Turning Passion Into Profit
Riding is research for three equestrian entrepreneurs who have made a business out of their desire to re-engage in a childhood passion.
By: Kim F. Miller |
Crummy half-chaps, droopy breech bottoms and the wildest wish to ride again. We’ve all had imperfect equipment, irritating apparel and the desire to re-engage in a childhood passion, but not many of us have made a business of it. Aidan Keogh, Lorna Goode and Alexandra Cherubini, the principals behind Tredstep Ireland, Goode Rider and EquiFit, have done exactly that to build now-familiar equestrian brands.
Set in Ireland, California and Massachusetts, their stories share common ground in a passion for riding and an entrepreneurial spirit. Best of all, all three head honchos have kept up with their riding, some quite seriously. Aidan competes at three star level in eventing, with his eyes set on four star and a bid for the Irish team. Lorna is an active member of the Northern California dressage scene with her Andalusian, Jaleo. Alexandra is an accomplished amateur jumper with lots of mileage in Florida and the Northeast and she’s tackling Europe for the first time this summer.
Herewith, a peak at the people behind some of our industry’s best-known brands.
Aidan Keogh, Tredstep Ireland
A triangular piece of leather with a few buckles just wasn’t cutting it as a half-chap for Aidan back in the 1990s. Having grown up with a firm grasp of equestrian tradition (his mom ran a riding school and his dad was the registrar for Ireland’s Turf Club) that crude half-chap offended his sensibilities. Add to that upbringing a flair for design and an interest in making things, and a half-chap revolution was in the works.
Lower leg protection that stayed put while riding and would look smart was the question. The answer was an elasticized fabric segment and a tapered calf fit, with many refinements along the way. “First, it was just for myself, but after designing it and making some prototypes, it was as easy to make ten as it was to make 15,000,” Aidan says. After a year’s development, the half-chap made its professional debut at the Dublin Horse Show. A few friends in the Grand Prix ring wore them, along with several Army riders, “and things just sort of took off from there,” the charismatic executive sums up.
Tredstep Ireland incorporated in 1993 and had its first stall at the British Equestrian Trade Assn. conference in 1994. The company’s name is a carryover from Aidan’s previous career installing surfaces for arenas and racetracks. Asked by a client for his firm’s name, he thought on his feet: “We were installing chopped up tire treads for horses to step on, so I threw out “Tredstep” in a pinch, and there you have it.”
He doesn’t put much stock in any corporate name. “There was certainly no glamour in the story of our name or the name itself, but I don’t think that matters. If it did, how do you explain ‘Google?” It’s all about what your brand represents.
“We try to look at everything from the end user’s point of view, and work it backwards from there.”
The company has built upon its now considerable line of chaps. Its tall boots are American best sellers; paddock boots, socks and gloves are staples, a new breech line was introduced late last year and next up is a line of shirts for show and everyday riding.
Being an end user himself is a big help, except that it’s tough to slow the constant flow of new product ideas enough to give each new item the time and focus needed to bring it to market. “There’s a rail in my office and it’s filled with the half-finished ideas and things in various stages of development,” he laughs. “I force myself to slow down.”
Aidan took a several-year sabbatical from riding during Tredstep’s formative years, but nowadays typically works three or four of his six Tredstep-sponsored competition horses – all Irish Sporthorses – everyday before settling into his office. He competes most weekends, March through October, and hopes, with his top horse Master Tredstep, to crack the four star level by this fall, horse gods willing.
Tredstep has several sponsored riders who double as product testers and it’s easy for Aidan to walk out of his office to the stable where he can try out prototypes himself. The company is headquartered at his 20-acre property on the outskirts of Dublin. Aidan and his wife, Dr. Christine Carey, have 10-year-old twin girls, Sadie and Lilly, who dash about on their ponies. “They are bundles of fun and energy, they enjoy their ponies and they are fearless,” he reports. Christine is a Tredstep director and brings marketing research expertise, a psychology degree and a ton of support to the effort.
“We try to look at everything from the end user’s point of view, and work it backwards from there.”
Alexandra Cherubini, EquiFit
EquiFit, Inc. is a ubiquitous brand these days, but founder and CEO Alexandra Cherubini remembers the company’s first sale 13 years ago as if it were yesterday. Working out of her and her husband’s Brooklyn, N.Y. apartment, Alexandra was cold calling tack stores around the country and describing EquiFit’s first product: ShouldersBack. A buyer at a tack store in Arizona listened politely, then ordered a batch. “I was so shocked!” Alexandra recalls.
She’s no longer surprised, but the thrill of having EquiFit embraced in the equestrian community hasn’t dimmed. Seeing the company’s EXP2 and D-Teq boots on several World Cup Final contenders is one of many recent adrenaline rushes for the CEO, a successful amateur jumper rider herself.
Alexandra grew up riding but found herself sadly out of the scene after graduating college and taking a public relations job in New York City. “I racked my brain for a way to get back into the sport at a serious level,” she relays. “I remembered my trainers, when I was a kid, having me ride with a stick under my elbows and behind my back to help keep my shoulders back. I am still thanking them for that.”
Her folks run a successful medical supply business and she grew up amidst evolving ideas, materials and products for the human health market. Applying all that to horses’ and riders’ needs was a natural leap. The lightweight, vest-style ShouldersBack remains a big seller but now shares warehouse space with a vast and diverse collection of products. Alexandra is most excited about one of their newest: the IceAir Cold Therapy Boot, which provides a unique combination of cold therapy and compression.
EquiFit is based in Dedham, Mass., about 20 miles outside of Boston. Alexandra and her husband Camilo Alvarez, an art gallery owner, live in the Boston area although Alexandra is on the move a lot. She and her two jumpers, Carlos and Navarado, train with Olympian Margie Goldstein Engle and spend a good part of the winter in Florida. This summer’s show agenda veers from their more typical Northeast circuit with a planned trip to Europe. “I’m very excited for the showing part, but the impetus for going is to learn more about the market over there,” she explains. EquiFit sales throughout Europe have spiked considerably in the last year and a half.
Making time to continue riding at a high level is not something she takes lightly. “This is really what I love to do. I find it therapeutic and I think that it helps me be a better and happier person.” Along with EquiFit’s deep roster of sponsored riders, Alexandra regularly tests and tweaks finished products, refines those in development and encourages all around her to pose rider or horse performance issues that EquiFit might be able to address.
“An awesome team” makes pursuit of her professional and personal passions possible. “It’s important to me and to our brand that, first and foremost, we love horses,” she says.
Lorna Goode, Goode Rider
Baggy breech bums, restrictive waistbands and looking frumpy after being at the barn were among the catalysts for the now 10-year-old Goode Rider brand. Riders Lorna Goode and Kristin Kalandra met while working at Levi Strauss in San Francisco, Lorna as head designer on the Dockers line and Kristin as a merchandiser. Both frustrated over the lack of fun and functional clothing for equestrians, they took their own ideas to the market. Their mission was and is incorporating mainstream fashion trends into clothes that help riders be comfortable and effective in the saddle and around the stable, as well as look good during après-barn activities.
Lorna is the more competition oriented of the partners and her experience as a dressage rider prompted the development of a better full-seat breech. “I always hated the full-seat breeches because you could never really get into the saddle.” That led to the development of Goode Rider’s Stretch Ultra fabric featured in all the line’s breeches.
Most days, Lorna intends to ride and dresses accordingly. She and her husband and two children live in Northern California’s lovely horse and wine country of Sonoma Valley. She keeps her two Andalusians at a friend’s farm nearby but often the home office beckons, or the main warehouse in nearby San Francisco, or a fashion event in Hong Kong or Europe. Although she’s dressed to hop on a horse, “Our look is not screaming “I’m in the saddle!” she notes. “We’re more of a lifestyle brand.”
Lorna grew up riding Gothland ponies with her two sisters in their native Sweden. Jumping, dressage, trail riding were all on their daily docket. She studied design in Sweden before moving to the States in 1987 as an au pair. Before joining Levi Strauss, she ran her own couture design firm in Florida and earned a design degree in San Francisco.
Lorna has placed competition on the back burner for the time being as she juggles Goode Rider priorities with being a mom. But she’s an active member of the thriving Sonoma and Napa area equestrian scene and her husband, David Grohol, is a board member of the Giant Steps Therapeutic Riding Center, a cause they enjoy supporting together.