Written by Doreen Shumpert
“It’s tougher than you think.”
With that simple statement, the “gauntlet had been thrown down” as Pete Melniker said, the challenge was on, and the seed was planted for what would become the Double Diamond Halter Company, Inc.
As a youngster, east-coast – born Melniker rode horses some and learned how to tie knots in the Boy Scouts. When he was in grade school, the Interstate was built a mile from his house and he always wondered “where that big highway went.” His father traveled a lot in his youth, and looking back, Melniker thinks that helped forge his desire to know what lay beyond the boundaries of home.
His opportunity to find out came when a good friend needed help moving to Colorado. Not only did he help; he stayed. Soon he was working as a carpenter and cowboying on ranches in Colorado and Wyoming. After a summer and fall with the Padlock Ranch, Pete went to shoeing school at MSU in the winter of 1984, where he met Phil Wolfe. Unknown to both of them, Phil would also become an important piece of the puzzle. Phil intended to show Pete “a great way to tie a fiador knot” (the knot at the bottom of the halter), but left suddenly for a job at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska without showing Pete the knot. In the spring, Pete returned to the Padlock Ranch where he met Duval Walters—better known as “Slim.”
“One day during calvin’, I noticed that Slim had a rope halter. Since I had tied knots all my life, I made the comment that it didn’t look too hard to make one of those, and he said ‘it’s tougher than you think.'” Melniker recalled. Little did he know at the time that was step one in a process that would eventually build a major company and highly-desired product. Later that summer, Wolfe sent step-by-step diagrams to Melniker of how to tie a Fiador knot.
“He had no idea I was trying to learn to tie halters either,” he shared. “Out of the blue he sent me this stuff, and I practiced it every day when I came in from my morning circle.”
Mysteriously, step two in the company-building process had come to fruition as quietly and unexpectedly as an early spring colt.
Being in the Sheridan, Wyo. area, naturally Melniker frequented the legendary King’s Saddlery. At this point, Melniker had decided he would try to make some rope halters for friends.
“I asked Abby Smith, an employee at King’s, about their rope halters. She said they were having trouble getting them made, so that led to my making them for King’s and other custom shops,” he explained.
Before he knew it, step three had transpired, all the pieces had come together, and he was in the halter making business.
“I was basically after pocket change while workin’ in cow camps.” Then in 1986, he returned to MSU to finish his college education. “I was shoeing horses for Buck Brannaman, riding some colts and tying halters, which kept me from flippin’ burgers,” Melniker explained. After graduating with a degree in Ranch Management, Jack Catlin, a professor and mentor told him that “he was lucky to have the halter business, because he could wait for the right management job.” So far he’s never had to get another job.
Melniker’s start with Buck [Brannaman] was also perfect timing. Back when Buck was still starting colts for the public, Melniker saddled horses, did some groundwork and shod horses for him. He asked Buck if he’d like to try the halters. He did, and noticed that they didn’t break and really worked well. Consequently, he suggested that Melniker try making mecates also. That opened the floodgates as they say, into the multitude of handmade products that Melniker would eventually produce. And, the halters were getting exposure through Buck, Ray Hunt, and many others.
“The success was in the timing, too,” he admitted. “The clinics and the halters and our other products were gaining in popularity. If it would have been 1960, I’d have starved to death.”
Fortunately, it wasn’t. It was the latter two decades of the 20th century—a time when the horse market was exploding with interest in sports like team roping and barrel racing, and clinicians of all varieties were hitting the scene. Naturally, that was accompanied by a demand for high-quality horse gear as fast as Melniker and others could supply it.
These days, not only does Double Diamond Halter Company put food on the table, it employs about 10 people who help Melniker hand-make all of the gear. Last time he counted, that constituted over 500,000 halters, plus other cowboy equipment, including lead ropes, mecates, slobber straps, reins, shuflies, get down ropes, lariats, hondas, horsemanship flags and gloves. Additionally, they make some dog leashes, distribute some educational books and DVDs as well as some products they’ve personally tested and approved, such as Cowboy Stache Wax and Cross A Ranch Handcream. Overall, however, the halters remain the leading seller.
According to Melniker, rope halters are popular with horsemen of all types because the horse has a better feel of what the handler is asking. Secondly, there is no hardware to rust, break or eyelets to rip.
“There is better feel and response from the horse, and I think that’s because the halter fits around the back of the jaw, rather than flat against it like a nylon halter. Horses still have to be taught to properly yield to pressure, but they’re more sensitive to a rope halter,” he explained. “With a flat nylon halter, the pressure is dissipated, or at least the horse doesn’t feel light pressure to respond. Plus, rope halters are washable, and they are more durable, because there’s less to fail.”
The Double Diamond Halter Company shop is located near Bozeman, Montana, and they only sell wholesale to retail stores. Products can be viewed at major retailers or purchased online, at Brighton Feed and Saddlery in Brighton, Colo., King’s Saddlery in Sheridan, Wyo., Murdoch’s Farm and Ranch stores, www.lostbuckaroo.com, www.houlihanhorsegear.com and many others. For catalog shoppers, Double Diamond Halters and equipment can be found in the NRS (National Ropers Supply), State Line Tack, Dover and Smith Brother’s catalogs to name a few.
“One of my biggest clients is Brighton Feed and Saddlery,” Melniker said. “Roger [the owner] used to send me rope in cow camp and was always very helpful as was Bob King at King’s Saddlery. I was making the soft #200 series halters, and one day I asked Bob if he was using them. He said ‘No,’ that he would prefer a firmer halter.” So he took me downstairs in the store and we started going through rolls of rope, finding different types to use, which led to the # 100 series halters.”
Currently, those options include several different styles of rope in about every size and color you can imagine. Trail halters are soft and a small enough diameter to fit in your pocket, while the strongest model is manufactured from 9.5 mm (3/8”) nylon kernmantle climbing rope and is available up to draft horse size.
When he’s not making halters, which isn’t very often these days, he and his wife Sharon raise and train horses. They sponsor Buck’s clinic in Bozeman, and Melniker competes in reined cow horse events on a Paddys Irish Whiskey-bred stud they stand to the public. Other than that, they grow—and feed—hay on land that has been home to four generations of Sharon’s family.
“As the business grew, and time became scarce, the shoeing was the first to go, followed by riding colts for the public,” he shared.
He is thankful that he’s had a lot of assistance in marketing. “A lot of people have helped promote the halters. Buck, Ray [Hunt], Mike Beers (team roper), Sharon Camarillo (barrel racer) and Greg Eliel. I have met many people that use our products through my involvement with horses or a combination of the halters and horses,” he said.
Walk into almost any tack shop or view countless catalogs and you can find variations of rope halters. That doesn’t faze Melniker; he knows he has a corner—or more—on the market. Although aided by national ads, major endorsements, five-year guarantees on their halters and numerous size and color options, he feels the real success of the company is in the quality craftsmanship, accurate sizing, consistency of the product and good service.
“The quality sets us apart, along with our national reputation and longevity,” he said. “Bruce King (King’s Saddlery) once said he was happy dealin’ with us,” Melniker continued. “He knew I’d be there tomorrow.”
For more information, visit www.doublediamondhalters.com, or call (406) 582-0706.
This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.36