ELKO — Stands of vibrant-colored mohair fling in the air and coil on the floor of the Elko Convention Center Turquoise Room during a cinch-making workshop Jan. 31.
Under the tutelage of Jennifer Whiteley during the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, about 10 students try their hands at making cinches to go around the girths of their horses or for other artistic applications.
“I like to be able to share it,” she says. “It’s a dying art.”
Whiteley acquired the skill while working in remote cowboy camps in northern Nevada and southern Idaho. Without electricity or running water, she occupied herself by making cinches after what she describes as a 30-minute crash course from her boss’s wife.
“They’re doing a great job,” Whiteley says of her students who came from as near as Elko and as far away as Italy. “I’m very impressed with the job they are doing.”
Pupil Debbie Origer from Albany, Oregon, says their success is testament to the knowledge of their instructor. She is working on a cinch to go with a saddle she has had since she was a little girl.
Working nearby is Jannette Ritchie who creates a cinch for use on her Halleck ranch. She weaves red fibers into a line of gray and blue threads stretched over boards.
“My son spoke for this one already,” Ritchie says. She is taking notes on the process so she can make more “just for the ranch. They will use them.”
The idea of making her own cinches also compelled Erika Zundel to enroll in the workshop. She works on a ranch in Riddle, Idaho, and chose a palette of steely gray and magenta for her creation.
“Cowboys don’t get paid a lot, so it’s cheaper to make your own,” she says, adding, “I love pink. My chaps are pink.”
Fourth-time gathering participant Francesca Treccani from Italy says she has a horse that could use the gray and sky blue cinch she is making, but she also had another idea.
“I want to make a cinch for my mandolin,” she says, pointing to her shoulder to show how she’d use it as a strap with her instrument.
Across the room, Elko rancher Sue Key strokes the supple mohair fibers on her board and says her horse will appreciate how soft the new cinch is.
“Hickory, old Hickory,” she says its name. “We’ve had lots of miles together.”