By Terri Mason

Richard Brooks didn’t come to the art of silversmithing later in life; he was born into it. 

“I learned from my grandpa, Roy Brooks. They had a ranch west of Cochrane, and it was a great day when the school bus couldn’t make it through the snow, and we got to spend the day with him in his shop, watching him do silverwork,” said Richard. 

Almost a half-century later, he’s using the same style of tools, building highly-sought-after bits in his ranch shop, and, like his grandfather before him, he has passed the trade down to his son, Leighton, who also, providentially, has taken to the leather work and saddle making side of the cowboy arts. 

This Spade bit created by Richard Brooks was featured in the Cowboy, Arts & Gear Museum fundraiser in Elko, Nev. Says Richard, “I didn’t leave a lot of open area.” The cheek pieces are fashioned after a “Garcia # 99”. 

Years ago, Richard took his silver skills to Alberta’s famous buckle maker, Olson Silver, and not only did he work there, but he soon bought into the business. At the end of the day, he was at home in his own shop, building bits and spurs. 

Richard and his wife, Brenda, live on the almost-century Moncrieff ranch (“we’re at 99 years”) from his wife’s side of the family, near the Old Woman Buffalo Jump west of Cayley, Alta. 

It’s an area filled with the mystique and romance of vast ranches and a long-standing history of cowboys, but with the glow of Calgary lighting up the sky at night, all that’s fading fast. These days, like most other cowboy artisans, Richard looks across the Medicine Line for clients. 

Speaking of south of the border, you can see Richard’s work in Elko, Nevada. 

Anyone with a smidgen of knowledge about cowboy gear has heard of Garcia’s. Garcia bits and spurs have been deeply rooted in our Western heritage since the late 1800s. Guadalupe Garcia’s shop is now a museum, and as a fundraiser for the Museum, bit and spur makers enter their work in a competition. Each craftsman is sent the same “parts,” and what the maker can create is unlimited. Each work of art is auctioned off, and there’s some nice prize money, too, making it worth each maker’s time. 

Richard doesn’t have time to make custom work, but the Elko deal is different; it showcases his skill and is a tribute to Guadalupe Garcia. Getting your hands on one of these beauties is possible through the magic of online bidding. 

Ironically, the demand for Spade bits almost died out. “We built very few, and then since COVID, about 95 percent of the bits we make are Spades,” said Richard. 

“I think everybody figured they’d have time to work on their horses. It was a real shift because as soon as COVID hit, boom— and it’s been that way the last three or four years.” 

This Brooks Spade features his “Crescent Moon Cheek” with a copper fluted spoon on the mouthpiece. 

Richard enjoys seeing his work at work. “We see a lot of it at ranch rodeos,” he said. “I like seeing it being used rather than disappearing into a museum setting.” 

After thousands of years of use, education about Spade bits and how they’re used is still not mainstream—probably never will be because few have access to those who “know” and those who can teach. To quote from The Californios, the Spade “is not for beginners, either human or equine.” 

“With social media, we run into that a lot now. People are absolutely terrified because they don’t know,” said Richard. 

But the art of the Spade is not lost—yet. There are masters, disciples, and bit makers like Richard Brooks who still respect, understand and support the vision and wisdom of Guadalupe Garcia. For more, visit