Bits and Spurs are his business. John D. Israel makes them for champions

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WYNONA, Okla. - John David Israel is an old cowboy who remembers paying close attention to what other cowboys used to rope and ride, particularly when it came to bits and spurs.

"I got to seeing some hand-made bits around," he said. "They were made out of pitchfork tines."

These are the metal devices that fit into a horse's mouth.

They connect to the reins and allow for a rider to exert a certain amount of control over their mount.

Well, Israel took a bit design he kind of liked.

"You have to use good material or the shanks won't hold up," he said.

Then, he tried his hand at building them on his own.

That was 1970.

"I've made a lot of them," Israel said.

His mouthpieces were generally a little wider, nothing fancy on them to hang up on a fence, made with chain or hollow pipe across the mouth.

He learned from each effort and improved on earlier models but only after testing them himself.

Suggestions from customers were often politely ignored.

"If I had made everything people had wanted me to, they'd have put me out of business right quick because they wanted something that wouldn't work," Israel said.

He never advertised much.

Ranch cowboys, trail riders, cutting horse people and pro rodeo competitors found him, anyway.

Israel lists his now famous customers: "Leroy Ashcraft, Matlock Rose, Stanley Glover, Don Dodge. You couldn't have anybody better than them."

His shop is tiny.

Business cards and photo memories carry the dust of nearly 50 years of toil.

Israel can manage one bit a day now.

He hardly makes spurs at all.

"I'm trying to get one of my nephews to take this over," he said.

He's years behind but still works every day.

The pieces of tack, tools for riders, are more precious than ever.

But, his methods stay the same.

His stamp is his bond, ironclad like a good handshake.

"You got it?" he said

"Got it," said his photographer guest.

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