rhodes, and their children.

In purchasing Johnson’s Saddlery, Frecker has taken over a local business that has been part of Dillon since 1914, according to John Seymour, the man Frecker bought the business from earlier this year.

“Edgar and Gary Johnson, a father-and-son team, started the business in 1914 as Johnson’s Trading Company, and then it became to Johnson’s Harness Shop, and then it went to Johnson Saddlery in the 1940s. Gary built the current building the business is in around that time,” commented Seymour, who said he purchased Johnson’s Saddlery in 1975 from Arnold Smith, a former employee of the Johnsons.

“I was rodeoing at the time and going to college. I really liked Johnson’s Saddlery, and I came by the place one day and Arnold offered to sell it to me.”

Seymour said the new owner is a good fit for the business he ran for almost four decades.

“Kent Frecker has been making saddles for a long time. He has a really good reputation.”

Frecker said that instead of owner, he’d just as soon be known as saddlemaker, a title he shares with his son, Carson, and their co-worker, Levi Johnson.

“We thought about keeping the Johnson’s Saddlery name because of Levi, but we realized there were two Freckers and one Johnson,” joked Frecker, who said his nephew, Mason Willard, will also work full-time at the business, in a variety of functions.

“I like doing this,” said Frecker, who began making saddles 30 years ago for another company before striking out on his own five years later to start Frecker’s Saddlery.

“I like horses and I like working with my hands and I enjoy being a saddlemaker.”

Frecker said that while he, Carson and Levi cleared enough space in the store to accommodate three full-time saddlemakers, he will maintain the business’ walk-in retail capacity, even though it’s new ground for him.

“I’ve never had a retail store before. Our shop in Idaho Falls was just behind my house. We got most of our business through word of mouth,” said Frecker, who will maintain a website at www.freckerssaddlery.com to make it easier for ranch owners and workers living in remote locations to order items.

“But we’ll continue to carry breast collars, headstalls, reins, some bits and spurs and ponchos—most of the stuff that’s been here the in past.

“We will try to keep it all American made, as much as it’s possible. Good quality —that’s what we’re really stressing. It might not be cheapest, but it will be the best.”

Frecker said that philosophy starts with the trees and saddles he’s made for decades and will continue to feature as the main products of Frecker’s Saddlery.

“We try to make a top-quality saddle using all American-made products. Everything is done by hand. We put a lot of passion into our work. It’s more than a livelihood for us, it’s what we do,” said Frecker, who said he was instilled with a love of horses as a child while visiting his grandfather’s ranch in Utah.

“We’re not into the fancy show stuff; it’s more working cowboy products we’re building. Our slogan is: we make the best for the best,” said Frecker, whose long, loyal client list includes Buck Brannaman, the natural horsemanship innovator and inspiration for the lead character in the bestselling novel and hit movie The Horse Whisperer.

“In 25 years, I have never had a disgruntled customer. We work to make any problems right. We want to continue that tradition of honesty and integrity.

“That means more to me than making money. If I lose my integrity, I’ve lost everything.”

Frecker’s Saddlery will host a grand opening, with door prizes and sale items, on November 15 and 16 at 125 W. Bannack in Dillon. For more information, call 683-4452.