Being a woman in the rope industry is a bit like being a woman in rodeo: gals are outnumbered and the ride can be awfully rocky.
Yet, Robyn Doloughan, owner of Columbia Basin Knot Company and its retail division, Knotty Girlz, has stayed in the game and flourished. Her company, based in Valleyford, Washington, sells rope and makes rope halters, lead lines, mecate reins, and more.
Doloughan loves rope and Doloughan knows rope. When she first started in 2001, she researched double-braid polyester rope, a specific kind of rope used in yachting. It would “herniate” around some knots, she
said. “A lot of yacht rope is not designed to be knotted in lots of places.”
So, Doloughan redesigned the rope to new specifications, with horses and riders in mind.
She tied her first Fiador knot back then, too. It took her seven hours to complete it. [Fiador means “bond” or “bondsman” in Spanish but over time cowboys have corrupted it to “Theodore,” and “Theodore knot,” especially after the popularity of Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Rider stint around 1898.]
Knotty Girlz has succeeded by “never saying ‘no’” and by sharing expertise whenever possible. A customer wants an 11-foot lead line instead of the standard 12-footer?
You’d rather buy rope and make it yourself?
No problem. And while you’re at it, make sure to check out the company’s videos on how to make a rope halter. Watch them here.
In her spare time, Doloughan volunteers to show 4-H groups and school classes how to make halters, dog leashes and jump ropes.
She’s in it for the customers, which include the horses, she said.
“Ultimately, we want what’s going to work for you and we want to make a safe product. We try to keep the horses’ best interest in mind, too.”
With that in consideration, no Knotty Girlz halters have metal ends (which, if handled too hastily, can hit and hurt a horse’s eye). Halters are made from a variety of rope diameters and have two or four knots over the nose to give handlers a choice of how each halter will feel on each horse.
The products are increasingly popular with trainers (Warwick Schiller’s a big fan.) as well as regular riders. Her husband, Kerrin Doloughan, who emigrated from Kenya and now rides with ranchers as a Bureau of Land Management Range Conservationist, often comes home empty handed, having given away yet another Knotty Girlz item. “They love them,” Robyn laughed.
Sales have increased about 25 percent annually over the last few years. Since 2001, the one-woman home business has expanded to include eight to nine employees. Knotty Girlz now sells mohair cinches from Montana and can add leather poppers or rawhide buttons to custom orders.
Nina Fuller, photographer and equine-facilitated mental health practitioner, once asked me during a visit if I’d walk with her to “the bench.”
It seemed like an innocuous enough invitation, so I joined her. We walked with her dogs past the horse and sheep pastures, past a pond, and through the woods. Sun shone between the trees. Dew dotted our boots as we moved towards the back of her Maine property, across a tiny brook, to an opening in the woods.
There sat a blue bench. It looked like it was waiting for us.
The Blue Bench has been a funky Fuller project for a few years. The seat itself was a 35-dollar purchase made on a whim. The placement of it was her acknowledgement that the meadow itself and the walk to get to it were special. [Photo at right shows Fuller with Maddy Butcher, Marsha Craig, and Jack Martin. Read more about Craig and Martin’s work with equine therapy here.
“There’s something about it that resonates with everyone who goes there,” said Fuller recently by phone.
The horsewoman routinely invites visitors to stroll out to the bench. She takes her camera and posts images on her Blue Bench Project on facebook.
As the routine has developed, returning visitors often ask, “Can we go to the bench?” she told me. “There is a healing, spiritual thing going on there. It’s calm. People slow down. I think a lot of it has to do with the walk.”
Indeed, even the folks at the National Academy of Sciences are recognizing the mental health benefits of getting into nature. A recent study noted “reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness” when subjects took a 90-minute walk in natural environment. Broadly speaking, people who experience more nature are less depressed. There was no positive effect when the subjects walked in an urban setting. Read more here.
Scientists note similar mental health benefits from human interaction with animals, especially horses. Read this review of research on kids involved with equine-facilitated learning.
Most of you have animals. But do you have a bench to go to?
“This idea isn’t owned by me. Everyone needs one.” And with that in mind, Fuller ended our phone call. Her dog heard her say the word “bench” 20 minutes ago and has been ready to go ever since.