The Mane Course

No blue-plait special for this horse braider

After college in Burbank, Romero landed in the Valley. She briefly studied art history at ASU, then worked at a framing store and for a golfwear firm, both in Scottsdale, before happening, almost by chance, back into the horse world. An acquaintance with horse-show connections casually asked her if she knew how to braid, and she had picked up the skill in her own riding days. It constituted an upturn in her career fortunes. "I said, 'Oh my God, this is a great job.' I mean, people were buying property, and having a life."

We decide to splurge on dessert. While we wait, I note to Romero that the world in which she works is just one more subculture that the rest of us don't know exists. She corrects me -- braiders, she says, are one of several sub-subcultures in the horse-show world. "You have the grooms, that are 99 percent Mexican. Which is different from back East, because back East they're young WASPy girls, teenage girls who are like working students, but here they bring in the Mexican labor." Grooms are lower than braiders on the horse-show hierarchy, while trainers are above all -- except, of course, for the customers. Romero's own taste tends to be cautiously populist. "I generally hang out with grooms more than with the customers, but you have to draw a line there, too," she says.

And where do the horses fit into all this? Is it a hard life for them?

Angelica Romero
Angelica Romero

Her response is frank. "I don't think a horse really wants to jump jumps," she says. "I mean, maybe it's fun for a little while, but when they're made to do it over and over until their soundness is in question. . . . You can tell if a horse is unhappy if he's biting you, and a lot of people miss that as a sign that maybe the horse doesn't want to do this anymore. As braiders, we do feel sorry for them. We're very loving and we give them treats."

Our own treats are set before us: bread pudding with cappuccino mousse for Romero, good old crème brûlée for me. As we attack them, she tells me of her satisfaction that it doesn't cost her money anymore to spend time with horses -- whatever she would have spent back in her horse-show days, she now takes home. "Some braiders still show!" she marvels. "I'm thinking: 'How can you give this money back to these people?' . . . I get my horse fix, and it doesn't cost me what it's cost me all my life."

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