An International quarterly publication dedicated to presenting fine art
and the equestrian lifestyle inspired by the majestic beauty and love of the horse.

Not every cowboy hat can come with a pedigree like the ones from Red Star Rigging. These are the thoroughbreds of head wear. At Red Star, each and every hat is uniquely finished and embellished by the hands of Michelle Crite, a cowgirl with a mission. Employed as an IT consulting manager while also studying to become a CPA, Michelle lives in Houston and has a ranch and studio in Hempstead, Texas, a small town in Waller County, a part of the country where women take their horses and their hats pretty seriously -- and they’d better. The sun is impartial to trail riders and a woman’s skin needs to be protected.

In spite of her full time job and studies, Michelle’s real love is designing and making hats and her growing company is proof of her success. When asked how she got where she is today, she answered, “It all started after a trail ride I was on a few years ago with my riding group. I was wearing a special palm leaf hat I’d won in an auction; a hat I really loved. By the end of the ride however I’d somehow lost it and decided that I had to have another. If I couldn’t find one, I’d make it myself.”

 Michelle bought herself a fine palm leaf, bleached, cowboy hat body like the one she’d had and then set out to learn how to lace leather and plait horse hair tassels to decorate it. The experience was long and tedious; full of trial and error, but eventually she succeeded, transforming a readymade hat body imported from Mexico by the Dick and Brooks Atwood Company. Committed to making more, she went on to work with the Texas Hat Company, an importer of palm hat bodies that have a characteristic white or honey tone fine weave. Based on demand, she applied her talents to felt hats as well, especially colors like black, brown and silver belly, or grey. The rest, as they say, is history.

“Some days, I’m amazed at the rapid rise of my company,” said Michelle. “Launched unofficially in 2007, I started making them at first for friends and family. By 2009 I was in business for real. I’d have to say that at this point, I have between 700-800 satisfied customers to date. Most of them want the classic white palm hat, but custom palm orders are available in black or brown as well.”

 One of the more poignant aspects of Red Star Rigging is that the decorative tassels Michelle makes can be made from your own horse’s tail if you saved it after it dies. Or, if the horse you currently own has a very long tail, by merely cutting some length from the bottom. (Brightly colored tassels are purchased from an outside source, however.) This writer lost her equine companion of almost 25 years some months ago and commissioned Michelle to use the tail hair that was saved before he was buried. The tassel she made adds interest to the hat and its pretty nickel silver concho. But more than that, wearing it has become a sentimental experience that honors an equine friend in a wonderful way.

Michelle’s ability to customize her hats is almost limitless. She offers over 100 styles of conchos including some in a golden bronze color and enough leather colors to match almost anything you can send her. She also utilizes “hair calf” or leather from which the hair hasn’t been removed. Unique tanning and dyeing processes make this product decorative and useable in various ways, especially on hat brims. The artistry comes in the design composition and color coordination, something Michelle has a marvelous knack for.

 “Ladies just love them,” added Michelle. “Plus, all my hats are vented with eyelets and stampede strings, if they want them. The tassel can rest on the brim or hang down and sway when you ride, acting as a fly shield. Some of the hat bands are beaded, as are the brim trims. It just depends on how much you want to spend. In addition, two kinds of leather trim are available: a whipstitch or a double whip stitch, either in one color, or two, for a pretty contrast. Plus I make all my own leather lacing,” Michelle continued. “It’s all hand cut. That takes a lot of time.”

Michelle actually buys the hides, either deerskin or calf, and cuts her own laces, a painstaking process. For the decorative brims, she cuts templates based on brim sizes, then lays these on cowhides that feature a great pattern. Then she selects the areas she likes most and cuts the hide to fit. The covers are adhered with special glue that holds under all conditions.

 “One of my favorite looks,” said Michelle, “is the black and white cowhide, or salt and pepper effect.” Although Michelle works a 40 hour week, her weekends are hers to be spent with her trail horses, Apache and her most recent acquisition, Cherokee. She retired her favorite mount, Biscuit, after twelve years of service and he now resides at friend’s, providing companionship and fun to several grandchildren. Michelle has several hats made with his hair.

 “I ride with a lady’s trail riding group,” said Crite, “made up of women age 30 through 80. We’re known as ‘Ladies of the Texas Tradition.’ Our purpose is sharing a love of horses and friendship. We’re also thinking of starting a scholarship program for young girls in FAA for high schools in the local area. We love to ride all day, party at night, and host small rodeos for our members.” One of Michelle’ riding buddies, Noel Orsak, came home one day to find her favorite mare, Chili, with a broken leg. The mare was her first horse, had born her two foals, and had made the perfect riding horse for several years. She couldn’t be saved and had to be put down. One of Noels’ friends gave the tail hair to Michelle who made a hat for her as a surprise commemorative gift.

“I made the hat and gave it to her at one of our trail rides. (By then Noel had purchased a new horse.) There was a lot of crying involved when she got the gift.” Recently, Michelle has been participating in trunk shows at local retailers in the Texas area and has been invited to Cheyenne, Wyoming his summer during Frontier Days, hosted by a Western retailer there. Her goal is to eventually showcase at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, the mecca of cowboy sport and Western shopping. “My real dream,” said Michelle, “is to give up my day job and live my passion of making cowgirl hats and riding horses.”

Considering the fact that a hat by Red Star Rigging can be either a decorative, functional part of your riding wardrobe or a way to keep a part of your beloved equine pal close to you, this is a boutique business to watch. Keep in mind—spring is coming and in warmer weather, Michelle Crite gets very busy.

 

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Fall 2010 | HORSES IN ART MAGAZINE | KIM McELROY
Fall 2010 

HORSES IN ART - WINTER 2010 - LESLEY HARRISON
Winter 2010

HORSES IN ART - SPRING 2011 - JAN TAYLOR
Spring 2011

Summer Horses in Art 2011 - Contemporary Cover Artist - Nancy Christy Moore
Summer 2011

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