Neva Kittrell Scheve is going places, and she wants to help you and your horse to go places, too. Most of all, she wants you and your horseto get where you're going safely and comfortably.
Neva and her husband/business partner, Tom, first dipped their toes into the retail horse-trailer world in 1983. Motivated by their own needs and those of their horse-owning friends, and guided by their entrepreneurial spirit, the couple soon began adding custom features to enhance the safety features and resilience of existing horse trailer designs.
"Neither of us planned to become so involved in the horse trailer business," Neva says. "Initially, we became involved part-time, because I needed a new trailer and, by becoming a dealer, we could help finance my passion for horses."
By 1988, they were designing trailers for such manufacturers as Merthow, Trail-et, and McQuerry. Design evolutions followed, with trailer safety and strength, and equine comfort in mind. Today, the Scheves have their own trailer lines, EquiSport, ThoroSport, and EquiSpirit, and their own company, EquiSpirit Trailers, with a corporate office located in the heart of horse country in Southern Pines, North Carolina. In 1996, Michael Plumb's Horse Journal selected their trailer as number-one in safety and construction.
Neva also followed her interest in safety to co-found her county's equine-emergency response unit, and helped design an equine ambulance for use at equestrian events and during natural disasters. Almost immediately after they took delivery of the ambulance, Hurricane Floyd (unfortunately) presented an opportunity to put it in service.
The couple enjoys sharing their insights and experience, both at equine events and in print. They've published The Hawkins Guide: Horse Trailering on the Road; and, with James Hamilton, DVM, Neva co-authored The Hawkins Guide: Equine Emergencies on the Road. Most recently, with Tom's research assistance, Neva penned The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer.
Read on to meet an industrious, on-the-go trailblazer, Neva Kitterell Scheve.
TTR: Did you have a horsey childhood?
Scheve: Not really. My parents didn't understand my horsey ambitions. We had family friends who owned a pony and a horse. When we'd visit, I'd ride that pony, and she'd dump me off at every chance. Of course, I'd climb right back on. I wanted a horse so bad. My mother would just roll her eyes and say, "I don't know whose child you are!" My father, who loved animals, died when I was 2, so Mom would say, "You're just like your father."
TTR: Tell us about your first horse.
Scheve: In seventh grade, my best friend lived on a farm and was just as infatuated as I was with horses. We sold everything we owned to raise money to buy a horse: our bicycles, radios, everything! I had $115 to buy my first horse. He was a registered American Saddlebred stallion named King. When we got him, a friend of my mother's said, "You're not going to let her ride a stallion, are you?" We didn't know better! So King was gelded. I'd gallop him across fields, and he'd buck me off over his head, then he'd jump over me. I loved him. Two years later, the farm where I kept King was sold for development, and I had to sell him.
TTR: When did you get back into horses?
Scheve: After I married [my first husband]. When my daughter, Shari, was about 2 years old, I went with a friend to help her buy a horse. I had never lost my love or fascination for horses, and I bought a horse, too! She was 6 years old, and part Arabian, part Appaloosa, and possibly a little Morgan. She was beautiful. I made all the mistakes you can make with a horse, but she happily did everything we asked: barrel racing, jumping, dressage, horse camping. Her name was Ess Bea, and I had her for the next 31 years. I bred her to a Thoroughbred, and she gave us a colt named Sunday. He was the first horse I trained, and, like his mother, he did it all. We had him for his entire life, 30 years.
TTR: Does your husband, Tom, come from a horsey background?
Scheve: No, he absolutely knew nothing about horses when we met. The first time I took him riding, my mare decided to take him for an impromptu trail ride. He came back clutching the saddle horn, and all I could say was, "Did you like it?" Well, no...
TTR: Do you have horses today?
Scheve: I have three. Rebel, 28, was given to us when he was 10. He was lame, and his owner, a dressage rider, thought that while he wasn't sound for her needs, he'd make a good trail horse for Tom. Rebel is a kind, willing, 16.3-hand Quarter Horse, and moves like a Warmblood. With a combination of good farriery and alternative health care (acupuncture, electric blankets, etc.), we've kept him sound. I rode him in a 12-horse quadrille and showed him to third-level dressage, and we've even done a little eventing.
I also have an imported Hanoverian mare, Woge, 24. She's tough and brave, and sometimes a little "mare-ish." We bred her to a Holsteiner and sold the resulting foal, Rio, but I eventually bought him back. About the time Rio came home, I got into driving - sit's big here in Southern Pines. The Walthour-Moss Foundation has 4,000 acres dedicated as a nature preserve, which is open to equestrians, and we make good use of it.
TTR: What three qualities do you most value in a horse?
Scheve: It used to be that I wanted perfect conformation, good movement, and a flashy horse. Now, I know that a horse has to have a good mind, steady character, and a desire to please. I like a happy horse. Now that I don't ride often, I'm happy just to watch them out in the pasture, interacting and playing with each other.
TTR: What was your most memorable trail ride?
Scheve: About 10 years ago, I went to Virginia with a friend to ride on a large tract of land - about 3,000 acres - owned by her family. It was perfect fall weather. Early one crisp, sunny morning, I rode Woge around a bend and came upon a herd of wild turkeys in the middle of a mowed corn field. When the turkeys saw us, they started running, trying to get off the ground. Woge thought it was great fun to be in the middle of all those birds, and she went after them. Wild turkeys are big things and have trouble getting airborne. A horse might've been afraid, but not brave Woge!
TTR: How did you become involved in trailer design and construction?
Scheve: We got in the trailer business because I wanted a new trailer. We were at the [All American] Quarter Horse Congress [in Columbus, Ohio], and I saw a beautiful trailer that looked perfect. Tom did some research and found out that if we bought three trailers, we could be a "dealer." So, we became a dealer. We sold two in a weekend and thought this would be a great part-time undertaking.
I was involved in dressage, so that was our market. Most dressage horses - Warmbloods, for instance - are big, so their owners were interested in bigger trailers [than usual]. At that time, a tall trailer was seven feet. We started ordering them taller and wider to accommodate our market.
I was our typical customer - a woman who hauled two to three horses, often by herself. If I had a problem with something, we'd design a solution that was easier and safer for me. And we listened to our customers who wanted new trailers, because they usually had stories about problems or accidents. We'd design a solution and custom-order it.
TTR: How did your company grow from there?
Scheve: In time, we were approached by the late Tom Holdeman of Merhow Trailers, whose father and uncle started the company, to see if we'd sell their trailers. Tom built the first trailer that was entirely our design, a trailer with the big horse in mind. It was 7 feet, 6 inches tall, 6 feet wide, and it had a front-end load ramp.
Eventually, the company was sold, and in 1988 we founded and designed our own line of trailers we called the EquiSport, which evolved into the EquiSpirit. We were the first to offer a trailer that was 6 feet, 8 inches wide, the first to put windows in bulkhead walls, and the first to put windows in a full back door with a ramp that closed over it.
I try any new product first, then we send it out to trainers and listen to their feedback. We don't send anything out unless we believe it's the best we can do at that moment.
TTR: What important safety features must every trailer have?
Scheve: The most dangerous place you'll ever put your horse is in a trailer, and our mission is to make it as safe as possible. First, everything must be working properly: brakes, lights, emergency breakaway box. Batteries should be charged. The hitch on your vehicle should be adequately rated to haul the trailer's gross vehicle weight rating. And it's absolutely necessary that you have a tow vehicle that's adequately rated to pull your fully loaded trailer.
Everything inside the trailer needs to be quick-release - like center posts or dividers - so you can remove them quickly if your horse is in trouble. And every horse should be accessible and able to be unloaded without disturbing the others, which makes almost every three-horse (or larger) slant-load trailer unsafe.
TTR: What's your alternative to the slant-load?
Scheve: Our trailer carries two horses facing forward, with a third in front in a 52-inch-wide slant stall. The two horses can be backed out individually, and we have a front side unload ramp for the horse in the slant stall. I hear all the horror stories, like the slant-load trailer that's rear-ended, with injured horses trapped. Our trailer configuration easily allows all the horses to exit even if the back is damaged.
The reason slant-load trailers were invented was to pack more horses into a shorter trailer. Horses loaded more easily, because slant loads aren't as intimidating as the small little "caves" we had for trailers in the 1970s and '80s. But horses need to spread their legs to steady themselves, and use their neck and head for balance. When you're riding, you don't ask a horse to stop on a slant. But in the standard slant-load trailer, horses have to brace and balance themselves for a stop on their right front and left hind legs, and they get sore on a long haul, especially large horses.
TTR: How can we create a stress-free trailering experience for our horses?
Scheve: Horses are claustrophobic by nature, so the more light and room in a trailer, the happier the horse. And because horses are susceptible to respiratory problems, good ventilation is vital. If they breathe hay dust and ammonia from urine, it compromises the linings of their lungs. Roof vents help remove hot or contaminated air, and a light-colored exterior paint - especially on the roof - will keep the trailer cooler in hot temperatures.
TTR: How did you become involved in equine-emergency response?
Scheve: Around 1995, some people in town formed an equine-emergency response group, because we live in such a horsey area that's also vulnerable to fires and hurricanes. My veterinarian, James Hamilton, DVM, was really excited about it. At lunch, he'd come over to our office, and Jim, Tom, and I would talk about what we could do to get a horse ambulance. We tackled design challenges: How could we lift an injured horse? With a sling? How could we transfer a horse into the trailer? How do we administer IV-fluids en route to a hospital?
From a clinical standpoint, Jim knew what we needed. It took our group nearly five years to design and raise money for an ambulance. Our company built it for cost. It's very convertible, with removable stall dividers and room for storage. It also carries 100 gallons of water and a generator, so it can be used as a field hospital.
Dr. Hamilton also became a team leader for the southeast Veterinary Medical Assistance Team, at the time, a part of FEMA and the Office of Emergency Preparedness. Jim really put his heart and soul into it, and I was a member of the team. The ambulance was available for VMAT use, too, to transport injured horses.
TTR: What was the most challenging equine emergency you've ever attended?
Scheve: We got the ambulance in 1999, just as Hurricane Floyd bore down on the East Coast. Our group had arranged for hundreds of stalls for emergency stabling at the local harness track, and we'd had calls for 300 to 400 horses that were going to evacuate the coast and use them. But Floyd fizzled, and most people stayed home.
However, a couple of days after Floyd passed, heavy rains started to flood eastern North Carolina. It was horrible: 100,000 hogs drowned, along with millions of chickens and turkeys - all of which created a huge sanitation problem. Caskets in cemeteries were unearthed and floated. We started to get calls from people who were swimming in this awful soup with their horses.
I went with two team members in the ambulance, but the roads were closed, and we couldn't get across the river to the flooded areas. Just a mile away, there were stranded horses and desperate owners, but we were stuck in a parking lot.
Finally, we drove 80 miles to get around the river. By that time, military helicopters were picking up horses with a sling, and we received them. We had fresh water to clean them. Tragically, days later, many horses' skin peeled off their legs, and they developed severe complications. Some didn't make it. It was heartbreaking.
When I went home, Jim called and asked me to go back. So, I spent a week helping veterinarians get settled, and set up shelters for hundreds of dogs and cats. It was an experience that I'll never forget.
TTR: How important is planning for an emergency?
Scheve: We encourage communities to start their own emergency-response units. People can learn how to ensure their safety if there's a tornado, hurricane, or fire; how to prevent a barn fire; what to do with your horses if you have a barn fire; how to prepare for snowstorms or power outages; how to get an evacuation plan in place. Often, it's hard to get people to plan because they simply don't want to think about disaster scenarios.
TTR: Complete this sentence: people would be surprised to know that I ...
Scheve: …..like many new horse owners, started out hauling my horses in some really unsafe trailers. I pulled a horse trailer with a 1969 Ford Falcon and used a horse trailer that (unbeknownst to me) had a broken axle! Thanks goodness I survived and so did my horses. I learned lessons the hard way.
TTR: What three people of any era would you invite for a lively conversation around a campfire?
Scheve: I'd invite my father, Elzie Kittrell, whom I never knew. And Walt Disney, a fascinating man, who is responsible for such a huge amount of fantasy in people's lives. And Steve Irwin, whom I would've picked even if he was still alive. I so admired his enthusiasm and passion for life.
TTR: What's the best book you've read lately?
Scheve: West With The Night by Beryl Markham. Actually, I reread it because it's so full of beauty and humor. Beryl Markham bred and trained horses in East Africa, and in the 1930s, she was a pilot, carrying mail and passengers to remote African locales. In 1936, she was the first person to fly solo, from east to west, across the Atlantic. She took off from England and crash-landed in Nova Scotia. She had an amazing life, and it's an amazing book.
TTR: If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
Scheve: That I could maintain the passion; that every day would dawn so exciting, I couldn't wait to get to it. I get passionate, but sometimes it's short-lived. Horses are my longest-lasting passion.