Ever wondered who the driving force for The Big Horse Shop is? Well it’s time to meet the small but mighty team behind the Epic® brand!
Let me introduce you to the mastermind and founder of TBHS, meet Joanne!
A horse lover since her childhood, she finally owned her own horse at 31 – Inca, a ride and drive 14.2hh Traditional Cob. One became two; she welcomed another – Sam, a 16.2hh Shire X.
How did you find your love for horses?
I sat on my first pony at the age of 5, as a treat my Mum took me to the local riding school a few times, then whenever I got money for my birthday I would go back and ride. I had school friends with ponies that I would ride and help to look after. After leaving school, I didn’t ride again until my Dad bought my first horse Inca and then the bug hit again.
What made you start your own business?
I had two heavy horses that didn’t fit into regular rugs. I wasn’t prepared to put them in ill-fitting rugs, I couldn’t bear seeing them being so restricted and uncomfortable. This meant I couldn’t clip them in winter, with big thick winter coats they would sweat even doing the lightest exercise. So, much to their enjoyment, I’m sure, they had every winter off. I would complain, ‘surely I’m not the only one with this issue, why haven’t any of the other brands designed rugs for heavier horses? One year, I got sick of complaining and thought, if no one is going to do it, I’ll do it! So I did!
The Big Horse Shop Ltd was born in 2009 with the first rugs available in 2010.
How did you go about designing your own rug?
I started with Inca and Sam, taking their measurements, then I travelled up and down the country measuring a variety of heavy horses and chunky ponies of all sizes. I was lucky enough to live near Thwaites Brewery Stables, who at the time had a team of four mature Shire Geldings. From there I created my own size chart now known as ‘Epic® Broad Fit’. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that easy, I made a lot of mistakes and I mean a LOT!!
What were the struggles of starting?
My issue was finding the right manufacturer who would be happy working with a company just starting out, ordering small quantities. The more specialised and experienced factories only wanted to work with established brands who could meet the high minimum order quantities required. Once I found a manufacturer who was willing to work with me, I got my first rug samples which I was very pleased with and excited to receive my first container. Due to my inexperience and lack of fabric knowledge, there were quite a few issues with my first order – half my order was missing, and they weren’t all waterproof to list a couple. But, although the rugs weren’t perfect, they were far better than what was available for the heavier breeds at the time. After a lot of tears, sleepless nights, I picked myself back up and started again. It took me 6 years to perfect my design and size chart. Epic® rugs originally had a size range of 6’6 - 7’6 broad fit. After receiving so many request from customers with chunky ponies we decided to expand our size chart starting at 5’6. Some of our designs are available 5’6 - 7’6, others 6’0 - 7’6 broad fit.
How do you choose a factory to manufacture your products?
There are number of factors that are very important to me when choosing a factory to manufacture my products. I look for quality, product experience and knowledge. A Skilled, happy workforce. The horses that wear my products and customers that buy them are very important to me but so are the people who make them! The well-being of the workers is very important to me. I have visited a lot of factories and seen first hand how some of the workers are treated and the conditions they work in! These factories are manufacturing some very well know brands. There was no way on earth I was going to have my products manufactured by misery or by people on slave wages. We pay more for manufacturing which enables the factory to provide a safe, clean working environment. Employ skilled workers whilst training unskilled workers to a high standard. A reasonable working day that still allows for a full life with their families. That pay their staff a good living wage and on time, with holidays, sickness and pensions. Everything you or I would expect from an employer. If you have ever wondered why some brands are so cheap and others more expensive, now you know!
What’s the best part of your job?
The best part is seeing horses in rugs that actually fit, that allow them to move freely and graze in comfort! As well as hearing how happy my customers are that they are finally able to get products for their horses that fit correctly. Putting a rug on your horse for the first time that fits so well, can be quite emotional, something maybe only heavy horse owners would understand. It is very rewarding!
How does it make you feel when other people copy from you?
I am proud to be the first Equestrian brand to design horse wear specifically for the Heavier Horse breeds. Although it is extremely annoying and frustrating when another brand copies my designs, style, size chart rather than creating their own. What can I expect, people will steal and copy great things to advance their own goals. I designed the best fitting horse rugs, boots and accessories for Heavy Horses and Ponies, these people are obviously fans of what I have created. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So I say thank you, what a great compliment!
Although my 17hh TB/ID is not the usual customer for the ‘Big Horse Shop’ my new Zebra Fly sheet is the best fit yet by far. Whitby has a broad chest and big shoulders and previous rug have all pulled across the front, but because the Zebra Epic Fly sheet has a unique lining it simply does pull across his chest it is exactly as it was when turned out all day. Thankyou Big Horse Shop – looking forward to your regular horse range !!!