Hunt turns hides into art

Mar. 30—SALT LICK — A love of horses has guided Sheila Hunt throughout her life. As a small child growing up in Bright, Ontario, Canada, she got a pony. Later in her childhood, she worked a newspaper delivery route to pay for her first horse with her brother.

From then she was hooked and her life has been intertwined with horses ever since, including her move to Salt Lick in Bath County, where she founded R'Overo Leather and Tack.

In 2010, Hunt was looking for a location to be closer to her family who still lives in Canada, but having a place for her horse was paramount. Her husband passed away and she was looking to move from their place in Oklahoma, where she'd moved to marry her cowboy.

"I didn't want to go back to Canada because I couldn't afford the land with all horses I had, so I had to find something closer (to family)," Hunt said. "There are riding trails within walking distance of here. ... you can ride all around the lake."

She originally had a piece of land near Perryville where she worked at the museum at the Civil War battlefield.

Then she found a piece of land sitting next to the Zilpo Recreation Area in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The property provides her with the opportunity to have horses and even run businesses about horses.

"I always wanted a tack store," Hunt said. About a mile down the road from Hunt's farm, a leather shop and tack store had closed the year prior to her moving to Bath County when the former owner died. "When I started out I bought out the tack store and the leather shop was included and all the equipment."

Hunt moved the store up the road to her land and began selling tack for horses. The name is in honor of a horse of hers. An Overo patterned quarter horse name Rocket.

The shop is near several horse camps as well as numerous horse trails. Hunt had long repaired and cleaned tack and other items for riding horses.

"It was good the first year. Not extremely great, there are too many competitors on the internet," Hunt said. "Then COVID hit and it fell right off."

Hunt decided to sell out of the tack and other horse equipment and focus on leather work about three years ago.

"Everyone that came here didn't want to buy what was in stock. They wanted something made or repaired," Hunt said. "I ended up doing more leather work then I did selling pre-made horse tack."

She filled a small shed with the tools of leather work and started making leather goods to sell.

"I've done some (leather work) over the years because I've had horses, I've always kept good care of my tack and how to clean leather," Hunt said. "My favorite part of leather work is creating it, seeing what I can come up."

She makes breast collars, horse tack, belts, guitar straps, gun belts, holsters, wallets and is working on handbags

"Wallets and handbags are a little tedious," Hunt said. "I don't mind doing them, but I'm not putting them out in mass production or anything else in mass production for that matter."

Hunt said she feels pride when seeing people wearing and using her creations.

"It's flattering that somebody thinks enough of it they want to buy it," she said. "It's nice that people think mine's good enough to order."

While a lot of her orders are from Kentucky, Hunt gets custom orders from throughout the states and even into Canada.

"I probably like doing guitar straps and belts (the most)," Hunt said. "And horse tack. I love doing breast collars. I'm not so fussy on the bridles and the matching head pieces, but I do it ... if I had to do a complete set I will do it, but I like to do breast collars and things for horses."

She said the most difficult part of leather work is messing up a piece.

"Because it's so expensive," she said. "There is no way to repair (leather). If your hole goes off or your stitch line is off, there is not way to fix it."

She added the amount of consistency required is difficult.

"That's the hard part for me," Hunt said. "Sometimes it gets pretty aggravating."

Imperfections in the final stages of projects have happened "more times than I want to count" to Hunt, adding sometimes the project had to be trashed and she had to figure out things to do with the leather that is salvageable.

The projects start as hides she turns into goods.

"I cut it right from the hide, depending on what the project is. I cut it, I design it, I buy patterns. I found something I want, I put it in the leather and hand dye it."

Sometimes it's hand sewn, sometimes it's on a machine sewn.

She does her own dying of the leather as well in her shop, currently in a shed.

She is in the process of moving the leather working shop into the old tack shop, which is larger and has climate control.

Hunt does repair work as well.

"Most of the times I can replicate what broke and put it back on," Hunt said.

Hunt said her repair work was born of necessity while doing bush riding and training as a wilderness outfitter in Wyoming.

"You had to learn how to get by with what you had," Hunt said. "If something broke, you couldn't go to the store and buy something new. You had to improvise and fix things."

Hunt said she has learned a lot from other leather makers, including Danny Grim, of Circle G Custom saddles (See story on Grim on Progress Page A1).

"He's so knowledgeable and talented," Hunt said. "He told me if I run into a bind call him."

Learning from other leather makers, and specifically Grim, is something Hunt plans to do when she begins her complete saddle build.

"There are so many more talented them me," she said. "I'm a total amateur compared to some of the people out there."

She has repaired all aspects of a saddle, except for replacing the fleece lining, but hopes to one day build her own from the ground seat up.

"One day I might get around to it, but I never seem to have the time," she added.

Hunt, who works a part time job in Owingsville, said her goal would be to do leather work full time.

"I'm just doing it has a hobby, then it was a business and now I've kind of scaled down to a hobby," Hunt said. "I enjoy doing it. It'd be nice to get more work, but I don't want to be swamped."

Hunt said those looking for her services should call her at (606) 342-0228 or email

"It's just so much easier to find out the details and what they actually want," she said. "It's hard to get a feel for what they want in a text message." — (606) 326-2644