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Horsehair Rope Maker
Nancy Cooper of De Quincy is a fifth-generation maker of horsehair ropes. She began making ropes with her mother and two brothers. The spinning process takes three people. One to feed the hair, one to spin it, and one to keep the strands straight as they are spun together. Cooper is the feeder in the trio, the most skilled role in the process. Cooper explains that the horsehair rope tradition came about from necessity rather than entertainment or novelty. Horsehair was a natural resource that cattlemen could use when other materials were too expensive. The cattlemen cut the horses' manes about twice a year and used the hair they cut to make ropes, saddle blankets, girths, and reins. "Our grandfather Zephrine Litttle," Cooper explains, "was one of ten children who grew up in the little home. He was one of the few who carried on the trade of making horsehair reins after modernization saw to it that other materials could be used for other ranching needs."
Cooper's grandfather hired his grandchildren to assist him in spinning reins that he later sold. Although the actual making of a rope only takes from forty-five minutes to an hour, preparing the horsehair for the activity takes hours. When her grandfather passed away, different members of Cooper's family tried to carry on the tradition, but no one could complete the process. It was during this time that Cooper perfected her feeding skills. Using a mechanical twister that her grandfather passed down to her, Cooper, her mother, and two brothers have continued the tradition. They have other tools they use to complete the process. A hand-paddle to twist the mane and sticks to put the strands together. Most of the horsehair that Nancy and her family use for making rope and reins is given to them by locals that know they still are doing the craft.
The continuation of this tradition is natural for Cooper. She comes from a family with a strong equestrian background and is closely tied to the horse industry. She rides competitively in barrel racing and other events, and uses her horsehair reins and girths in these competitions. She finds it very interesting to see how people react to an activity that she and her family have taken for granted.
Updated December 1, 2016 by Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Center Staff