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Progress: Harnessed to a favorite pastime

The finished bridle may look complicated, but once the buckles are set, only two buckles are required to mount the harness. (Photos by Sandy Hadler, contributor) 1 / 4
1: Dan Stussy uses a draw knife to cut the straps for a harness. The draw knife allows him to create a strap with perfectly straight edges. One side of the knife has a ruler on it, and he can set it for any width he wants. 2 / 4
2: Before he hand stitches parts of the harness, Stussy needs to create holes in the leather, because it is too thick for a needle to penetrate. He punches out holes by using a very sharp awl, which involves a lot of hard work, he said.3 / 4
3. Next Stussy stitches the leather, using a homemade wooden stitching horse. He puts the leather in the top, where it is held in place while he stitches the straps by hand.4 / 4

By Sandy Hadler, Contributor

ZUMBROTA — Dan Stussy of rural Zumbrota retired in 2004 and planned to repair old buggies and wagons as a pastime. Instead, he found himself creating a variety of leather items for his family and friends.

Years before that, he had acquired skills in leather crafting after he and his wife, Barb, bought a Shetland pony for their daughter. He said of his hobby, “It went from there.”

Stussy finds working with leather to be the perfect recreational hobby. He has a room in his basement filled with tools that allow him to make a variety of custom leather items including belts, holsters, halters, harnesses, back packs and pouches.

He said he especially likes to make harnesses. His most recent venture involved creating a leather harness for a young girl’s Welch-sized pony. It took him three days to make.

The first step was to measure the horse. He uses a diagram and has the owner fill in a number of statistics about the animal. The girl’s horse had a small head, so he made the bridle smaller than usual.

Stussy gets his leather from a tannery in Ohio. He used a side (half of a cow’s hide) of dyed harness leather to make the pony harness.

Harness leather has wax incorporated into it, so that it stays flexible, he said. The wax protects the harness from the horse’s sweat.

Stussy described his leather items as “plain Jane.”

“People want ornate, and I don’t like fancy things or decorative things,” he said.

His granddaughter Lindsay, who is 13, does lacing and adds jewel studs to some of the bridles. “If she didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done,” he said.

When he’s not in his leather shop, Stussy finds time for his other passion — trail riding with family and friends. Later this month he will head to Missouri and Arkansas with his fox trotter. They will spend three weeks in the Ozarks, enjoying some of the roughest and most challenging trails in the United States. Stussy said it is one of his favorite places to ride.

This story originally appeared in part 1 of the 2014 Red Wing Republican Eagle Progress Edition, titled Start to Finish. The three-part series features local businesses, artisans and community groups describing their step-by-step processes. 

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