I’ve braided off and on all of my life since I was between the ages of 5-10. Some of the things braided were of course my stick horse’s mane, my own (I actually suck at doing that!) or friends’ hair, different projects with different materials, my daughters’ hair and now my granddaughters’ hair PLUS different braids on the ponies manes and tails.
I’d paid someone else to do braided leather work (sure didn’t think the “average” teenager could do it) – so that I could give my mom a hand braided headstall, romel reins, riata and hobbles that all matched – made out of good leather and died black and meant for her cremello mare – for Christmas around 1980. Little did I know that would become a base for wanting to braid my own gear (sometimes) about 30 years later!
I’m still “perfecting” the “art” I guess. Lately, I simply haven’t had the time to do much braiding – so only braid what I need mostly “out of necessity right now” type projects (the ever “necessary” collars, 🙂 ).
I don’t remember what year I ordered my first set of paracord. In the 70s, 80s & 90s there was a book available through Western Horseman that demonstrated how to make Macra-Tack. The name had changed, they’d updated and done a new book (How to Braid Custom Quality Tack). I started by ordering the book from the company now called U Braid It and when it arrived read it a couple of times. I didn’t want to do the “traditional” paracord stuff (the soldier type bracelets, lanyards and such). I was bound and determined to make something that would last that the ponies could safely wear to identify them. Collars are what I decided on. While waiting for the first paracord to arrive, I practiced techniques with haystring – I had enough of the stuff laying about! I would keep the short haystrings from the small square bales and the complete, long sections of smaller haystring from round bales we now feed free choice to the ponies.
Here is what it looks like when I get haystring from the round bales. I bring it out of the pasture and either wash it in buckets with a little Dawn dish soap, then rinse or hang it on a fence post or two to let the weather clean it a bit. It then looks like a knotted mess. From there, it’s untangled and un-knotted and rolled into a usable “tamale”. The string is measured and cut from the “tamales”. A flat braid with hardware calls for 4x the length of the finished product, per string. A round braid requires 2x the length of the finished project. When I do a collar that starts flat at the buckle, goes round for the main length and goes back to flat for the tab that goes into the buckle, I also measure each strand at 4x the finished length desired. How many strands depends on what the project is for and the size of the hardware. The shorter haystring from small squares is thicker and generally won’t be long enough to do anything in a flat braid – hence I do them in the ties that i make. Sometimes, I use the ties to make a collar (especially in a pinch when I don’t have a collar ready).
And here are 3 different styles of collars from the haystring above. The smallest (made for “Blitzen” for starters) is 4 separate strands – 2 on each side of the buckle tongue. That makes an 8 strand braid – pretty tiny from the round bale haystring, but works well. The 2nd is 6 strings on a round ring, making a 12 strand braid. This collar, when put on the horses next has the end drawn thru the ring, folded back and then stitched into place using a tapestry needle and haystring. It is “permanent” and will need to have the stitching cut to remove the collar. The last collar shown is 8 strings, making a 16 strand braid. It is not quite done yet… The full size pic shows a clip holding the loose end as the next line of braid is done.