If you’ve watched a Western film in the past two decades, chances are you’ve seen Clint Mortenson’s work. Mortenson made the saddlebags that Pierce Brosnan carried in Seraphim Falls, the belt worn by Woody Harrelson in No Country for Old Men, the saddle used by Tommy Lee Jones in The Missing, and the title character’s holster in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Most recently, Mortenson has been training actors to ride horses for The Harder They Fall, an all-black Western produced by Jay-Z for Netflix.
“I never thought I’d work in the movies,” Mortenson says. “It just seemed like it was meant to be that I ended up right between two Western movie ranches and know how to make the things they need.”
Mortenson originally launched his business, Mortenson Silver & Saddles, as a tack shop in Santa Fe. The year was 2000. Mortenson had grown up on a horse training and breeding facility in South Dakota and put himself through college—where he earned a triple major in Commercial Art, Marketing, and Management—by training horses.
After graduation, following a stint in Los Angeles managing a vintage leather store, and a year in Paris riding in a just-opened Disneyland’s Wild West show, he went back to school for saddle making. Mortenson was soon supplying the majority of the horse tack and costumes for Disneyland Paris. He opened his first shop in South Dakota, near his childhood home. He would find his way to Santa Fe eight years later, lured by the mild weather and eclectic community of horse-loving artists.
Today, Mortenson’s shop is located on his hacienda-style homestead 10 miles south of town. He still supplies Disneyland Paris. And it’s not just his silver and saddles that draw Western movie producers and actors. Fifteen horses, two ranch dogs, ten roping steers (cattle used to practice wrangling), and a pet buffalo named Clyde inhabit the property. “It’s basically Cowboy Camp,” Mortenson says with a chuckle. Last summer, frequent visitor Tommy Lee Jones brought Robert DeNiro over while filming The Comeback Trail. In the fall, Tom Hanks trained at Mortenson’s place while working on his forthcoming Western drama News of the World. Hillary Swank honed her riding skills at Mortenson’s, as did Christian Bale, Viggo Mortenson, and Russel Crowe.
Through it all, Mortenson has been raising a son, a young man named Wyatt, who Mortenson calls “an old soul.” Mortenson started Wyatt on horseback at age two and worked to instill the same horsemanship skills in the boy that Mortenson’s father had instilled in him. At age 19, Wyatt is putting his fledgling expertise to use by giving lessons at the homestead’s adobe barn and arena. His riding talent—from playing polo to roping steer to landing a running mount on Clyde the Buffalo—is starting to open increasingly interesting doors. Wyatt was recently invited to work on the Tom Hanks film as a stunt double and horse handler and chose to defer his college entrance by a year to take the opportunity.
Mortenson says he’ll support Wyatt whatever his path and is proud to have provided a foundation centered on horsemanship. “What I learned from training horses has gotten me further than anything else in life,” Mortenson says.