Necessity is the mother of invention, and when Joe Spiller needed some custom gear while showing horses and day working, he invented a way to outfit himself: he’d make his own bits and spurs.
For some 30 years, Spiller—largely self-taught—has been honing his craft, making such quality work that his shop has a six-year waiting list of horsemen eager to sport Spiller goods.
Spiller was born in Paducah, Texas, with horses and cowboying in his blood—he was raised on the Y Ranch and cut his teeth working on some of the largest ranches in West Texas. Spiller was heavily involved the equine industry, roping, training colts, showing reined cow horses, hosting clinics, and leading hunting trips. It’s this lifelong experience and appreciation for working horses, cowboys, and custom gear that he brings to wares.
“All of my heroes had custom stuff,” he says. “Custom pieces are above and beyond what you can buy off a manufacturing line. They fit better, function better, and last longer.”
A custom bit or pair of spurs takes time to build just right. Depending on the level of intricacy and detail, Spiller says, “It might take me 10 days to build a bit and some spurs can take up to two weeks.”
The wait, however, is worth it. And not just for the cowboy.
“Of course I want my customers to be satisfied,” says Spiller, “but it does my heart good to see horses enjoy my bits.”
A bit Spiller is particularly proud of creating is a bit he calls a cow horse mouth.
“It really works,” he says. “It has a 2 ¼-inch tapered port with a cricket, and horses seem to be very comfortable in it. It’s the type of bit a cowboy in West Texas is going to use, but it has a little bit of a California twist to it because of the cricket. It’s absolute magic—horses really do like it.”
On his own horses, especially those maturing into a real bit, Spiller says, “I really like a shanked three-piece dogbone as a transition bit. A lot of horses are real comfortable with it.”
As for spurs, he prefers “a good all-around spur. Something that is soft but can be aggressive if need be.”
Above all, Spiller loves his work because it supports the Western way of life. He explains, “I’ve never met a true cowboy or cowgirl that wasn’t a good person with good values, good morals, and who was a good steward of the land. They believe in God, family, and country. It’s a great way of life.”