Translation from an Italian
article by Viola Carignani.
A lifetime among horses. This is Melanie Measures, British by birth ( she was born on the Isle of Wight) and has become, after all these years,Italian and Sienese by adoption. " I can't say for how long i've been living in Siena or you could guess how old i am" jokes Melanie,who is always smiling. She feels Italian now. Sienese,first of all. So much so ,that she cannot be away from Siena during the days of the Palio. "It's too exciting and absorbing. It's part of me and i can't live without it", she says about her much loved race.
Besides devoting her life to the world of horses - where she has been working since she was young as a groom for some of the worlds most important horsemen and olympic medal winners ,such as Graziano Mancinelli and Anna Casagrande - Melanie has also cultivated a passion for leather handcrafting. It is this crafting skill that led her to develop a tight bond with the city wards - the Contrade.
Soon her art of inlaying and working leather-- to make the bridles or the pennants (in Siena these are called Spennacchiere and they attatch to the bridles browband)--became very popular among the Contrade. "It's hard to find someone who works with leather in this field. Making the Spennacchiere is different every time. It's the only item of 'clothing' - so to speak -that horses wear on the day of the Palio".
Indeed ,the bridles and the 'head' decorations are the only type of saddlery that the Palio horses are wearing and this is what all of Melanie's crafting work revolves around.
" Some bring me a drawing , while others rely on my inventiveness. The hardest thing is to find the right colours for the leather and sometimes i have had to have them especially made. I am lucky that we are in Tuscany where there are many tanneries .
Now she has also made her name outside of the city walls. "I have done work for many of the Palio's that take place in Italy: Ferrara, Legnano, Asti, are only some of them and also for jousting events such as the Giostra del Saracino that takes place , twice a year in Arezzo."
Although she was not born within the city walls ,our English craftswoman has succeeded in winning the trust of the suspicious world of the Palio. " I have been lucky enough to have access to the stables ,should it be necessaryto make any adjustments to the bridles and it is good to feel that they trust me to not talk about anything that i have seen or heard and that they consider me to be unbiased and reserved.
It's a great honour for me to be an active part of this wonderful festival and it gives me great satisfaction to see my bridles and spennacchiere being worn on the day of the Palio. Only Siena can give such great emotions."