Seven am at a Hunter barn in Wellington and the grooms have just started their day, but in one stall, Elizabeth Swann is about to finish hers. As a professional braider, Elizabeth has been up all night perfecting the appearance of horses whose turnout is everything.
“The hallmark of an American show hunter is how it’s turned out,” said Elizabeth, 51, who has been braiding for some 22 years. “So that all that we see when we watch them go is their lines and their conformation and how they are built.”
Her hands move so quickly, weaving in the specialised rug yarn that keeps the braids tightly in place, that it is reminiscent of a spider spinning a web. Flower Dance is a horse that Elizabeth has braided many times, a schoolmaster, who won the Section A Low Childrens Hunter class in week 8. “This horse has a beautiful physique,” said Elizabeth. “So all I try to do with this one, is not interrupt it.”
After dark at the Winter Equestrian Festival many braiders work through the night – Elizabeth, who has a team working with her, can have as many as 85 to 90 clients on her list prior to a busy Saturday show day. For Elizabeth, a braid takes approximately 45 minutes and a tail, just 12. The price per horse is $120, which seems attainable until you consider how many times on average a hunter horse is showing during the course of the 12-week festival.
Elizabeth realises that hiring a professional is not within everyone’s budget and she is happy to pass on her craft to those that want to be self-sufficient. “I have an Instagram page and I’m trying to transfer the art to other girls – like me – who can’t afford to have a full-time braider,” she said.
Flower Dance is going semi-casual today. “I’m not going to braid her tail, we’re going to go with a little more casual look today and tie in her fake tail,” said Elizabeth. “So she’ll have a nice fluffy tail without a braid.” At other times braiders let loose creatively, adding hearts for Valentine’s Day and festive ornaments at Christmas. “It’s the one thing that we can control in this discipline is how our horses are turned out,” said Elizabeth.
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