All in a day’s work: The horse-hair jeweller

  • Mandy Curtis on making beautiful mementoes out of the “bouncy, tangled mess” of horse hair

    My family were non-horsey, although I remember I was always obsessed with horses. We moved from Sussex to Essex when I was seven and I didn’t want to leave. My dad promised me riding lessons when we moved as a bribe.

    I had ponies from about the age of 13 – my dad thought I would grow out of my obsession but I never did. I competed in showjumping and eventing in my twenties and thirties and my daughter Daisy was on the pony dressage squad.

    I made my first horsehair bracelets when my daughters were going off to university. Daisy and Ellie both had ponies who were going to be sold and I wanted something for them to remember them by. I’d seen items made with horse hair on the internet and thought I could do it.

    I looked at lots of braiding videos on YouTube, worked out which braids would work with horse hair and taught myself a number of different styles.

    The business started to take off eight years ago. My partner Ben Martin, an international dressage rider, and I gave up running our livery yard so he could concentrate on training his clients, and I was looking for something different to do. When I got together with Ben we produced horses together and eventually he decided to focus on dressage. A picture on Ben’s Facebook page of a bracelet I’d made started the ball rolling and I’ve made items for Roland Tong and Maria Eilberg.

    Horse hair is quite difficult to work with. I have to wash the hair when it arrives. Sometimes I get a pristine section of tail but at other times it’s a tangled mess.

    I have to count each hair exactly as different styles of braid need different counts of hair. It’s time-consuming but fortunately I’m quite patient when I’m doing something I like. A piece of jewellery can take a few hours to make depending on the complexity of the braid.

    In the run-up to Christmas I’m sitting indoors from dawn to dusk, plaiting horse hair. There is only me to do it so I’m rushed off my feet, but I enjoy being able to run my own business.

    I’ve gradually added more products to my range such as rings and pendants, and had to learn some silversmith skills as well. People were asking me for different items, so I work with a silversmith on some of them. Some people can’t wear horse hair next to their skin so a ring or pendant is a great solution.

    One racehorse trainer commissions a bracelet each year for one of his owners, made up of hair from all the horses she has in training at that time. Some people like to wear something from a favourite horse when competing – I recently made a plaque containing the hair to go on the back of the saddle.

    I’ve used social media to build my business. A lot of horsey people use Facebook so I set up a page for my business, Entwined. My customers liked and shared the page and I ran some competitions. A lot of my business comes from word of mouth and I have many repeat customers.

    It’s quite a responsibility. Often, a beloved horse will have died and people can be concerned about posting off the precious hair. Some people are so upset that it has taken them years to be able to think about having a memento made. I have to be sensitive to how customers feel, but it is a lovely thing to do as it brings so much pleasure.

    You might also like:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.