It all started with a “free horse.” That’s in quotes because everyone, including Sue Laffely, knows “there’s no such thing as a free horse.”

Laffely got hers, a gray Arabian named Dai Sha Voo, from a friend in December 1990. When hunting season rolled around the following year, guns started going off around Laffely’s Windham home and she worried that her horse would be mistaken for a deer. So Laffely bought some bright orange fabric and made the horse its own blaze orange vest.

Laffely is retired now but makes extra income using her industrial sewing machine to sew sails, awnings, three-ring leather binders, check covers and tote bags. She also makes blaze orange vests, equine bandanas, tail bags and other such products as a little niche company she calls Protectavest, part of a larger business she calls Mac Mountain Tack Repair. She works out of a converted goat barn “in my slippers and jammies.” The last week of September through the first week of November is her busy season.

“You’re not going to get rich off it,” she said. “It’s a couple months’ income for me.”

Mostly, Laffely sells peace of mind. There’s no epidemic of hunters shooting horses by any means, she said, but horse pastures often back up to hunting grounds. Equestrians worry enough about the possibility of their horse getting shot that they sometimes keep their horses in the barn during hunting season. Over the years, Laffely has heard of a case where a woman’s horse was shot from underneath her, and another where a hunter shot a black horse because he thought it was a bear.

Laffely made her first horse vest in 1991. People driving by her pasture saw her horse wearing it and started asking where she’d bought it. By 1992, she was making them to sell in a friend’s tack shop. The vest is made of heavy-duty, open-weave mesh similar to that worn by road crews, only heavier. For the horse, it’s like wearing the front half of a horse blanket. The material breathes well, so on warm fall days it won’t make the horse sweat, and it dries quickly after a rain, Laffely said.

The blaze orange vest covers the horse’s heart.

“Hunters will look for a heart shot,” Laffely said. “They’re not going to see a heart, they’re going to see orange. It makes them instantly identifiable as a domesticated animal.”

The vest costs $49.95, which includes shipping. (The horse bandana is $34.95.) Laffely sells them on her website, protectavest.com; on eBay; and often has some on the shelves at Adams Horse Supply in Winthrop.

— MEREDITH GOAD

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