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Horsehair is gold for Nanna Salmi

Nanna Salmi’s works are design pieces that horse hair makes unique.Studio Lindell

Finnish textile designer Nanna Salmi helps horse lovers carry a piece of their dearest animal partner with them everywhere, including the fanciest of occasions.

Nanna Salmi was standing next to a horse – horrified. Previously, she had only seen horses from afar and in movies, and from up close, the animal seemed to be the size of a mountain. How would she ever be able to sit on its back when it’s moving? What if she falls or loses control?

Salmi had always thought about trying horse riding, but only got around to it when she, nearing 40, received a riding lesson as a birthday gift. However, the one lesson planted a seed of enthusiasm, and Salmi found herself returning to the stables again and again.

The elderly mare, her first horse contact, was the best teacher she could have imagined.

“She tried showing me that if I don’t tell her what to do, she’ll do whatever she wants,” Salmi recalls. “That boosted my persistence. I didn’t want the horse to make a fool out of me!”

That’s when it happened: Salmi started riding the horse instead of just sitting on it.

“I felt like the mare thought: finally!”

Pretty soon, Salmi bought the mare for herself. In the years to come, the two developed a relationship in which both fully trusted each other.

“I think that’s what’s so fascinating about horses,” Salmi ponders. “It’s an incredible feeling to have that trust between an animal and a human. You can’t control an animal that size with mere power; other things matter much more.”

Yet another life-changing birthday

Salmi’s first encounter with horses took place back in the 1980s. After the mare passed away, she spent a year looking for another horse, struggling to find one that really left an impression. Then she found a three-year-old Finnhorse, with whom she continued to live a horse-filled life.

In 1999, she had an idea. The owner of the stable her horse was living in had a milestone birthday coming up, and she, together with other horse owners, was pondering what to give her as a gift. Salmi, who as a textile designer knew all kinds of weaving techniques, heard herself saying: maybe I could do something with horse hair?

“Everyone agreed, and that was that. I just stood there thinking what on earth I had just promised,” Salmi reminiscences laughingly.

She created a ribbon using hair from three generations of horses, turned it into a necklace and found a goldsmith to make a piece of jewellery the shape of an egg-butt snaffle bit. At the party, the birthday lady opened the box, said ‘oh this is nice’ and put it away.

The love some people have for horses can be difficult to explain. To Salmi, the secret lies in the interaction between two very different beings. Image: Nanna Salmi

One of the ladies ushered her to take another look, saying it’s made of horse hair. ‘Oh, that’s great’ still didn’t suffice as a response.

“It’s made of horsehair from your three horses,” the lady shrieked.

At last, she got her attention. The gift made its recipient burst into tears – and other people started whispering to Salmi that they want one, too.

“That’s when I realised I might’ve created a whole new product.”

From Olympians to design fans

Fast-forward 20 years, and nannasalmi jewellery is worn by both little stable girls and hobby riders as well as Olympians and royals. Orders come in from all corners of the world.

Salmi emphasises that the pieces of jewellery aren’t just merely fan items for horse lovers. They are genuine design pieces made of valuable materials, handmade according to the customer’s wishes. Metal parts are cast by one of the oldest jewellery casters in Finland, and all gemstones meet international standards.

Horse hair is what makes the pieces special. Although occasionally someone wants a jewel made of any horse’s hair, Salmi tells that the vast majority of customers send her the hair they want used.

“One product can involve weeks of correspondence to ensure the end result is exactly as the customer imagines it,” she notes. “I understand this, as the item is of such emotional importance to its bearer. Often clients tell me stories about the horse, too.”

Salmi no longer has a horse of her own, but recently she has made a comeback to the stables, as her grandchild is now taking lessons.

“Last time, I had to get on a horse for a little test ride. Sitting on the saddle just makes me feel like I’ve come home.”

Almost all products include horse hair sent to Salmi by the customer. Image: Nanna Salmi
By: Anne Salomäki