We kiwi’s* are a pretty ingenious bunch, really. Bailing twine is probably our favourite tool, being used for almost everything, from hanging fences to holding up trousers. This same ingenuity was what encouraged our Creator Director Ilana Cheiban to pick up the rope and knot her way through her first halter in 2008, when quality gear was scarce and the need to support her family insistent.
The first time she sold anything was at a local horse and tack auction that had been organised by a few colourful characters. ‘I sold 17 halters for 23 dollars each’, Ilana said, ‘I remember realising that there was a market for the gear that I was making for my family; that there was something I could provide and a way to keep us afloat.
Like any good business, we were born out of a backyard shed, supported enough to eventually risk quitting the day job. What started with halters soon branched out into rope and leather reins, headstalls and breastplates. Ilana began to be drawn towards the aesthetic of the Californian style; the art of the discipline and the unity created between horse and rider that “looked one and the same”. Californian style gear such as the loping hackamore was added to her repertoire, but the specialisation of the gear meant that would not lend itself to construction so easily.
With a background in fine arts, a talent for using her hands, and a keen willingness to learn, Ilana managed to get a foot in the door of the mecate-making craft, after the purchase of a hand twister off eBay in 2014. It took a solid year of trial and error to develop the ‘recipes’, as we like to call them, for each mecate. It took three people to make a mecate. Every weekend we would spend walking the length of the verandah of our house, twisting up mecates which often indulged in being difficult and obstinate. We spent many frustrated hours on that verandah! What we produce now are six strand mecates and have a core of twisted wool. They are one of a kind, bespoke mecates that are durable yet soft in your hand and have a wonderful life to them.
A few years into this journey, Ilana discovered a great great grandfather, ‘Grandpa Lee’s’ , who was a rawhide braider and whip maker in Santa Barbara in the 1920’s. This discovery inspired her to learn the craft of rawhide braiding, so she set about procuring hides from local famers and learning how to prepare them in the Hawkes Bay sun. “I couldn’t help laughing”, said Ilana, “when my daughter asked why I couldn’t just have a normal job like a normal mother when we were stretching out hides one day”. Soon afterward we were plunged into lockdown, but the isolation facilitated the time to begin building bosals, the first of which took around three weeks to make. Ilana would sit at home in our lounge/workshop braiding until late.
We are constantly finding new things to put our minds to. Lately we have been focused on learning the art of braiding Argentinian Halters and Whip Making.
We are very proud of all we have managed to accomplish with the aid of nothing but a few books, youtube, and our wit. Over the years we have been honoured to be able to sponsor prizes for various equestrian events, from the Teton Valley Ranch Roping and Early Californio Skills of the Rancho to New Zealand Polocrosse international carnivals and New Zealand Extreme Cowboy Challange. We would like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years and made it possible for us to spend everyday doing something we love.
Ilana and Family
*Slang for New Zealander