A beginners guide to leather crafting

Hand crafting is popular again! And leather crafting is something that’s really fashionable at the moment, and seeing as I post a lot about my leather nooby journey on my Instagram Stories, I do receive a lot of questions. So I figured I’d answer some FAQs – I will not be making any tutorials, but perhaps you will find what you are looking for here.

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One of my first “creations”; a sidepull the size of an elephant.

  • Why did you get interested in this?

Because I have one small draft, and one very large draft, and I was in a situation where finding halters and bridles weren’t the easiest thing.  Specialized draft stores are making absolutely great tack – don’t get me wrong – but coming from the “warmblood world” where you have about 2000 bridle designs easily available… I just wanted to be able to have more than one bridle hanging in my tack room. Also I romanticize keeping old traditional hand crafts alive.

  • How do you recommend to get started AKA Where the HELL do I begin?

My best recommendation is to find a rather local beginners course. There is so much you will need to learn about leather, tools and techniques, and although it might be a little pricey to attend a course, the investment will pay off almost immediately. Trial-by-error is expensive! I attended a two-day course for newbies, where we made two belts (one braided, one tooled) and two smalller “purse”thingies (teaches you how to create patterns). All attendants got basic skills in tooling, coloring, making patterns, cutting the leather, stitching, attaching buckles and buttons, in addition to what types of leather to use when etc.

I was lucky enough to find that my local leather supplier arranges courses like this. Google is your friend! I am certain there is a national leather crafting group for your country on Facebook, if not, I’m sure there are international ones. Find the one most relevant to you, and ask for recommendations. It might not be a course in your area, but perhaps there is a person who is willing to take you underneath the wing and show you some stuff.

If you do not find a leather course, or want to start ahead of your course, have a look at YouTube tutorials. Tandy Leather and Weaver Leathercraft have some pretty newbie-friendly videos that will get you on the right track pretty quickly.

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Lillen’s  leather halter, and the first belt I ever made!

  • Is it hard to learn?

I don’t think so. At least it isn’t hard to learn the basics. However, it’s incredibly hard to become good at it, and as with every hand craft – it depends on the person.

  • Are the supplies expensive?

Yes. Very expensive. If you think you’ll be saving money on creating your own equipment, I am very sorry. What exact amounts you’ll have to pay for leather and hardware will depend greatly on what kind of country you live in – but I think I spent about $100 on materials for Lillen’s halter, perhaps $80 for Brego’s. Then add thread, and that one needle I broke and had to replace. That’s not counting the investment of the tools – I think all my tools are three times the cost of that halter, and bear in mind that I have cheap tools! The tool situation is why I recommend you to take a course; there was no way I could afford all the tools I needed when I first invested, and having worked with a larger selection of tools already, I knew what I needed right away for what I intended to make, and what I could buy later.

This is also why buying custom tack is expensive. Supplies are not cheap, and any decent human being understands that the person making tack should get some payment for the job as well.

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Double stitched (you can see all the stitching) 2,5mm leather

  • From what store do you buy supplies?

I usually buy from Skinnlåven, a fairly local supplier. Leather suppliers will have everything you need; all kinds of leather, basic hardware and tools, and I always travel to the store to buy. The staff is well-educated on leather, and if you are stuck on a project or have any silly questions, they are glad to help out. A quick search on Google will probably provide you with a leather supplier in your country, hopefully a little selection and hopefully somewhat local. I like buying local, even if it is a tad more expensive.

  • What tools do you need?

A lot. Leather is not controllable without tools and brute force! It is going to take me hours to write about the tools, what they do etc., but thankfully – YouTube is our friend. Here’s a video about how to get started, hosted by probably the most enthusiastic and American host they could have chosen.

  •  What leather do you use?

Depends on what I am making. Most important thing is that it needs to be “vegetable tanned”, if it is supposed to be in direct contact with skin (aka all equipment for animals and humans). This is because chrome tanned leather can cause pretty strong allergic reactions. It’s fun to work in different animal leathers, but cow is best for tack.

The different parts of a cow have different qualities to them. I tend to buy the front half of the cow – this piece isn’t the absolute highest quality, but if you’re a bit picky with which piece you choose, it’ll be more than good enough. The front part is often more reasonably priced. Identifying good quality VS bad will take a little time to learn, but a good piece of leather is undamaged and has a fairly even thickness all the way through. Beware that it is normal that dying can dry out the leather a little.

I prefer 3-3,5mm thickness for single leather – which I use for belts, bridles that aren’t double stitched etc. Anything less than 2,5-3mm will usually have to be double stitched (sandwiched) to be strong enough for horse equipment, but I like how it looks on halters and draft/harness bridles. Pre-colored leather is harder to tool.

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Single leather, 3mm.

  • How do you come up with your designs?

I usually don’t put much effort into designing, I just get a flash of inspiration and jump into creating. I always know what I want to make (halter, double bridle, bitless), and as I am a pretty minimalistic person, there isn’t much planning going on. I only have to figure out where I want the buckles, and off I go! I don’t look at pictures of others tack before or as I am designing my own.

Why? Becasue one thing that is very important to me – NEVER COPY DESIGNS.

Yes, in Caps Lock. Why? Because copycats are horrible persons. If you see a design you want – buy it. It’s about supporting the artist! If the piece you wanted is already someone elses, and the original artist only make unique pieces, ask them to create something unique for you. Admire, inspire, but stealing designs makes you an absolute piece of shit (sorry, not sorry!). It is disrespecting to someone elses hours and hours of hard work and dedication.

Now, we all have to be a little realistic about what is copying, and what isn’t. Artists have to be able to compare their own works to others, and say “same style, different design”, yet you as a crafter have to be able to look at others tack and say “cool design, how can I get inspired by this?” Wanting a fantasy bridle is totally fair! In the same way that wanting a hunter-styled double bridle, or a cavesson, or a fancy halter is totally fair. There are only a few ways to make a hunter-styled bridle, however, and if anyone were to copy Brego’s, I’d hardly notice. Or care. If you were copying someone’s fantasy bridle, trust that they will notice what you are up to. With fantasy, you have FANTASY, and you can use your own for that.

Don’t sit down and trace other people’s shapes or patterns, and we most certainly do not go off to buy the exact same ornaments, leather dyes and buckles in order to properly “steal the look”. If you want to be creative, be creative! Don’t feed off of other’s skills, creativity and designs. Copying other people is not a compliment, it is exploitation.

(Rant over, I promise!)

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  • How do you find your own style?

By being creative! In the same way that you might admire intricate realistic oil paintings, but in no way would be able/interested in learning to paint intricate realistic oil paintings yourself. Myself I absolutely love how fantasy bridles look, and I would LOVE to own custom fantasy tack! Would I sit down to make it myself? Nah.

Firstly because I really enjoy making simple stuff, secondly because planning isn’t my thing (as I said, I just get a flash of inspiration and immediately sit down to craft, not to design), and thirdly because me being able to craft in leather, does not rule out my ability to admire others for THEIR work, and pay THEM. Being able to knit doesn’t exclude you from buying knitted clothes that are either way too intricate for you to knit yourself, or clothes you just can’t be bothered “wasting” your time knitting 🙂

  • How do you not murder your fingers?

I don’t. Pro tip: When it starts to get painful, take a break. Not taking that break will force you do take a much larger break later on. Leather crafting requires a pretty strong grip, and it will take time for your muscles and tendons to get strong enough. In these times of Christmas present craftings, I am stitching the skin off of my right thumb. Also that thumb is twice the size of my other thumb. I’ll just pretend I haven’t noticed yet.

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  • Where did you find patterns/templates so you can make different kinds of equipment?

I have no pattern. If I’m i.e. making a sidepull, I’ll just spend a minute looking at a standard sidepull to memorize what parts I need for it, and then I’ll just craft it. Fitting it to the horse is done by measurements – a smart thing is to measure your already existing tack. If you don’t have existing tack, measure the horse and write it down. For halters you want a slightly looser fit around the nose, than with the noseband on a bridle, so remember to add a little extra space.

  • How long time does it take you to craft a halter, or a bridle?

It took me three evenings to double stitch Brego’s halter. I think I spent the same amount of time on Lillen’s. The first hater I made took me several weeks, and I think Brego’s bridle also took a few weeks, just because my motivation was a little on and off. I work fast, I am sloppy, and when crafting for myself I often skip a lot of the steps that make perfection. I just want it to work, be sturdy enough to survive, and to look cool from a normal distance. My patience is pretty bad, you see, so I don’t spend a lot of time on details.

  • What is the easiest thing to start with?

I’d say belts! A little bit of stitching, only one buckle, room enough for tooling and bling etc. Dog collars are also pretty simple. If you want to start straight at horse equipment, I’d say a halter. It’s a lot of different parts, and A LOT of stitching (you will hate yourself for starting it, mid-way), but nothing is better at practicing your stitches than ten thousand of them crammed into one piece of tack. Also simple bridles is pretty straight forward, but usually with smaller buckles and that is a bit tricky.

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Most of my buckles are very plain, and I usually only use simple leather straps.

  • Where do you find all those fancy buckles and ornaments?

Occupational secret 😉 Search around for stuff YOU would like to put on YOUR equipment. Don’t look at others’ equipment and search around for the exact same stuff. Your local leather supplier will also be able to provide quite a lot, and if they don’t have fancy enough stuff for you, look around for other artists who craft hardware, or perhaps look into the jewellery crafting world.

That being said, the selection of buckles out there is pretty tiny. I have rather accidentally stumbled upon pretty much all the fancy buckles I think the most “famous” leather crafters use. I am not afraid to buy the same buckles to craft my own equipment – because I think we “all” know that there isn’t much to choose from. It is how you use the buckles that make your designs wildly different from others.

Ornaments are kinda another story. There are SO MANY THINGS you can attach to a bridle, that I think you are able to be more creative than “oh, I’ve seen this piece work on that kind of tack before, I want that too!”. Remember what I said earlier; if you fancy an artists work, buy from the artist – don’t learn a craft just to copy. I promise it will cost you less (in both money and frustration) to pay an artist directly. Also it is human decensy.

  • Do you take orders, and do you sell equipment?

No. At least not anytime soon. If I make something that doesn’t fit our drafts that well, I might sell it. But as I have written earlier, I work sloppily in my own eyes, and I take a tad too many shortcuts (shortcuts that makes it less perfect, that is, never less safe). I never do this when I create for others, because I don’t want people to find any mistakes at the pieces I sell. That mental difference to me is quite large, and it leads to me not having any motivation to craft for others, because it is too tedious for my brain. I might make something as a gift, with no time limit, but that’s about it.

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So there you go – a lot of FAQs and answers about leather crafting. What I think is most important for me to highlight:

  1. Ask for help to get started. Pay for that help.
  2. USE YOUR OWN BRAIN, never steal someone elses design.
  3. Be prepared to invest, tools are expencive and neccessary.
  4. Yes your hands will hurt. Also your back. And uhm, that knife that cuts through leather as a hot knife through butter? Yes that cuts skin too.
  5. Have fun with it – find your own style and create because it’s fun! Because it really is!

Emma

 

Brego’s new halter

Handmade… By me! Brego’s previous handmade leather halter (not made by me) got pretty ruined that one time he tried to eat it for lunch. He’s been using a rope halter since then, as his head is so large I cannot buy anything from the store, but a few weeks ago I got super mad at the rope halter, and made this one in three evenings.

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I still consider myself a noob at leatherwork, but I have realized I keep comparing myself to all these amazing artists that have a completely different style than I do. I absolutely love the look of the fantasy tack people make, and would want it for myself. But I think I am starting to realize that even though I love the look of it, I have to look at different styles of leather craft as I do with every other kind of art too.

I would love to own a realistic oil painting. I hate to paint realism. I would love to own some beautiful fantasty tack. But I think I won’t be making it, and I think I perhaps should stop comparing my stuff to others stuff, especially when they make completely different stuff than I do.

I am a person that beat myself down over these kinds of things, so I think it is important for me to put it out there. I struggle to be happy with things I make, and the biggest compliment I’ve managed to give myself is when I forget about the fact that I’ve made something. Because it means the quality and function of the piece of tack is so “normal” that it works just like everything else bought from a store. I think I have to get better at complimating myself.

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I’ve used this halter for a week or two now, and I think I like it. It surely fits Brego very well, and it looks very good on him. So Merry Christmas, little pony, your gift came early!

Emma

How to love a horse

How much do you love your horse? Unconditionally, obviously. But what do you do to show your horse you love him? What specific things will tell your horse about your undying devotion to his well-being? 

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Everyone will answer this question differently.

And after having a look at all 3 of our horses, I realized something.

I would answer this question differently based on which horse I were to talk about.

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I would never show Diego the same love I show Lillen. I would never show Lillen or Diego the same love I show Brego. Lillen’s way of showing – and receiving – love, is not the same as Diego’s or Brego’s.

And it occurred to me that these differences make up so much of their personality type. It also demands a lot from me as a person; I cannot push “my” love onto them all. I have to adjust to them, and show them the love they want me to share.

Lillen is in my mind a very hands-on horse. He wants pets, scratches, he wants to be stroked, touched; he wants to feel us being there. He enjoys a good hug. He likes to give kisses, he likes to touch us back – to feel us with his oversized upper lip, to run his whiskers along the different textures of our clothing.

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Diego enjoys all the same things as Lillen – but with him, I have felt that even though he enjoys it, it is not the love he wants, or need. Diego loves to look into our eyes. He will go out of his way to catch us in a corner of his box, only to lower his head, put his eyes a few centimeters away from ours… And look at us. And we will look back. God forbid we tried to say anything, or do anything but to look back.

Diego can stay like this for minutes. He will not be satisfied until we’ve dropped all of our “should be doing this” and “don’t have time for that”, and taken our time to look back at him. If you are of the spiritual type, you will read a lot into this. I take it for the thing it is. Diego wants to spend time with us. With us. Not with us as we do something else, he just simply receives love best when it’s just him, and his human.

And then there’s Brego.

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Brego has been one hell of a hard horse to figure out of. He wants none of that touchy-cuddly nonsense, and what on earth are we doing when we LOOK at him the same way we look at Diego? NOTHING. We are doing NOTHING, says Brego.

I’ve tried, and I’ve really tried to find a sweet spot. Find some place he enjoyed getting scratches, or hugs, or kisses, or simple strokes or pats. But Brego wants none of that, and if you try… Oh lord, he will make you hurt. Not because he attacks you, but he doesn’t want any of that romance thing you’ve got going on, it annoys him and he wants you gone. And he is not the best at communicating this, so I think by now he’s nearly broken my nose twice, and almost slammed my front teeth through my lip a couple of times. Because I have been so caught up in this web of “I have to show him my love”, that I haven’t even noticed how he doesn’t care for that.

I think Brego would be very happy with a sturdy smack on the neck once a week. That’s all the physical contact he needs. So how do I show Brego love?

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Look at that moody face! 

Lately I’ve shown Brego love by hacking him out. Just me and him, out discovering the forest. Long reins, going at a pace he enjoys, allowing him to stop and observe nature when there is something he wants to have a look at. Allowing him to take me with him, to go on an adventure together.

The feeling I get from him when I hack him out like that, is the same feel-good feeling of love Diego sends when we look deep into his eyes, or what Lillen sends when we play around with kisses and giggles. Love, in Brego’s mind, is a lot more practical than what both Lillen and Diego thinks. Brego sees our hacks as the prime time of his day, it’s our quality time together. He needs to do things, to send and receive love. He needs a job to do, he needs us to do that job together. He is a very communicative horse, but the “slow dance” of pets, kisses, hugs and looking into his soul, is nothing he finds interest in.

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You never see this happy-face this happy, unless he is doing something.

So, how do you love your horse?

Do you love him the way he wants to be loved? Or do you love him the way you want to?

Emma

 

New in; Scharf Freedom

Annonse/Product sponsored by Nygaard Nordic

By now, this girth is dirty, well used, and hanging permanently on Brego’s saddle. Why does it look so funny? What is it good for? What does the horses feel about the girth? Well, good thing you came here, because I’ve used this weird-looking thing for a while now, and I am more than ready to let you know what I think about it.

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I guess you, by the name of the product (“freedom”), can get a slight idea about what it is supposed to do. It is supposed to give your horse more freedom. Does it, though? Good question.

The girth is made up by four different parts, two to go on each side of the horse. The larger parts are connected by a sturdy, leather clad nylon strap, and each part can move independent from each other. The idea is that the middle section stays clear of the externum (boney part where the ribs connect), whilst resting calmly on the pectroalis muscle (which is a three-parted muscle, going from your horses man boobs, to in-between the front legs, and further back where the girth goes, picture here). The two side panels are designed to independently follow the intercostals muscles. Lot’s of fancy muscle words here, but if you know your equine anatomy, you’ll catch my drift.

Sounds good in theory though, but I had a few more practical worries from looking at it. It seems to have several weak spots – HOW weak are they? Will it act wobbly on the horse because of all the different sections and “joints”? What does my horse think about it, and is it worth its price?

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I have tried this girth on all my horses, and at least none of them are mad at it. Out of the three of them, I surprisingly realized that Brego is the one to enjoy it the most. I was a bit “yeah right, it’s just a coincidence” the first times I used it on him, but the more I have changed girth back and forth to check, the more I realize that his stride is A LOT bigger, and A LOT calmer, with the Freedom girth. A match made in heaven!

Lillen doesn’t care about what girth we use, which might be because it sits so far back anyways, that regular girths won’t disturb his movement in the first place. Diego recently had a bit of an injury to his pectoralis, and will get upset if anything rests too direct on it. Which I totally understand. Before the injury he had no problems with it, and even though I didn’t get around to use it properly, I did notice the same tendency in his strides as I have done to Bregos.

I have tugged, I have pulled, I have twisted and I have inspected, and what I believed to be weak spots seem to be sturdy as all hell. Weak spots? Nah. I do however inspect the girth on a regular basis, just to make sure – but come on. We all should do that on all of our equipment anyways. Scharf themselves have this to say about what I thought would be a weak spot:

“The Scharf Freedom girth is the only girth on the market with an integrual structure made of non-deformable synthetic fibre. This material works as an inner “body”, and practically impossible to break. The synthetic fibre can withstand 750kg of force, while the Showjumping, Eventing and Western versions of the girth can withstand up to 1500kg!”

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I am usually scolded for riding with my girths too loose, but the girth does come with a manual telling you how to tighten it properly, and I suggest you read it carefully. Is it wobbly? Not when tightened. When it’s properly strung up, it does feel like a “solid” piece of work, and it will gently move along with the horse. I was worried it might pinch his skin when he moved, but it won’t even pinch on Brego’s massive winter coat, so I think we’re good on that department too.

Is it worth the money? If you don’t own a 1200kg draft with a body not suited for saddle placement, or a horse with an injured pectoralis… Yes! Yes indeed! I am so happy I have this for Brego, and even though it does cost a lot of money, so does the other well-thought through anatomical girths on the market. I have nothing to negative to say about the quality of the leather, buckles or elastic, it sits very nicely, it seems to hold its promises and most importantly to me: Brego loves it.

Go Scharf! Well done for making an excellent product.

At the bottom of this post, I feel obligated to remind you that yes, this product was indeed sent to me for free to try out, but I am not getting paid to say anything positive about it. I wholeheartedly stand behind what is written in this post, and would never recommend something I wouldn’t use myself.

Emma

Vikings!

Adventure avaits! For Narnia! And Aslan! And no we aren’t going to let those two hobbits behind, so we have to go and pick up those two too! Alright, let’s drop the fantasy and have a look at history. We Norwegians were pretty feared as the vikings we were, and to celebrate their culture, their handcraft and their legacy, we teamed up with Iver and Matilde to be vikings for a day.

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Borrekaupangen, a viking market hosted every second year. People travel from the entire country and from abroad to attend the marked with their handcrafts to sell, or to buy, or to just relax in the athmosphere. We went with our horses to ride through the narrow market in order to set the mood a little. Horses have always been important in our history, and bringing them to such an event made an impact on a lot of the attenders.

The horses did absolutely amazing, and didn’t even spook once. We encountered a lot of things we’ve never been forced to deal with before, yet the amounts of people was probably the biggest challenge (even though the horses were completely calm, so I guess it wasn’t that much of a challenge). Children of all ages, people who have never seen horses before, old people, wheelchairs and strollers – all cramming togheter in the marked to get a look at all the crafts presented. Brego even at one point had a toddler repeatedly slapping his eye, because the parents didn’t realize you need to guide a toddler to actually pet an animal. Brego handled it very well.

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Emma

In the sunset

As the temperatures in Norway have been absolutely burning the past two months, none of our horses have had a very active lifestyle. Training increases the risk of overheating, sadly, and even though they spend a lot of time in their cooler stable, it doesn’t help how many cold showers you give them. Hot is hot!

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So the solution has been to train more during the evening. Diego is no evening horse, and neither is Lillen, but Brego gets super excited when I bring out his tack! So I’ll take that as a hint!

Out of shape and out of balance, but we got some cute pictures in the sunset yesterday, so here you go.

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Emma

New in; Nature’s Botanical

Reklame/produkter sponset av Nature’s Botanical

All Natural fly repellent? That actually works? Sounds a little too good to be true. I’ve tried my fair share of fly repellents that haven’t done the job, all of them varying from super-not-natural to super-very-natural to home-made. I was thrilled when Nature’s Botanical offered to send me some of their products to try out, and oh boy!

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Most insect repellents in Norway are based on Permethrin or DEET. The Permethrin based ones have been working pretty well, but the chemical is heavily regulated and is a danger to water supplies (and not recommended for use on skin). Several of my friends horses have had some pretty bad allergic reactions to DEET, so I figured I wasn’t thrilled to try that out either.

When Nature’s Botanical say they are all natural, they mean all natural, and having their products based on Rosemary and Cedarwood oils gives of an incredible scent too! Not lemon-y, just fresh and a little rosemary-y? (Wow, Emma, I wonder why *hark* rosemary oil *hark*). I also think the fact that their natural ingredients aren’t any wonky natural ingredients, is a huge plus. Lot’s of things can be labelled natural, and still be rather dangerous.

I tried it out on myself first, and let me repeat myself; oh boy! When they said that the cream needed to be applied as if it was sunscreen, they weren’t messing around. Once my arms and neck was covered, the mosquitos got so offended they tried crawling into my nostril and into my ears! I was quite quick to cover up those areas too! x) Once I had mosquito-proofed myself, they didn’t even bother to think of me as a potential meal. For other bugs, you probably don’t have to be as thorough when applying. Or if you have more lazy mosquitos where you are from.

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After a quick patch test on Lillen, we hacked out into mosquito land (and horsefly land! ugh) the next day, and even though he was sweaty and quite the luxurious target for flying terror bugs, they kept their distance. They still came to check us out, but didn’t find anywhere good to settle down, so we had a fairly quiet and calm hack. Applying the cream thoroughly on more exposed areas (face, prive parts, chest area etc.), and the rest in a light mist of the spray, we were more than covered enough!

Although their products work as an insect repellent, the ingredients are also quite useful for a lot of other stuff. I’ve applied it to itchy mosquito bites and had quite the sudden relief, I’ve used it as a hand lotion after a long evening of leather crafting, and I even had one of those kinda ingrown (sorry, gross) pimples that made half my face a swollen and sore, and go figure, my skin calmed down a lot after applying the cream.

The lotion comes as a roll-on (50ml) and on a spray bottle (125ml, 500ml and a 5L refill), and even though the roll-on is made for humans, it makes applying it on a horse face a lot easier. The spray works like a “normal” bottle of bug repellant. They also have a cream version – I have my 100g down in the stable for pony faces (because my roll-on is never where I need it to be) and one 50g by my bed, because I cannot sleep when itchy and that cream is a life saver.

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Lillen is thankful for his new bug repellant, and is super happy to know it works! Why add lots of stuff to a repellent when there is a natural alternative out there – and that natural alternative is safe to use as well. He is however a bit insulted that he isn’t allowed to eat it, and that the one time he actually did manage to eat my hand with the cream on, it didn’t at all taste as good as he had hoped it would. Brego was offended I applied it to his face, but that is the norm with him, and after a headbutt (and a little pep talk about anger management) I think he too learned the lesson; the fresh smelling natural bug stuff is doing its job! Wohoo!

If you wish to learn more about Nature’s Botanical, you can check out their website at https://naturesbotanical.com/, where you also can ask whatever question you want, or order their products. They are Australia based, but ship worldwide without any fuzz. I got my parcel less than a week after they sent it, and I live on the other side of the world!

Nature’s Botanical were kind enough to send me their products for free, but that does in no way alter my view on their products. I decided to write this blog post out of my own will, and trust me when I say my 50g cream and the 50ml roll-on is going EVERYWHERE with me this summer! And for all of those out there who follow me on Instagram; pay attention to Monday. We have a little surprise for you! 😀

Emma

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