BY TYLER BUI
Leah Matanky turned her passion for horses into an unexpected career.
Redwood Tack, which she established in 2014, offers the highest-quality saddles and tack through a personalized shopping experience. While her showroom and business are based out of Nicasio, CA, Matanky ships to any location in the country. And she caters to all.
“It’s just me, so every customer can have as much communication as they want,” says Matanky, CEO and owner of the company. “I try to cater it to what people prefer—we can text, we can talk on the phone, we can message on Facebook, I offer custom fittings at the showroom as well. One of the things that I love is the wide variety of clients that I get. I can cater the experience to whatever the customer needs.”
As a young child, Matanky lived in Colorado and often had horses walk right up to her backyard looking for treats. She began taking Western lessons around age five, and eventually switched to riding English. Matanky leased her first pony, Dinah, and began showing in the pony hunters and medals with her. Not only did she love horses, but she loved that she was able to share that passion with her mother, who began riding shortly after Matanky.
“We used to show together, and we ended up buying a horse out of someone’s backyard. Her name was Silkie, so my mom would ride Silkie and I would ride Dinah and we got to do everything together,” says Matanky. “We would go pick the horses up at the barn at three or four in the morning, trailer them, lunge them, braid them, and show. My trainer had us do a lot of the prep work ourselves, which I’m really grateful for because it was the right way to start.”
Matanky attended the University of Colorado Boulder and moved to San Francisco for a job in the music industry after graduation. While she took a break from riding, her mom still owned horses so she was able to ride on occasion.
“It must have been maybe four or five years after moving that I really started wanting to ride again,” says Matanky. “I looked on Craigslist to find horses for lease, and I found an 18-hand dressage horse. Eventually, my mom agreed to send me her horse, Johnny. He was just a jack of all trades. I got a lot of confidence from him and started having a lot of fun.”
After a few years of having Johnny out in California, Matanky got pregnant with her son and took a break from riding. During that same time, she realized that commuting into the city wasn’t something she wanted to do, and that is where the idea of Redwood Tack began to emerge.
“I started to explore what else I could do, and experiment—I was doing some graphic design and also I decided to try and sell a couple of things on eBay.”
After having her son, Matanky purchased another horse to get into the hunter/jumper world and began taking lessons at a barn with some friends.
“I had never seen anything like that [facility] in my life. I couldn’t even believe the horses,” says Matanky. “That was my intro into this world. Through that, I learned about all of these higher-end brands.”
After leaving her job, Matanky began selling more out of her eBay shop. She would go to consignment shops, purchase items, and resell them through her store.
“I joked that it was like my side hustle, but it actually worked pretty well,” she says. “I had a lot of success because at that point, I had figured out what brands everybody wanted and I learned by trial and error what prices I should pay for things in order to still have room to turn it around.”
“The saddles were a scary thing to jump into because they’re expensive,” she says, adding that her business philosophy, “has always been that I don’t do consignment, I just buy and resell. My sister, who is a graphic designer, set up a basic website for me so I was able to start posting all my inventory on this site.”
Within Matanky’s first year of business, she was fully able to support herself and her family through Redwood Tack. Today, she has at least 150 saddles in inventory at any given time.
“I’ve met all these great people through the network—I have sources in France, I have sources in Belgium and Germany, and now, people seek me out because they know there’s no fuss, it’s just an outright purchase.”
Matanky has three main saddle sources: Individuals who want to sell or trade their saddle, saddle reps, and sources in Europe.
“I do work with the reps of most of the major high-end French brands. I also have some sources in France and Belgium who regularly send me big lists of saddles to choose from. I’m happy to accept trade-ins from clients, as well as clients coming to me with saddles to sell. That’s a big part of my inventory and I enjoy facilitating a ‘one stop shop’ for clients to unload their unneeded saddle and acquire a new one all in the same transaction.”
Looking to Buy or Sell?
Selling your saddle to Redwood Tack is a simple and straightforward process. After contacting Matanky, all it takes is a few photos to receive an offer. She is open to negotiation, and once the price is agreed upon, the saddle gets shipped and the payment is processed.
As for buyers, “If somebody fills out the wish list section on my site, it’ll send me an email,” says Matanky. “I create a profile for that person as far as what they’re looking for, and every time that I get a new saddle listed onto my site, I’ll go through my entire database of people looking for saddles and see if that particular style matches with anything that they’re looking for.”
Once a client finds a saddle they are interested in, they make the purchase on Redwood Tack’s website and the saddle will arrive to them within a few days. Once it arrives, they will have five days to test the saddle and see if it’s the right fit.
“I think an integral part of why the business works is because saddles are so individually fit for the horse and the rider,” says Matanky. “Without the trial option, my business would be limited because you can’t spend such a large amount of money not knowing if it’s going to be the right fit.”
Matanky believes that tack should be considered more than just equipment, and she hopes that the Redwood Tack experience will leave a lasting impact on her clients.
“Tack is handmade, they’re like works of art. You don’t have to have the fanciest tack in order to enjoy horses, but when you do invest in equipment that fits you and your horse, you’re setting yourself up for more success,” says Matanky. “My mom and I used to sit, watch movies, and clean our tack on the coffee table growing up. I learned that it’s fun to take care of your equipment and to know what you’re using, if you take ownership of your things and you take care of them. It’s a really beautiful part of the sport as a whole.”
Looking back at the evolution of Redwood Tack, Matanky is thankful for the opportunities the industry has given her. She has been able to advance her own riding career, and has been able to share these experiences in the industry with her now eight-year-old son.
“I’m so immersed in the horse world—it’s my entire life. As with most horse people, I live and breathe it every day,” she says. “There’s not one day that goes by without probably saying ‘horse’ and ‘saddle’ at least 100 times. I’m very proud that I’ve been able to turn my passion into something that completely supports my family.”
Photos courtesy of Leah Matanky