Cowboy Crafted

Clint Mortenson took a roundabout route to get to where he is, but the journey helped the silversmith and saddlemaker focus on the things that really matter.

Story by SUSAN MORRISON Photography by ROSS HECOX

Mortenson shopClint Mortenson's home and shop in Sante Fe, New Mexico, reflect his creative style.

Rarely do people’s lives follow a straight path. Clint Mortenson’s experience is no different. Although his home base is now Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he moved 15 years ago, the silversmith and saddlemaker took what could mildly be described as a circuitous route to get there.

His journey included stops in Hollywood, California, and Paris, France. His jobs have been varied, from trick rider and movie stunt double to horse trainer and saddlemaker. But after years of moving and following his muse, Mortenson has put down roots, built a business, and found time to enjoy horses again.

South Dakota Start

Mortenson grew up in Groton, South Dakota, where his parents, Carlyle and Marion, had a small breeding and training facility.

“We trained and showed Quarter Horses and Paints, mostly in reining,” he says. “And we always stood a few stallions.”

After finishing high school, he attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, earning degrees in commercial art, marketing and management. But he also kept his hand in the horse business.

“I had my own stable and was training, and did farrier work,” Mortenson says. “I didn’t want to have to borrow money.”

While it was art that initially intrigued him, business classes also interested him. What he learned would eventually help him in ways he didn’t expect. Back then, however, “there wasn’t really a set plan.”

Mortenson buckleSilver buckles show detailed engraving.

That was clear shortly after he graduated, when relatives in California urged him to visit, and he packed up and moved to Los Angeles. He even bought a suit, thinking he would leave the arena dirt in South Dakota.

“I thought since I’d been training and riding horses seven days a week ever since I was a kid, I would move to LA,” he says. “I bought a sailboat in Marina Del Rey and thought I’d get a business job and stay clean for awhile! I got a job managing a vintage and custom leather store on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. We made a lot of custom things for movies and celebrities. It was interesting, but I started missing the horses probably after two weeks. So I started training some horses at Will Rogers State Park [in Pacific Palisades].”

Although the store’s customers were an eclectic bunch, Mortenson met an equally diverse group of actors and celebrities at the park’s stable.

“I met a lot of people through the shop, but then I started training horses for C.C. Huston, [famed film director] John Huston’s ex-wife,” he says. “There were other people who had horses at the barn where I was— Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, Billy Crystal. Then I started working polo horses out there. That was a change, but I enjoyed it. I did that for about three years.”

Read "Building on Tradition"

He stayed until some friends told him about an audition for a new production in Europe.

Tags: SilversmithClint MortensonSaddlemakerCraftsmen