“Russ has a saddle fitting today.”
That seems to be the frequent response when calling for the co-proprietor at The R Bar B, northeast of Topeka.
However, making sure saddles properly fit the horse and its rider, although an extremely important need, is a mere sampling of diverse services and offerings Brown and his wife Dina provide horse-inclined enthusiasts throughout the Midwest.
“About anything related to the Western lifestyle is involved in our service here at The R Bar B,” Russ insisted.
“We’re a family business including our three sons and a dedicated staff all with similar interests helping our customers like we would want to and expect to be treated,” Dina chimed in.
“It looks like we’ve got a lot going on here, and it’s true that it seems I’m seldom around when somebody wants me for something. We are busy, that’s for sure, but everything we have has been built from scratch,” Russ contended.
“Literally, that’s the case, we started in a renovated chicken house and have continued to expand as country and horse people have patronized our business. We are so thankful for so much,” Dina clarified.
Today, The R Bar B offers saddles, tack, repair services, trailers, work and horseshow apparel, feed, livestock equipment, and much more including the newest addition: a large public arena and accompanying office-concessions facility.
“We couldn’t do it all without our great employees, and our three sons who were literally raised in the store. They know as much about the business as we do, and they should considering that everything we do relates to it one way or another.
“Perhaps sadly to a point, the store really is our life But, the boys are also very involved in 4-H and livestock projects, and show all species actually,” Dina pointed out.
The Brown family home and personal livestock operations are just a few yards to the east of the main business location
Now, let’s not get the wagon before the horse, as Russ, a lifelong teamster, would surely contend.
“Saddle fitting is very essential to performance of both the horse and the rider to have the best results every time they go for a ride. But, most people really don’t even consider how a saddle fits their horse, just how it looks and feels to them personally,” Russ asserted.
“I’ve had horses all of my life, ridden a lot of different saddles and horses, and didn’t ever think much about how the saddle fit on the horse, how it affected the horse, and how permanent injury could occur, let alone inhibiting performance,” continued the saddle repairman.
“I’ve been doing leatherwork even working on minor saddle repairs since I was a kid, had a repair shop fixing saddles to help get through college, and been doing extensive work on saddles as a major part of the store here from the beginning. I’ve definitely found out through experience how essential it is for the saddle to fit the horse properly,” he emphasized.
Every horse is different, and when consciously thinking about it, obviously one saddle can’t fit every horse, at least not properly.
“Now, I’m not saying one saddle can’t be used on several horses, or even most horses, but it’s important to have the best fitting saddle as possible,” Russ pointed out.
When an owner has a definite horse with a specific purpose, whether it is just for pleasure riding, roping, cutting cattle or any other discipline, Russ spends considerable time measuring the horse and determining with the owner exactly what will fit and work best.
“Of course, the rider has to be satisfied with the saddle, feel comfortable riding and also be able to maneuver the mount for best results. Still, the fit of the saddle on the horse always comes first for me, even though we might have to come to a happy medium” Russ admitted.
A number of measurements are made of the horse’s back, wither, heart girth and other parts for best fit of the horse.
“Then, we determine which one out of about a dozen trees will be best along, with the most desirable seat, cantle and other saddle parts. We mix and match the almost endless options, so we have a total custom saddle for that horse and that rider,” Russ explained.
“We definitely don’t want the saddle too narrow, too wide, too long, too short, anything ill-fitting and inhibiting for the horse to function and longevity of optimum performance,” Russ said.
Then, the saddle has to be built. “I’m in a partnership with Scott Thomas at The R Bar B Saddlery in Campbell, Texas, where the custom saddles are made exactly like we need them for the exact horse and rider,” Russ related.
“We build about 100 custom saddles a year, but the shop also does contract work for other companies. Five saddle makers, toolers and oilers can build about 20 saddles a week,” Russ explained.
Mention the word saddle, and The R Bar B comes first to mind with many horse owners throughout the Midwest. That’s in large part because one of the largest selections of saddles in the world is available at the store.
“We have more than 400 saddles on hand at all times, including new saddles of all types, and every style and condition with wide variation in price range for just about every discipline of horseback riding there is.
“One might say we specialize in Western saddles, but we have English saddles, exercise saddles, special gaited horse saddles, silver parade saddles, you name it, there’s one at The R Bar B, or we’ll definitely find one,” Russ guaranteed.
Okay, back to the beginning.
Russ was raised in Jefferson County, north of Grantville, not far from where The R Bar B, with a 3256 Northeast 39th Street, Topeka, address, is today.
“My family has always been involved with horses and mules. I’ve been riding horses, driving teams of horses and mules ever since I can remember.
“Grandpa (Doc Brown) had draft horses all of the time, and Dad (Roy Brown) had some draft teams but was always more of a mule man. We had mule teams, rode mules and always did a lot of ’coon hunting with mules,” too,” Russ reflected.
Roy Brown remains headquartered at the nearby home place, deals in horse drawn vehicles, and is a frequent advisory visitor assistant at The R Bar B. “When we need a hand, or advice, Dad is always ready to help,” Russ credited.
“I always had an interest in leather work growing up, too, made different projects, and been doing my own tack and saddle repair, and some for my family and friends ever since middle school,” Russ added.
Dina (Stewart) grew up at Hazelton in Barber County. “We had a diversified farm and livestock operations. I showed all species of livestock, steers, hogs, lambs, even horses. I was always active in livestock and meats judging and received a judging scholarship to Cloud County Community College at Concordia where I judged on both teams,” Dina reflected.
Although Russ and Dina had both been very active in 4-H and FFA events throughout the state and some on the national level, it wasn’t until junior college that the pair with obvious similar backgrounds and certainly livestock interests met.
“We were in the same livestock groups at Cloud County, where we were both majoring in animal science, and then started dating and continued going together when we both transferred to K-State,” Dina related.
Saddle and tack work had been continued by Russ, and he established a repair shop in the basement when he rented his place to stay at K-State.
“We were both active in KSU ag groups, too, including Block and Bridle Club and the rodeo club. Word spread around pretty fast if anybody needed leather work done, I was the one to call. That helped considerably with college expenses and further set the tone for our future in the horse equipment and repair business,” Russ said.
Russ and Dina both graduated with degrees in animal science from K-State in May, 1994. “We got married the next month, in June. We’ve been married more than 20 years already,” Dina tallied.
The then newlyweds moved into a trailer house near Topeka, actually just south of their home and business today.
Russ did contract truck driving for nearby Goodyear Rubber Company, and Dina was a veterinary technician at the University Bird and Small Animal Clinic in Topeka.
“I was still doing a lot a saddle and tack repair, and we got a cargo trailer and started going around selling horse equipment at rodeos, horse shows, sales” Russ said.
“We went to a lot of sales, also handled and merchandized quite a few horses there for several years,” Dina noted.
Buying the 60-acre place where they live now, in 1996, the couple officially established the permanent R Bar B Saddle Shop in the chicken house west of their home two years later.
“We’ve just kept adding on ever since. We built on the east, then the west end, the porch and the new building behind,” Russ ciphered.
The R Bar B main facilities today total nearly 14,000 square feet. “About 8,000 square feet of retail space actually,” Russ counted.
Of course, that doesn’t include the vast parking and trailer storage, to the south and southwest, nor the elaborate arena and structures accompanying it about a block north.
“We’re extremely diversified to say the least, but we’ve always been open minded and progressive as we’ve built the business,” Russ figured.
“The urban cowboy craze was in about the time we put up our first permanent structure, and that sure helped us get established, to a point. Of course, it’s mellowed out, but many people today still like a Western touch to their apparel, which continues as our benefit,” he added.
Pulling into The R Bar B today readily verifies trailers are part of the business.
“Trailers really started as a sideline that fits well with everything else we do. We offer a wide variety of new and used trailers of about all types, do limited trailer repair and actually sell about 75 trailers a year, all kinds; utility trailers, flatbeds, horse and stock trailers. We’ll probably put more effort into trailers in the future,” Russ predicted.
One thing for certain, Russ and Dina are similar in attitude when it comes to task at hand. “When we get loaded down, together we’ll usually get the job done. I can do about anything that needs done with livestock or equipment,” Russ verified.
Following closely in likeness of Dad and Mom, Payke, 16; Tucker, 13; and Lakin, eight, participate in 4-H and livestock show activities collecting awards in several species on local, state and even national levels.
“Payke is really interested in showing livestock, and Tucker is more technical. Lakin likes his horses and cattle best. We all have horses and like to ride together as a family just for relaxation and pleasure, although the boys always show horses at the fair, too,” Dina said.
“They are a big help at the store when we need them,” she reiterated.
The impressive R Bar B Arena started out as “just a place to go play, but it got out of hand,” Russ said.
Measuring 160-feet-by-270-feet, the arena is all-steel construction with pens, chutes and return alley to host any kind of horse event, rodeo or competition.
“Some people might say we went overboard, but we hired a construction crew and did everything the best we could figure out. Actually spent about four times what we initially intended, but we’re glad we did,” Russ said.
When meeting Jefferson County zoning stipulations, the Browns were informed necessity to have restroom facilities, if the arena was going to be used for public events.
“So, again we decided to go all out and make sure we did it right the first time. We have the required men and women facilities, a shower room, storage area, office space and public concessions facility all incorporated in the metal structure nearby the arena. We hired a construction crew to make sure it was done right and was completed, too,” Russ commented.
“In reality, I could have probably done the entire arena and building construction personally, but by hiring the work out, it got done faster, and everything turned out really nice,” Russ evaluated.
R Bar B Arena has already hosted several events since summer completion. “We’ve had a few things ourselves, and several other groups have rented it for horse shows and activities. We have more ideas of our own, but we are now booking dates to the public for about any horse-related happenings next year.
“Actually, there has been a high interest, and many dates are already filled,” Russ said.
They also have a pen of roping steers for personal practice, and possible jackpots, or rent, if desire arises.
.A small spring fed pond to the south of the arena collects runoff and adds atmosphere to The R Bar B. “We’re going to get a paddle boat for it, and also hope to stock fish for an added recreational opportunity,” Russ said.
Saddle and tack repair continue as an enjoyable and important side of The R Bar B for Russ, but there are accomplished employees to handle that work when he’s busy with another endeavor.
Russ is an auctioneer conducting horse sales and other auctions, announces many horse shows and horse-related events annually, and usually has a draft team providing rides for celebrations over a wide area.
Dina is most always at the store looking after home base when Russ is out running around, doing a saddle fitting, or taking the large R Bar B display trailer to rodeos or any horse event throughout the Midwest.
“There’s always plenty to do, but we make sure our kids are involved in community and livestock events. I’m there with them,” Dina assured.
Undeniably, there has to be a certain Western romance to The R Bar B, but foremost it is a tough business, as verified by high transition in similar such long establishments in recent times.
“Trends change, fads changes, and we are forced to change, too. That’s the only way to keep going. We are constantly working to have the most modern equipment and apparel available in all sizes to fit every desire and need of the Western lifestyle. It’s not easy, but we’ve done it successfully, and we have no plans to slow down now. We’re anxious to help whatever the request,” agreed Russ and Dina Brown at The R Bar B.