Drive down quiet County Road 39 in Monticello, Minn., and you’ll come across a large red barn. This is where Mike Bray makes his quality custom saddles and welcomes customers. Widely recognized for his skill, Bray outdid himself with his Tribute to the Troops saddle. Wildly ambitious and incredibly detailed, the saddle is a tapestry of images that pay respect to the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Because it is so difficult to share in words the true appreciation I have for those who serve, I put my committed thoughts into what I know best, my art, in order to create an homage that would last a lifetime,” explains Bray in an artist’s statement.

Every inch of the saddle is tooled with patriotic images—from the five marines raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima and Rosie the Riveter to the American seal and a sculpted eagle in lieu of a traditional saddle horn. The words “Some Gave All” are tooled on the back of the cantle, and “All Gave Some” are on the front of the seat.

The saddle’s emotional impact is felt by anyone who sees it, and Bray was inspired to involve other craftsmen in the project. Vietnam veteran Michael Bregenzer designed, built, and donated the Tribute to the Troops saddle stand, and Colorado artists Wade and Marianne Truitt of T3 Weavers created a custom made alpaca saddle blanket and reins that incorporate an American flag design.

It takes a long time to study the saddle and fully appreciate the tooling, which encourages discourse about war, the military, and U.S. history. Bray’s passion for leather artistry and his commitment to the craft are evident in all his saddles. They are all built to fit the needs of the individual horse and rider and are meant to be heirlooms—pieces to be passed down for generations. But the Tribute to the Troops saddle is something else. It’s his masterpiece.

Mike Bray, 763-370-2874;

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