MIDDLEBURG, VA.-Kim Keppick, inventor
of Rein-Aid and Elasto-Rein, points
to two defining moments in her life, one that ended a dream and
the other that began a new one.
Her first profound moment of clarity came when
she saw Karen Stives finish at Rolex Kentucky with three horses
in top ribbons and still not make the Olympic team. That helped
refocus her goals to a more realistic level. "I had no financial
resources and without a string of top horses I knew I couldnt
be a long-term international rider," she said. The second
was a flash of brilliant inspiration that let to the invention
of Rein-Aid and the start of her own business.
Keppick is an advanced level event rider who twice
competed internationally as a member of the Irish three-day team.
Born and brought up in County Wicklow, Keppick
taught herself to ride on the familys pet donkey when she
was only 3-years-old.
As a teenager, Keppick rode all sorts of horses
in various competitions as she accepted rides as payment for helping
out at the local riding school. She earned her Pony Club A
rating, the prestigious Golden Saddle Award, a B.H.S.I.I. teaching
degree along with a spot on the Irish eventing team.
At age 19, she wanted to expand her horizons and
sent her resume to Jimmy Wofford in the hopes of getting a job
with him, but it arrived just as Wofford announced his retirement.
Wofford handed Keppicks portfolio to his
replacement, Karen Lende OConnor, and asked her to deal
"Karen took me on as a working student,"
said Keppick. "Its very unusual for a top class rider
to take on a working student who doesnt have a horse."
Keppick rode OConnors top horse, Biko,
from the time he was broken as a baby through his preliminary
"He was a difficult baby," she
said. "He arrived terrified and would hide in his stall."
Biko, at 17.1-hands, was so nervous he couldnt
"It was a long, slow process to gain
his trust, but once he gave it to you, he was amazing," said
"The USCTA eventually gave Biko the
Horse of the Century award for winning more points
than any other event horse in its history.
Keppick was OConnors chief rider for
eight years, schooling several horses each day and keeping things
going while OConnor traveled.
"It was a dream job," she said
But, when a mare that Keppick hoped would gain
a spot on the Irish Olympic team got hurt, her enthusiasm waned.
That, and the failure of Stives to make the U.S.
Olympic Team, gave her the impetus to change direction.
OConnor encouraged Keppick by turning over
to her some of her own instructional duties and urged her to gallop
race horses to earn more money.
It was during a lesson with event rider Wendy Bebie
that Keppick had her second profound moment.
"I was trying to make the horse and
rider work together as gently as possible," she said. "I
am absolutely against using strong disciplinary aids unless Im
sure the horse is willfully disobedient," said Keppick.
"I was riding a horse that was having
trouble learning how to create some thrust in his canter,"
said Bebie. "He just leaned on my hands when the tried to
push and ended up completely stiff and stuck in his neck and back."
Keppicks first prototype was a pair of elastic
side reins that she clipped to the bit and then, instead of attaching
the other ends to the girth, gave them to Bebie to use as reins.
"It wasnt perfect," said
Keppick. "There was too much stretch, but the concept of
of the elastic made the horse happier."
For the next 18 months, Keppick tried different
approaches, met with trainers and got feedback.
Keppick settled on an elastic insert backed with
leather that gives stretch, but becomes a traditional rein when
control is needed.
One of the horses Keppick galloped at the track
was owned by a lawyer who put her in touch with a patent attorney.
She went to trade shows, spoke to leather manufacturers
and had samples made.
Along the way, she learned about computers, the
value of making a business plan and established her own website.
Bebie has used Rein-Aid and Elasto-Rein
"I think they are
a great tool," she said. "They have helped produce a
softer feel and a smoother connection in every horse on which
I have tried them."
One of Bebies horses, Lunar Eclipse, is pictured
in one of Keppicks ads, still tacked in his Rein-Aid,
accepting the winners trophy at the 1999 Morven Park CCI*.
As a result of customer demand, Keppick developed
Elasto-Rein, a full-rein version that is more discreet
Now Rein-Aid and Elasto-Rein
are available in tack stores, through the website or by direct
Keppick still spends her mornings riding and teaching
and her afternoons at her desk.
One employee answers the phone and takes orders
and she has a team that goes to trade shows for her.
"This has opened doors I never imagined
and its made me use my brain in ways Ive never done
before," said Keppick.