Since our founding 20 years ago, Horse Journal has maintained an open relationship with manufacturers. We don’t evaluate products in secret. We believe manufacturers are true experts, and we seek their insights. A discussion with a manufacturer who has researched their product is a valuable educational experience.
Early on, I was heartened by the reception to our critiques from most equine companies. We became well-acquainted with company executives. Sometimes we were told they’d also already noted problems we’d found. Many times, we’d see our suggestions incorporated into the products.
Both Associate Editor Margaret Freeman and I have been here since the first Horse Journal in 1994, and we’ve learned a lot about equine manufacturing. Anyone who thinks it’s easy is in for a surprise. Competition is stiff, and horse people are a tough crowd. The ever-climbing costs of labor and materials have caused many companies to shut down.
While most Americans will say they prefer made-in-USA goods, their wallets contradict them. Classic CoverUps, an awesome blanket company started in 1986 by Lynn Bishop in Pennsylvania, closed after over 15 years. Despite successful product lines like Horses In Black and Big Kahuna, the company could no longer pay workers what they considered a fair wage.
We’ve also seen equestrian household names like Eisers, Whitman, Courbette and Miller’s swallowed by large companies and then disappear.
Cashel and Equine America, on the other hand, were sold to big companies but their best products continue today, seemingly unchanged. We will need to wait to see what happens to the Ariat brand, sold in 2012 to the Fisher family that founded The Gap.
We’ve also seen good companies become great companies, as we watched Stephen Day take the reins of Dover Saddlery in 1998 and gallop into a retail giant, with a strong Internet presence and an ever-growing number of brick-and-mortar tack stores.
While we’ve witnessed many equine supplement companies come and go, Grand Meadows remains a leader. It was started 1984 by Nick Hartog and human nutritionist Angela Slater, a horse owner unhappy with supplements then available for horses.
Their dedication to quality is reflected in Hartog’s founding of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) in 1999. NASC companies agree to comply with quality and safety standards. Of all the changes we’ve seen in our 20 years of watching equine manufacturing, we feel this is by far the most significant and has the greatest positive impact on our horses.
We equine consumers drive the market. If we balk at a price and refuse to purchase that product, it won’t last. If we avoid a product because it doesn’t meet our standards, we can make it go away. And if we support the companies that support us, we all gain.