I have taken over the first blog of the year as Jochen is finally off for a week between trips and I have a story to tell that is a little bit different than what you have come to expect from his blogs. Just to catch up on what we have been doing the last couple of weeks: we are really thrilled to be able to say that Saddlefit 4 Life® has now opened up our fifth continent (South Africa – okay technically this is only one country in that continent, but it’s a start – and we have already made inroads in Dubai and Kuwait). Jochen gave a very well-attended (37 students!) introductory course to Equine Ergonomics just before Christmas, and we are busy planning repeat visits there for the coming year.
But now back to the titular topic: we are very blessed to have the daughter of our CEO and business partner living with us for over a year now. @Korina Rothery is a little person (which is the politically correct description for a person with dwarfism). It began as a simple house-sitting while we were in Florida for the winter show season, but has evolved into a ‘roomie’ situation. She is great company for me especially during those long periods of time when Jochen is travelling all over the world spreading the teachings of Saddlefit 4 Life®, or meeting with our clients and fitting saddles.
Her story is a fascinating one, and Korina will soon be posting her own video blogs on her own YouTube channel – outlining the trials, tribulations, and prejudices that confront her almost on a daily basis as she goes through life. She began life with the very rare disease called SCIDS – Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome – and spent the first three years of her life at Sick Kids in an isolation unit. From there she went into a foster home for the next three – when at age six she was adopted by our friends and business partners. (Coincidentally, her brother just married our oldest daughter so we are now actually family in fact as well as of the heart.)
She is a beautiful young woman – at age 24 she is experiencing the joys of love, independence and a career. She has a fantastic speaking voice and on the phone you would never suspect her tiny stature, but too often people’s perceptions change when they meet her in person. She stands at 4’3” tall – is perfectly proportioned, and more what one used to call a ‘midget’ (now politically incorrect) rather than a dwarf. Her type of dwarfism is “cartilage hair hypoplasia.”
Korina is a talented and flexible circus performer and developed a love for horses while working in Germany one summer as a mother’s helper. She learned how to vault and continues riding lessons to this day at a local facility. We are lucky to be able to offer her a position with Schleese – something she does when her activities as a stunt double for children in feature films and in commercials allows her the time.
In the past year she has taken an online course through the Equine Sciences program at Guelph University in Equine Management, and as part of this course she was required to write a business plan for an equine business. Her project? Something close to her heart – saddles for little people! This was a wonderful opportunity for us to consider a completely under-serviced market; with a marketing plan that includes possible attendance at the upcoming World Dwarf Games in Guelph this summer (where she will be, by the way, defending three gold medals won in 2013).
You will possibly remember some of Jochen’s blogs from the past couple of years, dealing with saddles and fitting for people of specific anatomical requirements. Although he did write something about ‘Saddle Fit for Shorties,’ little people have completely different issues. Although there are over 200 different types of dwarfism, the cohesive factor is having shorter limbs than what we deem ‘normal.’ Dwarfism is defined as people who are 4’10” or shorter, with the average height being around 4”. Many types of dwarfism are also defined with various congenital issues. (Apparently, the question has been raised in the media whether Olympian gymnast Simone Biles is a dwarf, however – although she is a little person, she is not a ‘little person.’)
My point to this whole story is that we have been made aware of a market which simply has not been on the radar before. We have specialized in the past in saddles for women…why not take yet another fork in the road and specialize one point further with saddles for little women? With the market research done for this project, we know that there are certainly potential clients out there. We have an inside path with Korina working with us, with access to the LPA (Little People of America) and the World Dwarf Games attendees. All it takes is the willingness to take a risk and try something new (and as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook once said – the only risk is not taking a risk!)
I wish you a Happy New Year filled with lots of risk-taking! I’ll keep you posted on ours…
~ Sabine Schleese, B.Sc., MBA, Saddlefit 4 Life®