Mickey Mussett—owner of Ghost Rider Boots in Denver—didn’t come to love cowboy boots or bootmaking by any of the typical paths. He wasn’t born a cowboy (though he has the soul of one), he hasn’t worked on any famous ranches (but he’s slept in a few barns), and he didn’t inherit the skill from family (his father was an Air Force commander, not a craftsman).
In fact, Mussett didn’t get introduced to the trade until he was 56 years old—an age that most men start looking forward to the horizon of retirement. The way Mussett sees it though, he’s always been a bootmaker; he just didn’t realize it until God showed him the way.
For most of his professional life, Mussett worked at the executive level of advertising. When he was laid off in his mid-50s, he discovered that advertising was a young man’s game and no longer seemed to have a place for him. He went from making six figures to working part-time jobs for only slightly more than minimum wage.
That’s when he learned, as he says, that God speaks in brick walls.
“There are various points in your life when you’re going to hit a brick wall,” explains Mussett. “You can’t go over or under or around the wall—you just have to deal with it. In my case, the wall I was dealing with was frustration and poverty and skills that meant nothing in my new life. So I prayed, I listened, and God answered.”
That answer came in the form of an Internet article on David Hutchings, a custom bootmaker north of Denver. Mussett called Hutchings up, became his apprentice, and started down a path that would change the course of his life.
The first pair of boots Mussett made were entered in the Boot and Saddle Makers show in Wichita Falls, Texas, and won second place in his category. On the ride home from the show, Hutchings—a taciturn man of few words—told Mussett, “I think you have it in you to become one of the best bootmakers in America.”
Hearing such high praise from his mentor was all the inspiration Mussett needed.
Mussett, now 70, has been devoted to achieving that goal ever since. He’s studied with some of the most renown bootmakers in the country and has spent “more than a few nights on ranch house floors, just to study certain aspects of boots.” He’s in his workshop six days a week and says that in the 14 years he’s been making boots, there hasn’t been a time that he’s been without an order to work on.
“We’re still in the Golden Age of custom bootmaking,” he says.
Mussett has made boots for folks from all walks of life, from politicians to competitive equestrians to a man who wanted to commemorate his team’s Super Bowl win. There’s also the story of the farmer who wanted to wear cowboy boots to his son’s wedding, but after a fall from a 40-foot silo that crushed his ankles, no factory-line boot would possibly fit him. Mussett, however, was able to craft a pair of boots that not only fit the farmer but provided him with orthopedic support.
“When he sent me a letter saying he was able to dance at his son’s wedding, well, nothing can touch that feeling.”
By combining artistry, imagination, exacting mathematical precision, and a little bit of prayer—all applied across the 200 steps it takes to make a cowboy boot—Mussett takes dreams and makes them manifest.
“I’m in the business of making people happy,” he says. “And it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Mussett may have lost a job, but he found a life.