Friday, 20 December 2013
The Horsehair Bridle
By Janet Thompson
Proudly leading all the others, a little kid astride a beautiful copper-colored horse hoisted the huge American flag as high as he could stretch.
My younger brother, Jere, was small for his age. An accomplished rider, he had a head of bouncy blonde curls, a fetching smile and bubbly personality. Everyone adored him. For several years, he was invited to ride at the head of the Memorial Days, College Days and the Fourth of July parades in town.
We owned a tiny acreage and Rocket was our beautiful sorrel gelding. A classy, five-gaited animal, he was a glowing amber color with a white blaze on his forehead.
When Daddy's stepfather died in the early 1940s, Daddy received the horsehair bridle. It had never been used. When Jere was first invited to lead a parade, we decided Rocket should wear it.
When Rocket saw the fancy bridle, he bowed his neck, perked up his ears and arched his tail even more than usual. ROCKET WAS GOING TO BE ON PARADE!
How he must have basked in the cheers as he pranced down the main street in town carrying the American flag and his beloved Jere. Rocket sensed wearing this special gear was meant only for exceptional horses. We only put it on him for parades.
We learned that a notorious train robber had made the bridle while he was a prisoner in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. Jailed there for years, he hand-dyed and braided it.
When the thief got out of the pen, he sought a place to stay and work at one of the family sheep ranches near Medicine Bow. It was common during the Depression for needy travelers on-the-road to receive food and shelter from caring folks who fared better.
Later, leaving the ranch, in thanks for his aid, the ex-prisoner gave the family the beautiful bridle and matching quirt he had made.
Talented convicts serving long sentences in western prisons between the turn of the century and the 1930s would spend 700 to 1,500 hours fashioning horsehair tack. Native Americans handed down the hitching and weaving art, passing it from prisoner to prisoner. The work was typically done over leather or wood.
My bridle is crafted from seven colors of horsehair. The reins are woven in a herringbone pattern of black and gold ending with tassels of mixed blue, green, burgundy and gold. Throughout the piece are multicolored rosettes and turnings covered in patterned woven horsehair.
Daddy gave the bridle to me in 1956, when our family fell apart after Jere went into the Navy, Mother and Daddy got a divorce and we sold our horses. (Sadly, the quirt had wound up with my uncle whose wife wouldn't admit to selling it in some damn garage sale.)
Daily, as I see the bridle hanging on my wall over my desk, the sweet memories of those holiday parades flood back and linger. I forever imagine dear Jere, now in his heavenly home, proudly hoisting our beloved American flag fluttering in a breeze, happily astride high-stepping Rocket, with our old Spotty dog chasing along at Rocket’s heels.
I find myself tearing up as I write this.
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