For Kathy and Steve Smith, Maine Horse and Rider is a family affair and a labor of love.
The independent tack store in Holden, Maine is owned by the husband and wife team, with help from their daughters and a small handful of employees to keep the daily operations up and running.
“Steve has a full time job with a building supply company but he’s so passionate about business and finance and sales, which is the part I don’t enjoy, so it’s a perfect partnership,” said Kathy.
“I don’t think I would do this job if I had to do the books side of it! I think that’s part of why we’ve been successful though – he’s passionate about the money and I’m passionate about the people and the products…and the horses.”
Maine Horse and Rider is a one stop shop for horse owners and small farms. Customers can stock up on hay, feed, bedding, and supplements while shopping for horse care supplies, barn equipment, clothing and tack.
“In Maine, there are very few tack shops,” explained Kathy. “We were researching five years ago and realized we’ve really got to offer everything under one roof or we wouldn’t succeed here.”
There are seasonal challenges for the store as the cold northern winters typically cause riding activity to slow down, and in turn, tack and equipment sales can decrease. But one thing horses have to do all year long, of course, is eat.
“Those consumables like feed and hay keep us going throughout the winter when fewer people are riding or buying tack,” she said. “The feed side of the business has been huge for us.”
Kathy realized that most horse owners were stuck buying feed from hardware stores, which offered little to no education on equine nutrition.
“Most feed stores in Maine are hardware stores run by guys that don’t have horses. They don’t understand and have the knowledge. Our feed sales are still growing after four and a half years because we’re educated by Triple Crown and Nutrena so we can help horse owners solve feeding problems.”
She also evaluates saddle fit on the store’s new and consignment saddles. In addition to helmet and safety vest fittings, saddle fitting is an area that Kathy is particularly passionate about.
“I’ll bring some saddles to the customer’s farm and try them all on and whatever fits the horse, they get to try it. There are so many horses being ridden in saddles that are hurting them so that’s something we love to do.”
Kathy recalled a customer with a 16-year-old horse that had been passed around from trainer to trainer with apparent behavior problems.
“The horse would suck back and throw his head up as soon as anyone got on him. The owner had four saddles fitted to him and everyone said there was nothing physically wrong with him,” said Kathy. “The trainer came in and tried saddles and I showed her one with air panels that I thought might work for him. I took it to the barn to make sure it fit him and she kept it for a seven day trial.”
As it turned out, Kathy had hit the nail on the head.
“The woman called me and was beside herself. For the first time ever, she got on and went around and had a normal horse that wanted to stretch. You really get to change a horse’s life and it’s so satisfying. It’s all about their comfort and it’s such a relief to ride and know your horse isn’t in pain.”
Going above and beyond to help her customers isn’t a chore to Kathy, but instead, she feels privileged to play such an important role in the community of horse-lovers in Maine.
“It’s a passion, and that’s what I love,” she said. “Everyone that walks through the door – we all have the same passion in horses. I love helping people find solutions for themselves and for their horses.”
Learn more about Maine Horse and Rider at http://www.mainehorseandrider.com
The American Equestrian Trade Association’s mission is to unite and advance the community of equine trade businesses by delivering education, trade shows and services designed to sustain, support and grow a strong equestrian industry marketplace. Find out more at www.aeta.us.