Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Straight from the horse's mouth

Trainers will often compliment a rider as having good hands.

It’s a compliment 31-year-old exercise rider Briar Perkins has heard quite often at the track - - not just for her work aboard a horse, but also for the art she creates with her nimble fingers.

After a morning spent steering two-year-old horses through their paces in the sand ring on the Woodbine backstretch, Perkins was keen to show off her artistic side.
Fifty pendant form!
“Check this out,” she smiles, arm extended, pushing a glistening tooth adorned by a horse with a familiar white blaze in my direction.  “It’s Fifty Proof...and it’s carved out of one of his old tooth caps!”

Sure enough, neatly carved out of enamel and expertly painted on a discarded cap, was a pendant bearing the likeness of the graded stakes winner.  

It’s a special creation for Perkins, not only for the effort she put into the charm, but also for the time she spent with the horse.

“Fifty Proof was my big horse last year,” recalls Perkins of the massive chestnut gelding, who captured the Sir Barton Stakes after more than a year away from the races. “I galloped him into that race.  He’s one of many I ride for Ian Black including Excaper, Stormy Lord, Really Sharp and Incredicat.”

Perkins, who studied art at the University of Guelph before the call of the racetrack beckoned, loves climbing aboard Fifty Proof.

“I feel guilty charging Ian for it.  He’s one-of-a-kind that horse,” she laughs.

And even though Perkins has a slight frame, she has no trouble handling the powerful gelding.

“He aims to please. He wants to do right, but he has his tricks,” she admits. “He doesn’t like horses coming right at him, so he can pull a quick wheel on you.  And he can get strong. He likes to tell you when he’s feeling good. But truly, he is a gentle giant who just wants to be a good boy most of the time.”
Briar and filly Pied A Terre
Perkins started galloping for Gail Woods after leaving university and continued gaining experience by spending a year at Keeneland riding for Diane Perkins - - no relation.

She learned quickly, and why wouldn’t she after a childhood spent on horseback?

“I grew up on a farm. I was on a horse before I could walk,” she laughs. “I was in pony club and in two world championships for mounted games - - which are relay races on horse back, jumping on and off of them and sword racing at targets, fun stuff!”

Granted, riding at the track is a little more physical.

“It takes its toll on your body,” she admits. “There’s also stress to getting on good horses like that. You worry about messing things up by going too fast.  There’s a lot of responsibility.  At first, I didn’t always notice other riders going by too close, but as soon as I started riding these horses, I became much more aware of my surroundings.  You want to take care of these horses as best you can.”

And now, having established herself as a regular gallop girl for Black, Perkins is keen to make a little money moonlighting with her art.

It all started a couple years ago when a friend found a cap in a feed tub and passed it on to Perkins. After turning the object around in her hands a few times, the budding artist came up with the idea of making jewelry.

Just like riding a horse, it took a little while for Perkins to master the craft. 

Fortunately, she was gifted a bucket of caps by Dr. Brian Van Arem, an equine vet who collected deciduous teeth to hand out to students after lectures, to practice her jewelry-making skills.

“The first ones were rough and primitive, but I’ve honed the technique over the past two years,” she says. “I use very small paint brushes and I have a Dremel tool for carving. It takes a lot of patience, especially for the carving, because enamel is really hard to work with. It can be very time consuming to get all the layers down.”
An array of designs...
Perkins now spends more time than she cares to admit each night carving, painting and shaping horse teeth into works of art.  

As she perfected her technique, she’s managed to create a variety of shapes including a shamrock, heart and butterfly out of the discarded dentistry.

Word spread quickly on the backstretch of Perkins handiwork, and she is now taking on a number of custom orders from owners and trainers wanting a keepsake that’s not only of their horse, but from their horse.

Ranging in price from $75 - $150, Perkins has found a niche market and she’s busy enough that she’ll soon launch her own website, branded with the perfect company name - - Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.
Briar guides a 2yo chestnut in the sand ring...
While she waits for her art business to take off, Perkins will continue to focus on riding horses and also re-training a Weather Warning gelding, named Rocket Warning, which she co-owns with her boyfriend.

“The horse is a problem child.  He’s got a lot of talent but he’s his own worst enemy,” she explains. “He’s a bit of a stress case, so he needs to be in a small barn where he can get a lot of attention, which we can provide. Hopefully, he’ll pay us back”

For Perkins, who doesn’t mind putting in the time to help a horse come good, it's just one more task worth sinking her teeth into.


I'll be sure to publish a link to Briar's website once established...for now, if anyone is interested in getting in touch with Briar, leave a comment below or send me an email.

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