By Nick Pernokas
It’s been said that class and quality never go out of style. Nowhere in the equine industry is this demonstrated more than with the halter. In a world where saddle styles have change dramatically in the last century and a half, the halter has only changed a little. Every horse wears one, and although the materials have evolved in a lot of cases, the basic design hasn’t. In Ocala, Florida, a small company is doing a great business making the same classic halter that they made in the 1800s.
Albright Halters was originally named Barkley and Company. Barkley was founded in the Lexington, Kentucky area in 1868, by the Barkley family. They were a one-stop supplier for the race horse industry. They carried everything that was needed in this booming business, making many things, like jockey silks, themselves. And they made halters.
Eventually, William Albright married into the Barkley family. The name of the business became Albright and Barkley. As William and his wife aged, their son, John, took over the business. Their line of quality products for the equine industry became sought after in other disciplines besides Thoroughbred racing.
When John got older, he decided to downsize. He bought a piece of property in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and built a shop. With the storefront gone, he and his wife, Rosie, and their sons concentrated on building their halters. Halters may sound like a step down from a full line of tack, but Albright Halters were widely used in the lucrative Thoroughbred horse sales. Every yearling that goes through one of these sale barns traditionally has a sturdy leather halter with the horse’s name on a brass plate. Ninety five percent of Albright’s business was producing the halters and name plates for this industry. The Albright halter set the bar for leather halters and became sought after outside the Thoroughbred industry. Quarter horse sales also liked the look, and John began producing halters for them as well. Soon, he was also making show halters for the Warmblood, hunter and jumper industries.
One of the tanneries that Albright’s bought their leather from was Caldwell Moser in New Albany, Indiana. Rich Flint was an enterprising salesman for the tannery who got to know John when he called on him in the late Nineties. Rich had worked in sales for the leather industry for most of his adult life. John told Rich that he was thinking about retiring and asked him if he might have any interest in the business.
“I said, ‘John, I’ve got a job and health insurance. I don’t think so,’” remembers Rich.
This time period was a tough one for American tanneries. A few months later Rich learned that Caldwell Moser would be closing. Rich remembered his conversation with John and called him to see if the offer was still open. It was and in 2002, Rich purchased the fifth-generation halter business. John stayed on for two years and taught Rich how to build halters the “right way.” He told Rich that he had taught a lot of people how to make halters over the years, but when they went out on their own, they would take shortcuts to cheapen the product. Rich has been determined to maintain John’s high standards, and it’s paid off.
“When we bought the business, John had a very loyal customer base that came with the company,” says Rich. “We still serve those customers today.”
To make a high-quality halter, Albright Halters starts with high quality, vegetable-tanned leather. All of the edges are edged by hand and then burnished by hand to give the strap work a nice round feel. Albright halters are still sewn with traditional cotton thread at 7 ½ to 8 stitches per inch. Rich believes that this gives the work a better appearance, and a better lockstitch, than with nylon thread. It also doesn’t back out of the holes when it’s cut. The cotton thread works well with water-based thread lubricant that is put in the wax pots of his Campbell-Bosworth sewing machines. Solid brass hardware contrasts with the leatherwork beautifully.
Albright’s also makes matching heavy lead shanks. Typically, they are 6 ½ to 7 feet long, but Rich cuts them longer if he can. He uses 14- to 16-ounce leather for the shanks. He won’t use anything that doesn’t measure at least 11 to 12 ounces in the shoulder. The standard width is 1 inch, but stallion shanks go up to 1 1/8 inches. The stallion shanks are at least 12 to 14 feet in length. Many stud shanks have a stop on the end. These sturdy shanks don’t require lining, but there is a small piece of latigo in the bend for reinforcement. The chains are purchased directly from England. For Thoroughbreds the preferred chains are 30 inches in length; for Quarter horses 24 inches is commonly used. A short 9-link chain is used with Chifney bits.
The halters are topped off with a custom nameplate that is cut from top quality brass stock right in the shop. Rich punches the corners and holes to fit the lettering, which he then engraves on the plate by hand. The brass that Rich uses does not have the lacquer finish that many computer engraved nameplates have. The lacquer makes it easier to wipe the bluing agent off after the letters are colored. But the lacquer doesn’t age well and can’t be polished. Rich uses the same bluing agent on his letters, but then polishes the raw brass to a high luster, which can be brought back as it ages.
In 2014, Rich and his wife, Stephanie, moved to Ocala, Florida, to escape the Indiana winters and to be closer to some of their family. The Flints do most of the work in their 30×30-foot shop themselves. They try to build 18 halters in a nine-hour day.
Legendary racehorses like Secretariat, Man O’War, Seattle Slew, Citation, Spectacular Bid and Funny Cide have all worn an Albright halter. West of the Mississippi, noted horse sales like Roger Daly Horses and the Four Sixes Ranch use Albright halters on their sale horses. This diversity of equine breeds and their schedules helps spread the work out and keep it steady.
“We have a nice business mix. It’s year round. It’s not just dependent on the Thoroughbred or the Quarter Horse sales.”
Albrights turn out halters start at $45 and the triple sewn, rolled throat latch sale halters start at $55. They also make nice collars and leashes for the stable dog.
To find out more about this classic piece of tack, you can call 800-354-9504 or go to www.albrighthalters.com.
4920 NW 49th Ave
Ocala, FL 34482