Monday, February 26, 2018

Customer Focus - The Gentle Giants of Charleston, SC

Lizzie, Brittany, Jackson and me

I just came back from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  While I was there I got to visit one of my customers, Classic Carriage Works, or rather many customers  -  Elwood, Carson, Jackson, Berry, Larry, Bud, Dakota, Franklin and Gerald.  
There has been so much press around the carriage industry lately.  I’m not an activist for, nor am I against the carriage industry.  I’m simply a horse crazy girl.  So from a horse lovers perspective, I write this article, this customer focus, about nine lovely black Percheron horses who help show downtown Charleston to folks from a different perspective.  
Brittany, the barn manager at Classic, was kind enough to let me spend a good portion of two days with the horses.  During my stay, I was also taken around to see the other 4 carriage companies that serve Charleston.  Each barn had a different personality, even different kinds of horses - for example, Charleston Carriage Works has a fleet of beautiful chestnut Belgian Drafts, and Palmetto Carriage Works is the only company in town who drives pairs of mules.  
Carson on his way out of the barn

All the horses seemed happy and in good condition; I was allowed to go around and greet horses at every company.  The barns were clean, the atmosphere peaceful, the tack clean.  Again, these are just general horse crazy girl observations.  I didn’t see anything alarming or not right, anything that I wouldn’t see at any regular boarding barn with private clients.  
Jackson and his adorable droopy lip
But let's get back to my Percheron friends and Classic Carriage Works.  Classic has been an active barn longer than any other in Charleston.  It has stalls for six horses.  In combination with the city stable, the horses are rotated in and out of town to a lovely farm so that they all get some down time.  
Many of Classic’s horses came from less than ideal circumstances.  In fact, the majority of horses in the carriage industry were bound for the slaughter house.  To put it in a not so nice way, there is a lot of meat on an 18hh draft horse.  Brittany showed me the scars on Jackson from his previous life.  Jackson is one of their newer horses, and I’m glad to say some of our Simple Equine products are helping to heal him.  Given the tough life he came from, it was amazing to me that he could be so sweet and gentle.  Brittany said it’s taken him a little while to warm up, but he’s only been with them for a short time and I was amazed at his calm demeanor and friendliness towards me.  Not only that, but when he was hanging with me he had the most adorable and droopiest lip you’ve ever seen - a sure sign of a happy and relaxed horse in my books.  

Giant 18hh+ Carson
Carson taking me on my tour

Carson is a large 18hh Percheron, very handsome, and I think he actually believes he is hot stuff.  I went on a historical carriage ride with Carson all over downtown Charleston.  I’m not at all experienced with driving, but there were definitely similarities to riding.  The main differences to me were the importance of verbal communication with the horse and also making sure you swing far and wide so as not to hit any parked cars!  I could see Carson’s right ear turned back, listening to his driver, as we would make a left or right or pull to the side of the road to let cars pass by.  

Back at the barn, Brittany decided I should see what it’s like to pull a carriage.  Yes, me, little 100 something pound person, pull the same carriage as my 2000+ pound friend Carson.  To my surprise, it wasn’t very hard, and trust me I am not a very strong human being.  She also showed me what their special cushy shoes are like.  I’ve never seen special shoes like these- a thick piece of shock absorbing material with a little bit of extra grip on the bottom.  This shock absorber goes on after the regular metal shoe, and gets changed out frequently.  It’s one of the thing that gets monitored by the City of Charleston.  
And talk about monitoring.  Brittany showed me their book of rules and regulations.  Seriously, if all horses in the world were monitored like these gentle giants, the horse world would be a better place.  They can’t work if their shock absorbers are less than 1.5inches thick.  They can’t work if their internal temperature gets too high.  If it gets above 95 degrees or a heat index of 110 degrees no carriage rides are allowed.  There is a limit on the number of carriage rides each horse can do in a day.  They have to have a certain amount of rest time between carriage rides.  And the list goes on and on.  It’s not to say all horse owners need strict guidelines, there are plenty of well loved and well taken care of horses out there in the world, but there are also those who could use some governance.  I think it’s pretty cool that there is a governing body to ensure the horses are treated well.  And beyond that governing body, you have real horse loving folks working at Classic, and they go far above and beyond the rules.  

A horse girl in horse heaven with giant Elwood
The fondness all of the employees at Classic, and for that matter all the carriage companies I visited, have for the horses is quite evident.  Everyone of course has their favorite.  The employees  know the horses’ personalities, their likes, dislikes, what makes them happy, what they are scared of, even what might catch them off guard.  I’ll use Berry as an example.  Berry, I was told, takes his job very seriously.  He’s all business.  In fact, as Berry was about to head out on his final tour of the day, Dave, the head driver/trainer, did not want to switch up the tour guide so that Berry would not be too confused.  “It’s not that he can’t do it,” said Dave, “Of course he can.  But Berry thrives on routine and I don’t want to throw him off or cause him unnecessary stress.”  I really love how in tune each and every person seemed to be with the horses.   I have seen many riding programs and other horse programs over the years where people wouldn’t be nearly that thoughtful.  
 What do the horses of Classic Carriage Works like of the Simple Equine?  They all use the Warm Weather Comfort Spray (fly spray), pretty much year round.  Charleston is warm enough that the flies never completely disappear.  All of the new horses they get in show up with docked tails, so the Nourishing Avocado Tail Treatment is also a huge hit, and Brittany reports great growth in both tails and manes.  They also use the Healing Calendula Salve and Soothing Chickweed Cream on various boo boos and irritations, especially on the new horses as they often have lots of skin injuries.  The handsome Carson is a big fan of our Illuminating Sea Salt Polish, especially after he returns from a break - the bugs out in the pasture  bother him. 

Whether or not you believe horses should have a job or pull a carriage or have a rider on top of them, I really do believe these beautiful draft horses are treated with love and respect, and genuinely like what they do.  It’s almost as if they know they’ve been given a second, better chance at life and they are happy with and thankful for the cards they have been dealt.  It seems a shame that folks don’t put their efforts to other parts of the horse industry, like rescuing horses from slaughter and trying to re-home them, just as many horse sanctuaries, and the carriage industry (in general) are doing.  There are thousands of horses in dire need.  Sure, the world isn’t perfect and not every carriage company is good, but in Charleston they all seemed pretty darn decent to this horse loving gal.  

If you are interested in visiting Charleston and taking a tour with Classic Carriage Works, please visit their Website:  Thank you Classic for pampering your horses with Simple Equine products!  

This post is based on experience, learning and opinion.  You may or may not agree with what is written, but we hope that you will be left with information to consider, mull over, laugh at, or even agree to disagree about.  Thank you for reading.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

How to care for embellished tack in 3 simple steps

During the summer of 2015, when the heat was stifling and it was about 100 degrees out, I met Tiffany Donnelly at a horse show.  Tiffany owns Equus Couture, an amazing equestrian boutique (yay woman owned small businesses!) specializing in custom embellished tack.  She’s a true artist, bringing each and every horse (and dog) owners dreams to life.  Tiffany is awesome and we’ve stayed in touch ever since, and it’s clear she is an expert when it comes to both leather and embellishments!  

We have invited Tiffany to share her expertise on how to best care for embellished tack.  And a little shout out to Tiffany’s business, Equus Couture - please check out her wonderful work here. Thank you Tiffany for sharing your knowledge with us!  

How to care for embellished tack in 3 simple steps

We all know that tack takes a lot of abuse; horses sweat and barns have dirt! When using embellished tack, you are essentially subjecting jewelry to this harsh environment. There truly is no magic trick to care for your embellished tack; we promise it’s easier than it sounds. Follow these three simple steps and you will be golden!   
1. Maintain the integrity of your leather 
Let’s face it, you invest a lot of money in your tack, so you need to care for it as such. I think we are programmed incorrectly from the very beginning in terms of leather care. For the love of all things sacred, DO NOT use saddle soap! It will only dry out your leather. If you keep up with the following routine, we promise your tack will be pristine and hydrated!

Ideally, you should do this after EVERY ride. We realize while many of us have the best of intentions, this is not always possible, so stick to the following as often as you can possibly manage.

A simple wipe down with a wet rag will not only cleanse your leather of all the dirt and sweat that are inevitable, but it will restore your crystals to their original brilliant sparkle as well! A thorough wipe down with a damp rag is ridiculously simple, quick, and effective! You can be as rigorous as you’d like on the leather to remove any built up dirt, but when wiping any embellishments (metals or crystals) please be very gentle! Treat the embellished portion of your tack as you would fine jewelry. The damp rag will remove any sweat and dirt that is clouding your crystals and restore them to their brilliant shine!

Once you have thoroughly cleaned your leather with the damp rag, we recommend conditioning your leather with The Simple Equine's Love My Leather Balsam, (it is the official leather conditioner of Equus Couture! Did we mention how AMAZING it smells?). Be careful to condition around the embellishments and not necessarily on them, or you will cloud up your crystals again, making double work for yourself.  Then simply allow your tack to hang somewhere to dry.

There is literally no magic involved in maintaining the integrity of your leather. I think it is far simpler than we all think. Water and conditioner will keep your leather clean and hydrated, while the damp rag will remove any dirt or sweat that is clouding up your crystals. It’s amazing what a little cleaning will do to restore your tack to its original sparkle. If you can keep up with this routine after every ride, you won’t experience build up. This will cut your cleaning time down tremendously! 

2. Do not let your horse abuse your tack 
The biggest faux pas when it comes to any kind of embellished tack, is - do not let your horse rub while wearing the tack! Do not let them rub on the wall, the gate, you, or anything else! Any time you let them rub (which is just plain bad behavior), you are compromising the integrity of your embellished tack. If they are allowed to do this, you will likely pop a crystal or tear off a metal piece in the process. Teach your horse patience - to be attentive to you - as you stand with them or while you are removing the tack. Remember, you are their leader. Don’t tolerate bad behavior that could ruin your tack. You paid a lot of money for it and it is your job to protect it. 

3. Store your tack in a dry, safe place 
You can care for your leather all you want, but if you are not storing it in a safe and dry place, it will all be for naught. Make sure it is dry to prevent mold and safe to prevent someone or something else from damaging your tack and causing your embellishments to fall off.

Basically, just be sensible with your tack. Be vigilant in protecting it and be smart about where you store it. There are no unicorns or stardust; it is very simple to protect your tack so it will stay brilliant for years!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Equine Photography Basics

We welcome Catherine Stokes, equine photographer, to share some tips on how to get that perfect shot of your horse. Catherine has been around horses since she was 5, her childhood horse farm in Rockland County, NY being only a two minute walk away from her home.

She holds a BA from Bennington College, with a degree in photography and videography. Catherine has worked closely with Ginger Kathrens, an Emmy Award winning cinematographer, known for the hit TV series, Cloud the Wild Stallion of the Rockies. She has spent time out West in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Nevada, documenting and advocating for wild mustangs.  In addition, she has been a volunteer at PATH Intl. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) for over 8 years.

Catherine has recently started her own photography and videography company, deciding to marry her passion for horses and love of film and photography.  She currently resides in Putnam County, NY where she lives with her two rabbits, Buddy and Velvet, and keeps her horse Prince nearby.  Let’s hand it over to Catherine…

Catherine out in Montana making friends with BLM wild mustang Shane

Do you have a smartphone? A point and shoot? Or even a nice DSLR digital camera? Technology today is so advanced that you don’t necessarily need to spend thousands on a big fancy camera. A smartphone can take an excellent photo too.  No matter what camera you are using, the following tips will hopefully help you to take better photos of your equine friends.  

Step 1- Find the right light

Best times to photograph are in the early morning and late afternoon, when the light is ‘“flat” meaning there are no harsh rays that are casting shadows. Better yet, choose to shoot on an overcast day, where the light will be even and you won’t struggle with harsh shadows.

Of course it goes without saying, if your horse is doing something cute midday then of course just snap away! Just make sure, as the photographer, to face away from the sun- this will guarantee a photo without sunglare.

If you're shooting on your phone, make sure to turn your HDR on- this will find the middle ground of the light and will give you two different exposures of the same shot.
Sun glare

No sun glare

Step 2- Get in front of the horse

This can be difficult at times, knowing how unpredictable horses can be. Take a second before snapping the picture, and make a game plan. For example, when I’m in the paddock I make sure to start off standing at least 40 yards away. (Most of my best photos are from when the horse is first starting to approach me) If you're shooting in a riding ring, stay in the middle. If you can’t interrupt the horse and rider in the arena then set yourself up along the long side of the fence for more photo opportunities.

Imagine if I were in front of this wild herd of horses!

Step 3- Get down to the horse's eye level

As with any subject, having their eye be the focal point is what makes for a flattering photo. Make sure that your camera is at the same level as the equine’s eye. And remember to keep adjusting your stance, horses tend to change their body and demeanor frequently.
This is Snap the mini. She almost doesn't look like a miniature horse when you get to her eye level.  

Step 4 - Get your horse's attention

It goes without saying that 99% of the time we want our horses ears forward when we take a photo.  Therefore, it’s important to be prepared with something that gets their attention - for example, a wrapper that can be crinkled, or something to toss in the air nearby - even a bit of grass being picked and flying through the air can work if that’s all you have.  An extra set of hands can be very useful if you have a friend around to help so that you can focus on the shot.  
A bucket of treats never hurt

Step 5- Patience  

As with anything to do with horses, patience is a must! Prepare yourself to wait for the best moment.  And don’t forget, you are also testing your horse’s patience, so don’t expect stellar behavior from them for an infinite amount of time, and give them a break if necessary.  

Step 6 - Safety First!

We all know we want the most amazing shot that anyone has ever seen.  We want it to win awards, be displayed on a billboard, or be on the cover of a horse show program etc.  But never forget about your safety or your horses.  Sure, we might get into a slightly unique or different position for taking photos, but it should never come at the expense of ending up in a dangerous situation.  The same goes for our equine friends.  

Good-luck and don’t forget to have fun!

Happy trails,


Friday, April 28, 2017

The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Network

In 2015 I attended my 10 year college reunion at Mount Holyoke.  It’s almost as if life had flashed before my eyes - has it really been 10 years since I graduated?  I mean, it’s not as if A LOT has not happened in the last 10 years - multiple jobs, graduate school, getting married, starting my own business - oh, did I mention I have moved 7 or 8 times in those last 10 years?  When I think about why it feels like I was at Mount Holyoke (MHC) just months, not years ago, it all culminates in one thing - the IHSA riding team.  

Above: the Mount Holyoke Equestrian Team in the 2004-2005 year.

The IHSA team was competitive, and our coach, CJ Law had a large pool of talented equestrians to choose from.  I wasn’t a star rider on the team, far from it.  I didn’t even make the team every semester.  But the team, and the riding program at MHC were inclusive and the group of women there became my second family, many of my closest friends, and beyond that, a network of people who always lend a helping hand when they can.  That group extended beyond our IHSA team, to others in the region.  We all have friends that went to, for example, Smith College and The University of Massachusetts Amherst.  It is this awesome group of extended friends and family that I am in frequent contact with, even though many of us live far apart from each other.  

When I started my business, The Simple Equine, which makes natural grooming products for horses and riders, my IHSA network from my college days immediately helped me when I asked.  I was given marketing guidance, product ideas, ideas about where to sell and how to sell.  People willingly volunteered, testing and trying my products, and answering questionnaires and endless additional questions from me.  I was also lucky enough to have friends, IHSA riders, who like me, had just entered equestrian related businesses too.  Lauren Morlock, owner of Galleria Morusso, and Sharon Perrin (Lilien-Zwiebel) and Katie Sutko (Matteson) who own Kathryn Lily Equestrian, have been an endless supply of information, encouragement, camaraderie, and empathy.  Of course it goes without saying that Coach CJ Law has been kind, generous, a wealth of knowledge, and enthusiastic about my endeavors.  Her love for helping her riders throughout their lives, beyond the four years they attend MHC, must be praised.  

But the story goes beyond Zone 1, Region III of the IHSA.  Literally every time I meet other IHSA folks at a barn, a show, or a social event, they offer their help, words of wisdom, or even just a “well done and keep at it.”  They are current students, alumni, and even coaches.  They are kind, professional, and intelligent.  

It goes without saying, that the common thread here is the IHSA.  The IHSA brings us together.  It turns an individual sport into a team sport.  It enables experienced lifelong equestrians to nurture walk-trot riders.  It evokes memories for the advanced riders on the team, and creates new memories for those just learning about horses and how to ride.  The IHSA encourages us to be responsible, for each other, for the horses that we practice on, the shows we run, and the colleges we represent.  Oh yes, and we have FUN.  Lots of it.  

Above: A few of us having fun at our 10 year reunion in 2015

The IHSA enhances our college experience by helping to prepare us for the real world.  The lessons learned while being part of the IHSA are extremely valuable.  I think we realize this when we meet fellow IHSAer’s.  We know that we had certain mutual experiences that shaped us in positive ways.  Of course, we don’t really think and analyze these qualities, we just inherently know it when we meet someone else from the IHSA.  

I am looking forward to many more interactions with fellow IHSAer’s.  I can already thank them for the help and guidance they have given me with my business.  As The Simple Equine grows, I look forward to having IHSA interns and employees.  I am a part of a positive reinforcing loop.  I hope the IHSA continues to be a great organization that turns out so many wonderful people.  I for one, am a very proud and grateful alumna and privileged to have been part of the IHSA.  

This post is based on experience, learning and opinion.  You may or may not agree with what is written, but we hope that you will be left with information to consider, mull over, laugh at, or even agree to disagree about.  Thank you for reading.

Tips For Working With Young Horses

We welcome guest blogger, Brittany Early, to share her knowledge of working with young horses.  Brittany has a long history with horses.  She started riding at the age of 8, competing in the hunters and later in the jumper ring.  Around the age of 20, she fell in love with dressage.  She has had her horse Ravi since he was born, and has completed all of his training to date.  She has found working with Ravi to be a most rewarding experience.  
Much of Brittany's young horse experience has come from working on her family’s sport horse breeding farm as a young lady, and being a veterinary technician at the prestigious Tufts Large Animal Hospital.  At her family’s farm, she worked with foals through adolescent horses.  At Tufts, she had to interact with all kinds of equines.  In an environment that could be quite stressful, the hospital situation taught Brittany a lot about how to handle horses in a calm and correct manner.
Brittany is currently chasing her dreams of becoming a professional dressage rider and trainer.  She is currently working for USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold medalist Nancy Later Lavoie in Ashby, Massachusetts, where she is expanding her skills and knowledge in all areas of horsemanship.  Brittany is thoroughly enjoying all that Nancy is teaching her.
We at The Simple Equine have had the privilege of witnessing and observing Brittany work with both young and difficult horses.  We have rarely seen someone who can be so calm and at the same time command the attention and respect that she does when working with a horse.  It is these observations which led us to ask Brittany to share her tips on working with young horses.  Let’s hand it over to Brittany -
   “Working with young horses is something I have always enjoyed. They have a lot to say, and really depend on a confident leader to be successful at their job. It’s extremely important to be clear, positive, and patient. I have learned many important lessons over the years from handling and training young horses. I also love learning from the many talented trainers and experts out there, and observing different points of view, whether it be from the rider, trainer or horse’s perspective.  Here are some tips I would like to share that have made a difference for me in my training and ability as a rider that might help you and your horse to both be successful.”  
It is vital to be your horse’s leader.  Be sure you are completely confident in your actions when asking for a correct response from them. Do not ask something and then accept an incorrect response.  Keep asking until they give you the right answer, then reward with lots of praise.  It is very important to always follow through.  
Know the difference between when a young horse is playing and when they are uncomfortable. For example: you lunge your horse and they are consistently showing bad behavior such as bucking or bolting.  First determine if this behavior a.) due to pain b.) the horse is acting playfully and/or c.) the horse is conducting themselves in a disrespectful manner.  Search to find the root cause by asking questions.  Is the horse always like this?  Is the behavior getting worse?  Do they look uncomfortable somewhere in their body?  Were they sensitive in some spots when you were grooming them?  Young horses are great for testing your confidence and patience.  It’s important to know your horse and know the difference between behaviors.
   I highly recommend handling a young horse in a “rope halter”.  If used correctly, handling a horse in a rope halter for a period of time before graduating to a leather or breakaway halter is a great way to establish solid ground manners. It is helpful to both of you to avoid using unhealthy pressure from a chain lead rope. With a concrete foundation, you can easily accomplish many objectives while working with a horse in hand.
   The horse needs to focus on you, as in, you need to be the most important thing in their mind when training, especially if the horse is in an uncomfortable situation. These situations can be unexpected, so it is critical to maintain their concentration. You can practice with some planned minor distractions before going to a show or big event. It can be a dangerous situation for both of you if your horse is allowed to ignore you and go off of their basic instincts. Never forget they are fight or flight animals.  Constantly keep them thinking by change exercises, routines, and expose them to new and different situations.  Be a constant force of encouragement and keep the focus on you and not on the distraction.
   The young horse journey is a very long one, and with young horses everything comes as it comes. It is never an easy or fast process bringing one along, but if done correctly it can be extremely rewarding. Always praise the correct response, no matter how small the intent. Appreciate the progress as it comes.  And be patient.  But not overly patient.  
   Have realistic expectations and try not to change them. Clear communication, given the same way each time, is key.  Have the right mindset when working your horse.  Do not start a training session if you are flushed with emotions.  Try to stay calm and relaxed so you do not overreact. Over reacting can cause confusion. Have a clear mind when working with your horse and try to tune into their body behavior, and take notice each session. This will help your progress and gain more of a connection in your partnership.
   Sometimes we don’t give credit where credit is due.  Horses are intelligent.  Though young horses may take time to come into their own and respond correctly to a training exercise, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t constantly absorbing additional information.  Always keep it in mind that they are like a sponge when they are young.  Every moment is a learning and teaching opportunity for them.
   Work on a few very specific exercises for a brief period, and then move on.  Praise the correct behavior, and always try to end on a good note, but don’t fry their brain.  A young horse is learning so many new things, so don’t be repetitive. If you ask for something and they answer the first or second time with the correct response, move on to something different. It’s important to not keep asking the same question until they answer incorrectly.  Remember results are important and get better with time and practice.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Customer Focus - Helping the relationship between horse and owner

Laura DeAngelo and her Raptana

On a recent trip to Virginia for a graduate school reunion, I took the opportunity to meet a few Simple Equine customers from the mid-atlantic region.  One of these customers was Laura DeAngelo.  Laura is a multi-talented woman, the manager of a large tack store, the owner of her own horse and rider training business, and the artist of commissioned pet portraits.  Are you seeing a theme here?  Yes, Laura is devoted to horses like so many of us, and is lucky enough to make a living that is fully related to the horse industry in one way or another.

On a rainy day, I rolled up the gravel driveway to the farm where Laura does a lot of her horse and rider training.  She also boards two mares at this farm.  After we greeted each other, the first order of business was to meet Laura's two mares, Sookie and Raptana.  We ambled down to the large and beautiful green pasture where all the mares were peacefully eating the lush grass.

Right away, it was easy to see Laura's passion for horses.  The smile on her face grew as we approached young Sookie, a paint quarter horse just starting her eventing career.  We walked a little further afield to greet Raptana, a lovely, tall and athletic chestnut.  Laura has known both for pretty much their whole lives, as she started them both and has done most of their training.  We walked back towards Sookie, and Laura gently put on her halter.  Then it was off back up the hill to the barn so that Sookie could be groomed and tacked up.

 Laura with Raptana and Sookie

As Laura got Sookie ready, we chatted about horses, actually, I mostly peppered Laura with questions which she graciously answered.

How long have you been involved with horses?

"My mom says I was in love with horses before I ever saw one.  Though none of my immediately family rides, I sometimes wonder if it was something in my genes - I know that I had ancestors who were accomplished equestrians.  I've also always been fond of all animals.  As a child I was in awe of the horses grace and beauty."

"I convinced my mom to let me take riding lessons.  It came to me naturally.  But I struggled with my confidence in the saddle, I was a bit of a perfectionist.  If I couldn't do it correctly, I would get a little stressed or nervous.  I would think about all the possibilities of what could happen.  I was never the kid egging on my friends to go galloping across a field.  I'd be more likely to say that we should be walking across the field because of all the unknowns - whether the horses might become too excited or do something silly, whether there would be uneven ground etc.  I even had instructors who said that I was the only thing holding back my own riding ability.  What I realize now, when I reflect on that time as a novice, was that I was cautious, not because I was scared of horses or of riding, but because I knew that there was so much about the world of horses that I just didn't know."

"As I learned more and more, my confidence started to grow.  Also, when an instructor says you are the one holding yourself back, I think it makes you even more determined.  I became more devoted, I gained more knowledge, and got better and better.  Perhaps it was more of a slow and steady approach, maybe a bit unusual for a kid, but it worked for me."

Laura and Raptana

How did you know you wanted a career in the horse industry?

"Horses help me better myself as a person.  So many of the skills we learn in communicating with horses, enable us to improve our own lives.  The relationship and communication between horse and rider is what I really love."

"Horses have also been the one constant in my life.  Whether I've been down, or had a bad relationship, or even just a bad day, I could pull myself together and speak the horses language.  They would be 110% willing to work with me and that was a very amazing thing.  Even if a ride wasn't that good, you could go home, think about it, and try again the next day.  The best part is the horse doesn't hold a grudge the next day and is ready to begin again.  It's so incredible.  I'd like to be able to be like a horse: forgive and move on, and be flexible and so adaptive.  They are incredible creatures.  I continue to be awed and inspired by them.  They are our mirrors and a window into our own soul.  There was no doubt I needed a career that involved these amazing animals."

Laura giving a young horse some trail experience

Tell me a little bit about your training and teaching philosophies.

"In my business, I mostly work with horses who seem to be having an issue.  By issue I mean that there is usually a break down in communication between them and their rider, and it's causing trouble or friction in their relationship.  I will often work with the horse on my own, but I highly encourage the rider to be involved.  Yes, I often need to work with the horse myself for a period of time, but in the end it is the horse and rider relationship that needs to change and strengthen.  Oftentimes the horse is reflecting the rider.  My goal is to create peace and unity between the horse and rider."

"The first question to ask is, 'What is the root cause of why the horse is acting out in a particular way?'  Once we can reach the answer to that question, we can come to a solution.  It's also a matter of coaching the rider, to try and help them understand the situation and see things from a different perspective.  In the end, the experience has got to be fun and enjoyable for the horse and the rider.  I try to develop both horse and rider to have confidence in what they are doing, which in turn creates a real relationship."

"One of the best things for me is that seeing the elation when something clicks for the rider, when they think, Aha! that was really it.  The rider feels great, because they have been able to communicate in an easy, simplistic manner that the horse understood.  Thus both horse and rider are content."

Champions Laura and Sookie

What advice would you have for other riders?

"Remember why we did this to begin with.  We all started because we loved the creature.  We had an initial love and obsession for the horse.  The horses heart should be be at the center of everything we do.   If all we want is recognition and ribbons, it's at the sacrifice of the horse.  It's not about the fame, ribbons or competition.  You should ride because you enjoy it.  The horse needs to enjoy being with us as well. A rider should strive to find a place where the horse feels happy and relaxed about their job."

"Take the time to listen to your horse, and don't hesitate to get help if you are having trouble.  Even Olympic level riders get help with their riding and their horses.  We should all be trying to help each other be better with our animals.  There is no place for ego with riding.  Confidence yes, ego no.  Ego will get us in trouble.  Have the courage to admit when you are wrong, and admit where your weaknesses are.  The horse will often tell us where our weaknesses are.  We need to observe that and acknowledge it and work through it."

Laura giving Raptana a well deserved pat

What is your favorite Simple Equine product and why?

"Sookie, with her four white stockings, has thin, sensitive skin.  She is susceptible to skin conditions on her legs, especially when it is really wet and muddy.  The Healing Calendula Salve really helps her.  With scratches, it softens everything to where it will come off and then help to treat it.  I also believe it protects the skin and keeps out unnecessary water moisture."
We love Laura's thoughts on horses, riding and training, and thank her for being a great customer!

 Laura and Sookie

This post is based on experience, learning and opinion.  You may or may not agree with what is written, but we hope that you will be left with information to consider, mull over, laugh at, or even agree to disagree about.  Thank you for reading.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trainer to the stars, the equine stars, that is!

It was our first time selling at a large multi-day event.  My mom and I were manning the booth, not knowing quite what to expect.  There's always some anxiety at the beginning of a show or event that you've never done before- you never know if you'll get good traffic, and if people will be interested in what you are selling.  You just nervously wait for those first few sales, those first few conversations with customers. 

The event opened promptly at 9am.  A few people came rushing by.  We fiddled with our merchandise, changing the orientation of a product here and there, moving something slightly to see if we could get it into a better, more attractive position.  We sat down in our chairs.  All of a sudden I looked up, and saw these boots.  Beautiful brown leather, perhaps custom, and shining like they had just been polished or conditioned.  My attention moved upward, a very stylish outfit accompanying the boots that I was drooling over, and a friendly face smiling at me.  "Tell me about these products.”

That smiling face was Cari Swanson.  That day, Cari, without knowing anything about The Simple Equine, patiently listened while I explained that I developed, tested and handmade all of our natural grooming products.  We discussed a few of her needs, and she bought a few things to try.  A few months later, she placed an order at our online store.  I'm always very happy when we get repeat orders; it means we are helping horses and riders to feel good and look great. 

A few months after that, I was flipping through an omnibus for equestrian-related businesses in our area.  There were a few articles throughout the publication, and I started reading one about this amazing woman named Cari Swanson  who works with horses and equines who take part in movies, TV and commercials. All of a sudden it clicked... I think she's my customer!  I searched my sales records, and sure enough it was her. 

Having done a few customer focus articles by this point, I thought it would be amazing to have an an interview with Cari.  I took a chance and emailed her.  She replied warmly, inviting me to come visit her farm and meet her horses.  In January of 2017, just after our first reasonably big snow of this year, I drove up to her farm, in the Milbrook area of New York.  

As we sat down to a cup of cinnamon tea, I couldn't help but start asking questions - how often do you meet someone whose horses are equine movie stars?  To Cari, I probably sounded like some star struck goofball, nevertheless, she took it in stride, her inviting smile making me feel comfortable to dive right in.  

Tell me a little bit about your background?  

"I grew up with horses, from 4H and Pony Club to competing in eventing, dressage and showjumping.  I am also a USDF silver medalist and judge for dressage.  I had a decade long  career in publishing, but my passion for horses brought me out of New York City to a full time riding and training career.  I  followed my heart, and horses are what ultimately make me the happiest.  I train all kinds of horses and riders across many disciplines - young horses, problem horses, beginner riders, beginner actors, people with addictions, experienced showjumpers, eventers and dressage folks, and liberty training.  My goal is to improve the relationship between the horse and the rider, for the rider to be able to read the horse and tune into their energy.  My passion is to teach both horses and people."

How did you start training horses for movies?  

"I had friends in the film industry who introduced me to Producers and Directors who needed horses.   Word of mouth quickly spread when they discovered I always delivered quality well trained horses who hit their mark  for every take. Be careful what you wish for! I envisioned myself with horses on set, and imagining myself there definitely helped to make it happen."  

What goes into training a horse for a movie? 

"They must have the right temperament.  Patience, kindness, timing and repetition trains horses. It takes about 9-12 weeks of liberty and under saddle training to prepare a horse for a complicated sequence in a film.  When they do something correctly, I reward them with a firm pat and a calm tone of approval.  I do not use treats.  Too many treats can shut the horse down when they are full and thus have no more incentive. Treats also encourage biting.  It would be detrimental if an actor or crew member was injured."  

How many horses do you have right now?  

"I currently have 6 horses.  They are all shapes and sizes, including a miniature, paint, thoroughbreds and warmbloods."

Cari working with RJ

What famous movie actors or actresses have you worked with, and what horses of yours would we have seen in a film?  

"To name a few - Kevin Spacey, Russell Brand, Russell Crow, Ethan Hawke, Haley Bennett, Jennifer Garner, Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell,"  My favorite Director is Steven Sodebergh.”  Cari says calmly.  "They're all just people like you and me. To be honest, I'm not star struck by them.  I am however, extremely star struck by amazing equines.  One of my favorite memories was meeting Secretariat.  As for my horses you may have seen, RJ was in the movie Hidalgo; he was one of 5 horses that played Hidalgo. I also discovered and train Listo, a beautiful white Andalusian stallion now owned by Ashley Waller, who stars in Winters Tale. You will see my FEI Dressage gelding, Bond, and Listo in Ralph Lauren's latest advertising campaign.

Bond and Listo at the Ralph Lauren Flagship Store 

Do you have advice for other horse people?  

"Never stop learning. Listen to your horse.  Leave your temper behind. I love to teach, and I am always learning from each horse and trainer I meet.  As my grandmother often said, "there are many roads to Rome". Every horse will teach you something if you listen.  Go out and learn from other instructors and trainers.  I always encourage my students to learn from others, not just me.  It can be such an enriching experience, especially if you travel out of your comfort zone - go visit another discipline and you'll be amazed at what knowledge you will gain.  My other piece of advice would be to teach from both sides of the horse.  What they learn on one side, they must learn to be able to do from the other." 

And your favorite Simple Equine product?  

"I'm a fan of the Nourishing Avocado Tail Treatment.  I used it on my horses, but also in my own hair.  I also use the Healing Calendula Salve on myself!"  

Though our time chatting was up, I spent part of the afternoon with Cari and some of her clients learning about how Cari uses essential oils on horses.  She had her 17 year old trick miniature horse, Mini Hop, join us in her living room as she performed a treatment on him.  (Mini was featured in a pilot TV show for Spike TV. ) You could tell he was ready for his close up on set as he stood very patiently for the duration of our time together.  Having him in such close quarters also afforded us the luxury of easily being able to observe him, see his reaction (becoming very relaxed) to his treatment, all while being cozy inside Cari's home.

Cari giving Mini Hop his treatment

I enjoyed spending time with you Cari and thank you again for letting me come visit and peek into your amazing life!  

Are you interested in learning from or training with Cari?  Her Website is:, Facebook page: and Instagram:  @cariswanson17