Monika Rodger believes people are either born horse-lovers or they’re not – and she sits firmly in the first category.
Fortunately for the Goulburn woman, so do countless other people, and they are the ones making her small business a success story.
Horse-lovers from around Australia, Europe and the United States regularly post their horse hair to Monika at her farm in regional NSW. There, she painstakingly washes, dries, braids and finally integrates it into custom jewellery and keepsakes.
“For the most part, the pieces of jewellery I make are keepsake pieces for people who have a special horse in their life or a horse that they’ve lost,” Monika explains.
“They want to keep something to remember them by and always keep them close to their heart, so it’s a very emotional piece of jewellery that gets made.”
The albeit niche but worldwide appeal of Living Horse Tails has helped Monika transform what began as a creative hobby into a full-time business named as a finalist in the Australian Women’s Small Business Champion Awards (for the second year running).
Monika has kept horses as pets since her 20s, however it wasn’t until 2017 that she started combining their hair into jewellery.
“I’d seen it somewhere and I thought it would be really cool to have my horses in a bracelet or something that means a lot more than just a plain bracelet,” she says.
“Then I lost my horse a couple of years after I started making the jewellery and I think it just emphasised how much it means to people when they lose their horse.”
Often when people place orders with Monika, they also share stories of their own loss. One particularly memorable story was attached to a browband Monika made for a horse.
“The customer had lost her daughter, who was an avid horse rider, so she sent me the daughter’s hair and the daughter’s horse’s hair and I combined the two into a braid to inlay into the browband,” Monika says.
“That was quite a different and unusual piece that I worked on, but very precious, and very difficult to work with human hair. It took me a very long time to get the braid holding together nicely.”
While another recent story involved a pony used by a Western Australian not-for-profit that runs therapeutic riding and other horse-related activities for children and adults with disabilities.
“There are quite a lot of stories that come with [the job],” Monika says. “Whether it’s what the horse has meant to them and the things the horse has done for them, or the loss and the grief.”
Monika says while the emotional backstories and finite amount of often irreplaceable horse hair add a degree of stress to the process, she finds it beautiful making the jewellery.
“I get emails when customers receive their piece and [see] the emotions they go through and the comfort it brings them, knowing they still have their pets with them as a memory.”