New England Ingenuity: Local Equestrian EntrepreneursSeptember 23, 2020
Horses and New England are a synonymous thought for many, which is why it’s no surprise that there are so many New England based horse businesses that have grown into nationwide enterprises.
Picturesque landscapes covered in old oak trees, tall pines, and grassy meadows make New England beautiful. Add in some equine beauty and this is the stuff that holiday cards and holiday movies are made of and the ideal place to build the foundation for growing equine businesses.
Young, ambitious, and full of ideas, Alexandra Cherubini, founder and President of the Massachusetts-based design and manufacturing company, Equifit Inc., has not ventured far from her New England childhood home just outside of Boston. She has stayed true to her roots and held onto her dreams.
Introduced to horses when she was just 12, her love affair with the mighty stead has morphed into an uber-successful business that now allows the 43-year-old to enjoy both work and play.
“My parents were always waiting for me to grow out of my horse-crazy phase, but I never did,” smiled Cherubini, who started her entrepreneurial endeavor with an idea for a device to help her own riding get better. Little did she know she would change the equine world.
Due to the constant criticism to “put your shoulders back” (which every equestrian has heard at least once) Cherubini used to ride with a stick between her elbows across her back to combat her own posture.
“I thought, there must be a better way, so I came up with one,” said Cherubini.
The Equifit ShouldersBack. It is a posture support product, designed with orthopedic specialists. The vest-like garment improves posture when riding, sitting, or standing and provides upper back support, while gently pulling your shoulders back, retraining your muscles to stay in the correct, upright position.
“I never dreamed it would turn into an entire company,” said Cherubini.
Garnering immediate attention and success, ShouldersBack became popular not only with equestrians but with the general public at several health and beauty outlets. It was so well received that it was even featured in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in recognition of its outstanding function and design.
Building on her equestrian can-do attitude and her family’s background in the development of medical supplies, Cherubini went on to develop what is now an entire line of products for the equine and equestrian, based on a material called T-Foam, a shock-absorbing material that conforms to each horse’s body for a unique, one-of-a-kind custom fit, every time. “I think what really differentiates us from other products is the shock absorbency,” said Cherubini. Her products are also anti-microbial and made of 3-D mesh and sheep’s wool.
All her products are made by people, not machines, and are manufactured in Dedham, Mass.
Moving into the future, Cherubini is hoping to design additional therapy gear for both horse and rider.
“We are always brainstorming new ideas,” she said. This is evidenced by her company’s swift ability to change its mindset to address the recent pandemic. Cherubini immediately pivoted into crisis mode, asked herself what she could do to help, and decided to make and donate masks. To date, Equifit has donated upwards of 12,000 plus masks to frontliners at Mass General and Sloan Kettering as well as various other hospitals, police, and fire stations throughout the state
Likening riding to life and business Cherubini said, “How many times when you’re riding do you end up on the ground? But you get back up, learn from it, and get back on. It’s the same with business. Listen, learn, watch, and do better next time.”
For more information, visit equifit.net.
5/A BAKER PRODUCTS
Recognized easily by the iconic plaid, 5/A Baker Products come in all shapes and sizes, but they are particularly well known for their durable blankets which horsemen have used for over a century. Sally Allison, the owner of 5/A Baker Products, has expanded their line, and helped to make Baker Blanket seat covers and other dog, horse, and people products very popular.
For Allison, horses have always been an integral part of life. She grew up on her parent’s horse farm in Somers, Conn., and met her husband Geoff there when he was taking polo lessons. The two have gone on to raise their son and daughter with the respectful ethics that go along with having horses. A former rider, competitor, and trainer, every step of the way, Sally’s spirited equine friends have shared the path with her.
A fan and user of the product from way back, Sally knew that Baker meant quality, so it was easy for her to pivot and invest her time and intimate knowledge of the equine world into her new undertaking.
With an extensive history in the equestrian world, lasting well over a century, Baker Blankets were first developed by a gentleman in Rhode Island, S.W. Baker, he began selling high quality, durable horse rugs, and the horsemen of the time immediately wanted more. From there, the Ayer family purchased the company, adding 5/A to the name for the members of their family.
“The majority of our products are manufactured in the United States and are made of the highest quality materials. I think that is one reason they are so popular. Baker Products are known for being long-lasting and looking great,” said Sally, who remembers her horses at her family owned stable (Shallowbrook Equestrian Center) adorned in Baker Blankets, and winter after winter she said those blankets held up against the harsh New England climate.
One of the favorite items she has designed is the easily recognizable Baker Blanket seat covers for vehicles. There’s always several trucks, SUVs, sedans, and even convertibles, in the parking lots of horse shows sporting the stylish, yet durable seat covers that have become popular and well known not only as a fashion statement, but also for their superior craftsmanship and hardy construction, which is exactly what equestrians look for in all their gear.
“Horses have always been a huge part of life and continue to be and I’m so happy to be working with a brand that I know can handle the test of time. The quality speaks for itself,” said Sally, who enjoys talking with the customers and hearing their horse stories. “I love chatting with the customers and hearing their personal stories. Over the years you really get to know your customers and we call out to each other, ‘Oh, so and so is on the phone.’”
A small team of just 16 people is responsible for Sally’s business and she said there is never a day that she dreads going to work.
“We have a good time and we are always trying to come up with new products and different ideas, always asking ‘what’s next?’”
Currently, the team is working on several new products that will be out this holiday season, most notably the 5/A Baker Christmas stocking, which already has a cult following of its own. In addition, the team is also working on the concept of “Baker Bucks” which will be used as a horse show award.
For now, Sally is happy to be a well-known part of the New England horse world, staying in touch with their loyal customers and putting out a quality, domestically produced product that is loved and treasured.
For more information, visit bakerblankets.com.
TRUE BLUE THRUSH
Not ready to go out to pasture just yet, Rosemary Smithyman and her husband Dennis retired in body to Kennebunk, Maine, but their entrepreneurial spirit is in full swing with their business True Blue Thrush Solution, aptly named for its color and its purpose.
Rosemary has a background in science and Dennis is a chemical engineer. What better pair than these two to create an organic product for horses to combat that pesky problem of thrush and help keep it away with regular use?
After spending years traversing the U.S. working with dairy farmers, Rosemary and Dennis decided to put down their hooves in the cold haven of Maine and settle into a life of relaxation; however, still active in the equine arena, Rosemary decided to create what she said is a safer, organic product to help horse owners, like herself, treat thrush more naturally.
“True Blue doesn’t stain, stink, or sting,” said Rosemary.
These three, very important attributes are its crowning accomplishments.
After working with bovine foot bath products for years, Rosemary turned her astute science eye to horse hooves and began to formulate True Blue, which unlike other thrush products, does not contain formaldehyde and is antimicrobial.
“Our product comes at thrush from a different, organic angel,” explained Rosemary. “We use citric acid and copper sulfate as our two main ingredients so it is safe to use and work with.”
She added, “It works very well and very quickly.”
The product has gone through an independent lab study in Oregon and Rosemary said that farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners in her region have been using it for a while and they all love it.
“We have gotten no complaints,” she said.
A testimony from customers Adeline and Madyson Keeley illustrate just how well this product has been received: “At the Downeast Medal Finals, we met Rosemary and Denny Smithyman…We told them about Katie’s (their horse) lingering issue with thrush. They came over and had a look at Katie’s feet. They showed us where the thrush was (deep in the heel and central sulcus) and taught us how to apply the True Blue Thrush Solution. They explained to us how thrush grows and how the ingredients support healing without damaging the foot. We saw results within the first 24 hours and her feet continued to improve rapidly with each treatment.”
It’s feedback like this that delights Rosemary the most.
“We created this product to help people and horses. The old saying, ‘No foot no horse,’ holds true, and thrush is a nasty problem that is very painful. We are very proud to have created something that is safe and works very well,” said Rosemary with pride.
The business is growing and expanding beyond the Northeast as more riders and horse lovers hear more about it. As it grows the Smithymans are happily enjoying their Maine retreat, and Rosemary is content riding her 23-year-old Paint horse, Nelson, through all four of the beautiful seasons of New England, like the ones she remembered from her youth growing up in Connecticut.
For more information, go to truebluethrush.com.
Horses are loved throughout the world and the businesses surrounding their care, comfort, and sport are as many and as varied as the horses and humans who love them. However, New England is an extraordinary place, where many equestrians come to enjoy and revere the animals they love so much. Many set up shop here and never leave, others explore and return. We are lucky to have such dedication, history, and innovation in the horse world right here in our own backyard.
By Karena Garrity