By Gail Parsons
Sometimes a new product hits the market and we’re left wondering why it took so long for someone to invent it. Such might be the case for people who participate in horse-riding sports when they try the new Fast N’ Forward stirrup.
Alex James, an Abilene native, was recently awarded a patent for a stirrup with a new design.
When he was growing up James spent a lot of time on his grandparent’s ranch, the 3J Ranch just northwest of Abilene. His grandfather Bill James trained horses so he was in the saddle at an early age.
“I often rode horses better than my ability to ride, meaning they were faster and stronger than a little kid could handle,” he said. “My grandpa always told me to keep your toes down, that will help you stay in the saddle when you’re roping.”
Keeping the toes down makes the feet stay behind the hips, which he explained is standard in just about any sport.
“You always have your feet behind your hips to be powerful, to be aggressive,” he said.
The foot placement became normal practice for him. It wasn’t until he was on his college rodeo team at Northwestern Oklahoma State University did the light bulb go off and he realized there could be a market for a stirrup to aid the rider in keeping the toes down.
He recalled the professionals would come down and practice with the team, one of them showed how he would pull the saddle fender back so his feet were naturally be behind his hips.
“It was pretty much at that moment I realized people were making modifications to the saddles and to the way they rode with this one goal in mind – to get the toes down,” he said.
In 2013, he started playing around with different designs and angles; and in 2014 he was ready to submit a patent for a forward angled stirrup as opposed to the traditional flat stirrup.
“You would think that would have been implemented in the last 200 years of people riding horses,” he said.
He had initially designed them for team ropers, which he competed in along with steer wrestling and has been surprised to see how popular they have become with riders in other disciplines.
They have become popular with barrel racing and mounted shooting sports and “any discipline of riding that requires you to maintain a forward stance in your saddle,” he said.
Because the patent process is a lengthy one, it wasn’t until May did he learn he was awarded Patent Number 9,334,152.
James recalled the day he received the notification in the mail about the patent – he nearly mistook the letter for junk mail and was just about to throw it away when he realized what it was.
He applied for the patent to protect his right to the unique design, but he has been manufacturing and built up an international clientele including customers in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Dominican Republic.
“I started manufacturing them in my barn, by myself, with very limited tools,” he said. “Once I established exactly what I wanted size-wise and dimension-wise I outsourced it to (Advanced Manufacturing Institute at) Kansas State University.”
An added bonus to owning the Fast N’ Furious Stirrup Company, is he gets to say involved in an industry he love.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a living on horseback, but I still wanted to be involved in the industry and this is a way to be involved without traveling all over the place and compete and show horses,” he said.
He does still travel frequently with his job at Rawhide Portable Corral in Abilene and will go to a few trade shows with the stirrups, but most of the selling is done through dealers now.
More information and pictures of the Fast N’ Forward stirrups can be found at http://www.fastnforward.com