Custom Horsehair Artist Donna Murray was raised on a mixed farm in southeastern Saskatchewan and horses were always a part of her life. She says that she and her siblings were involved in 4H, fairs, rodeos, trail rides and wagon trains. During the summer months, their family operated a Vacation farm, hosting children from the city for horseback riding and other activities.
After graduation, Donna obtained a Farrier Sciences Certificate and worked with horses at racetracks and guest ranches. A serious injury in 1989 stopped her in her tracks. Unable to physically work with horses now, Donna looked for another way to stay connected to them. She became a self-taught horsehair braider and hitcher. She credits the mentoring she received from Ron and Shoni Maulding – Authors of Hitched Horsehair Books I and II - with helping her work to evolve into what it is today.
Collaborating with other creatives meant more opportunities to attend trade fairs and other equine events, and Donna’s business grew. She started getting requests to make custom pieces – items made from the hair of specific individual horses. Donna says the majority of her custom work is done using the hair from deceased horses and she understands the desire many people have to keep a memento of their horses that have passed.
“Losing a horse is an emotional experience for the person,” Donna says, “and sometimes it is hard to take the step of cutting their hair.”
Items range from small pieces like zipper pulls to big pieces like hitched belts and the item/s made can be dictated by how much hair has been saved. Donna can also supplement a specific horse’s hair with additional horsehair she has in stock.
Southern Alberta is an area rich in artisans, and Donna has been fortunate to work with others to complete items - silversmiths, leatherworkers, potters, picture framers, and wood carvers. She is always open to suggestions from her customers, and some beautiful pieces have been created using their ideas.
Every day at Donna Murray Custom Horsehair can be different, depending on orders. Time of completion for an item depends on the item, what type of work is needed and whether there is dyeing involved. Donna receives orders from around the globe, but the majority of her customers are from the U.S. There is a lot of competition in this field of work, with Made in Mexico and China horsehair products readily available. Donna says the adage "You get what you pay for" really holds true, with her work being higher priced than imports but also much higher quality.
Anyone who wants to become a horsehair worker will need tons of patience, perseverance, creativity and another source of income. Donna says that is all offset by her enjoyment of working with clients and seeing that they are satisfied with her unique products.
Customers can purchase horsehair items without having to have horses, or take hair from their own horses. As well as the horsehair items, Donna makes hand-latched wool products - saddle blankets, wither pads and tush cushes. The saddle blankets are very popular, and she has many repeat customers for them.
Donna says her website has been a great tool for clients to find her work. Her site is newly redesigned, along with a Facebook page. She welcomes all enquiries and looks forward to an exciting New Year.
Donna Murray is a self-taught horsehair hitcher and braider, who resides in Lethbridge, Alberta. She started working with horsehair in 1992 and, with patience and perseverance, has learned to create high-quality, functional items. Visit Donna at: www.customhorsehairandwoolcreations.com
Carol Upton (604) 886-8951
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