Cowboy Innovators
By James Drew, ProBull Rider
March 2001
Michael Gaffney of Corrales, New Mexico
Reprinted with permission

Thomas Edison. Orville and Wilbur Wright.  Henry Ford. Michael Gaffney.

Don't laugh.  The G-Man, the 1997 PBR World Champion, has come up with an invention that could pacify hat-loving cowboys and cowgirls for generations to come.

Gaffney saw a need and ran with it.

"In the early 1990s, I'm driving along on another haul to the next rodeo and my hat's sitting in the back seat, or it's on the front dirty seat, getting blasted by the sun, or somewhere else where it can get smashed," Gaffney said.  "That's kind of when I first came up with the HatRider, but I didn't have the money to get it produced."

That world title in 1997 helped Gaffney's cash flow.  He bought a nice, new truck.  Then, that old hat problem popped up again.

"They have devices out there, but they're not really adjustable or it smashes the brim of your hat into the top of your pickup, and we're kind of picky about our cowboy hats, aren't we?" Gaffney said.  "Plus, to put one of those devices in I would have had to punch four holes in the roof of my new $40,000 truck.  Forget that.  There had to be a better way."

Gaffney prefers to call his HatRider an improvement, rather than an invention.  It's manufactured in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the set-up and production costs were high, but no longer prohibitive for him.

Perhaps the best part of the HatRider is that it's portable.  If the sun's hitting one side of your truck, simply move it to the other side or to the back. The arm that holds the hat sticks to any window, thanks to two suction cups.  The arm ratchets to hold several hats at different pressures.

Gaffney said he's received quite an education from when he first thought of the HatRider until the first one rolled of the line.

"You can't believe all the hoops you have to jump through, from patenting to figuring out where and how to have it made," Gaffney said.  "Let's put it this way...It's a very, very expensive process.  You better have a lot of faith you can sell it or you're out a lot of money."

The HatRider made its debut at the 2000 PBR Finals, and is now in 35 stores, including 29 Western Warehouses.  It is also available through the PBR merchandise catalog and on the Smith Brothers website.

"People really like them, and that's what makes me the happiest," said Gaffney, whose HatRider retails for $29.95.  "If I had had the money eight or nine years ago, I would have done it then.  But we have changed the design a lot over the years, so maybe it's a blessing I waited until now to do it.

"I honestly think it'll help people.  It's a durable product people can use.  One size fits all.  You can put a hard hat in it, too."

Gaffney said he's going to give one to his PBR buddies so they can try it out.

"What makes it all worthwhile is what happened in Denver," Gaffney said.

"This guy approached me and said, 'I just have to tell you how much I like that HatRider you came up with.  It's perfect, and I think everybody who cares about their hat should have one.'  That kind of feedback makes me think I did the right thing in pursuing this."

Gaffney, who said he's always been "a piddler," counts on his father-in-law for good advice.

"He's my best critic," Gaffney said.  "The first HatRider I made I gave to him to try out.  He told me to try this or try that, but that he generally liked it a lot.  That's when I knew I had something."

"I just want to give people a product that will last so they'll have an alternative to tearing up their truck just to have a safe place for their hat.  That's all it is."