West Slope silversmith creates special keepsakes for horse lovers
March 17, 2014
Ivy McNulty of Gunnison, Colo., lost her best friend at age 18.
His name was Brownie — the first horse she'd ever bought with her own money.
After seven years together on the cutting circuit, "He developed a tumor on his spine," she recalled. "We had to put him down."
Devastated, she didn't touch another horse for over two years — highly unusual when you consider that she not only grew up on a horse ranch, but she'd cared for, trained, and ridden them from toddlerhood on.
Horses were definitely instrumental in grounding this friendly, down-to-earth and hard-working 35-year-old. Because Ivy was an only child and lived 30 miles from town, she had plenty of chores to do, and the horses were her constant friends and companions.
"I first competed at 2 ½, with my mother's college barrel gelding, Ben, in showmanship. They had just disked the arena before we entered, and I remember he kept trying to lie down and roll," she smiled. "People here still remember that."
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After Brownie died, however, Ivy shut down, losing all interest in competing, and horses altogether.
"I didn't touch another horse for two full years," she said. She even briefly moved away … until a special colt was born.
"My dad's mare had her first foal prematurely, and it couldn't stand. Being an old rancher, he was going to put it down.
"I said 'no.'"
After both mare and foal had been confined to a 10×10 stall, Ivy became its second mother, for weeks and weeks, holding him up many times each day to nurse.
She filed his hooves to straighten his crooked legs. Once strong enough to venture out, he started following Ivy like a dog.
Her dad gave the colt to her that year for Christmas.
Named "Salson" (his dam was Sally, or Sal Gal, so he is "Sal's son"), the colt became Ivy's second love, as well as her second chance at living.
"That little horse needed me."
Her voice softened.
"He changed the course of my life, because I needed him, too."
She grew so deeply attached that seven years later, close to delivering her own child, she tearfully cut some of Salson's tail hair and braided it to take along to the hospital.
"I knew I was not going to see him for a couple weeks, and that way I could have him with me, even when I couldn't touch him."
What she didn't know then was that the makeshift braid was about to help her launch a highly rewarding career.
Ivy and her husband, Seth, a construction worker, who is also a Gunnison native, had already agreed she should be a stay-at-home Mom. The business she's developed, IM Silver, has allowed just that — and then some.
Ivy takes the sections of horsehair that clients send her, and working together with them and their needs, creates one-of-a-kind keepsakes of memories, with love.
Using a variety of braiding techniques — including the four-strand round, five-strand flat, five-strand weave, and eight-strand square — she makes necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and key chains (custom belt buckles can be ordered, as well).
Each is secured with hand-engraved silver clasps, caps, Conchos, or pendants that are Ivy's original designs.
"I'm not opposed to learning a new braid, or trying whatever the owner wants. I have one shot to get it right. I want to create a treasured keepsake. By the time I get a bag of hairs, in most cases the animal has already been buried, and getting more hair is not an option."
Along the creative journey, she's become a counselor, of sorts.
Fully understanding the grief one feels after losing a beloved horse, she listens … and she sympathizes.
"When I'm talking to a person who is grieving, it's an important connection. I like to hear about the horse, its life, and the situation. People often cry on the phone. Some can't even talk. It's very emotional."
In fact, it's so difficult for some people to process their grief that she shares this bit of advice: "Don't wait. Have a keepsake ready before the actual, awful day arrives. Make sure there's something to hold onto while going through that life-changing moment when your horse passes away."
Ivy has received plenty of testimonials from people who love what they get back from those precious tail hairs. Although she and Seth live "off the grid," a generator is fired up each morning so she can read her e-mails (after dropping son, Timber, 9, and daughter, Aspen, 7, at the bus stop.)
Her website not only allows her to read how past customers are doing, but it has allowed her to meet new people from as far away as Australia, Korea, and Hong Kong.
"This is not a job," she concludes. "I don't know how to describe how it makes me feel. It feeds me on a level I can't put into words."
As for Ivy's first love, Brownie, "I wasn't even thinking of the jewelry business when I lost him," she admits. "So I didn't save his tail hairs. But I do have one of his shoes hanging in the house. Is that crazy?"
To those of us who love our horses, no, it's not. ❖
For more information on IM Silver, go to http://www.imsilver.com or call (970) 275-0043. Those interested can also catch her at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in Denver, from March 7–9, and at the Crested Butte, Colo., Art Festival from August 1–3.