BY JESS CLAWSON
Safety is the most important aspect of horsemanship. Those of us who grew up in the United States Pony Club system may recall the classic drawings illustrating the difference between a safe barn aisle and a dangerous one—pitchforks in the aisle and electrical cords in reach of horse teeth are to be avoided to keep ourselves and our horses safe. And don’t forget the fire extinguishers!
But one ubiquitous and hazardous piece of equipment has been in need of a redesign: the tack hook. Hanging in countless wash stalls everywhere, there are hooks near the horses’ heads just waiting to catch an eye, a nostril, a halter or bridle. Jill Howser saw this problem and decided to fix it.
Howser is the brilliant mind behind the Spur Tech straps that have changed the way spur straps work. Sometimes these simple, everyday items are those that most need to be reimagined for greater efficiency and safety.
“I just said, why not me?” Howser said of her decision to tackle another project. “I’m a safety nut. I’m the person who checks the girth three times when I ride. I check the shoes for looseness every time I pick feet, I always pass left to left in the ring, and I made a spur strap that won’t catch on the arena fence. The small details make a big difference.”
Howser’s Bell Hook is safer because the horse can’t get caught on it. “I just felt like there needed to be a safer option than what’s been there forever, and on a larger scale than some of the lovely custom ones that horse shoers make,” she said. “I just felt the traditional hook is so dangerous hanging there to catch someone or something, so I went to work on it.”
Howser began this process a year ago. It takes a long time to go from idea to production, especially if production quality is a key value, as it is to Howser, who went as far as to submit the design to the international patent office (her patent is pending).
The Bell Hook is produced in partnership with American Equus, a USA-based company that produces spurs and stirrups, among other items. All of their items are made in their workshop in Arizona. “It’s been an unbelievable experience working with them,” Howser said. “The manufacturing process is difficult, and they are well versed in the metals and what it takes. All of American Equus’s items work so well.”
Howser also appreciates that American Equus employs veterans, as her long term vision is to employ veterans in the production of her wares. “It’s an American tragedy that all of these people aren’t getting the help they need. We see it and it’s around us and it’s offensive to me. I wanted to do anything I could to create some kind of work and give back,” she said.
Her idea was born of countless conversations with people who complained about the danger of traditional tack hooks. “I had known people who have had accidents and had their horses hook a nostril or eye or bridle or something and been sidelined for a year recovering from it. A few of the professionals on the Spur Tech team had it happen and it was just awful. So from a safety standpoint, 1000 pounds of flight animal bolting happens faster than most things we ever see and there’s just not time to react, so the environment has to be safe,” she said.
Howser’s own horse, Nemo, has taught her a great deal about the importance of taking care around these animals. “He’s such a guide and takes good care of me and is so careful with me. He shows me how intricately they can move and nudge us away from things and put us correctly to a jump. But they can also get hurt so easily. We have to remember they’re flight animals and they get scared and they run.”
When Howser sees a problem, she solves it. Her background as a ski and snowboard outfitter showed her the importance of getting things right and prioritizing safety in equipment in dangerous sports. “Healing takes too long,” she laughed. She believes
in prioritizing safety and risk management of all
The hook’s design has other benefits beyond safety. Each of the four prongs will hold two or three bridles without having to stack them, so bridles with different dyes won’t stain each other. Bridles with ergonomic crown pieces sit on the hook well and hang properly without getting damaged. Also, the size of the hook means two or three people can comfortably use it to clean tack at once.
The Bell Hook is lightweight, collapsible, and strong. Its uses extend far beyond bridles and tack. It’s safe and useful for camping, fishing boats, hanging sleeping bags or beach towels, closet organization, and even hanging plants. It’s strong enough to hang horse rugs. Howser is excited to announce that custom barn color options will be available in the near future.
“The well-being of our animals and everything associated is non-negotiable. Correcting this one risk is worth it.” Howser said. “I’d like to see fewer animals injured and things working better. I like things that work well, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.”
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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