A New Business Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

By Lynne Kaye Subler
Reprinted with permission from the Virginia Horse Journal

Kim Keppick stumbled onto a rewarding business opportunity when, in a last ditch attempt to get her student’s horse to relax and accept the bit, she attached one end of a pair of elastic side reins to the horse’s bit and handed the other end to her student. As the student rode off, to her amazement, the horse dropped his head and relaxed. According to Kim, "that’s when a light bulb went off for me." To the horse, the give of the elastic simulated the soft feel of a highly skilled rider’s hands.

At first, Kim did not expect the elastic rein inserts she tinkered with to turn into a full-fledged business. "I just wanted something practical for myself and a few other trainers." She and the leather workers at Journeymen developed prototypes with all kinds of different designs. As Kim described, "all the designs helped the problem, but some were too heavy or too bulky or had too much stretch or not enough." Kim sent the prototypes that worked best to other trainers for their feedback. The other trainers’ responses proved that getting a horse to relax and accept the bit was a common problem. Kim said, "thanks to the positive responses I got from the trainers, and most importantly the horses, I kept trying different prototypes until I found a design that worked. Then, having proved that there was a need, I patented the design and turn it into a business."

Two years and many, many prototypes after Kim put the elastic side reins onto her student’s horse, Kim founded Rein-Aid Productions. Today, Kim can claim to have created a market for elastic rein inserts and become the President of a very successful company.

Rein-Aid Productions designs, markets and distributes specialized equestrian products. From its Middleburg, VA headquarters, the company offers Rein-Aid® elastic rein inserts and seventeen styles of Elasto-Rein® show reins with the Rein-Aid® feature. The company keeps two employees busy full-time and uses several more people to sell the company’s products at trade fairs.

Like many entrepreneurs, Kim went into business without formal business training. She joined the equestrian world as a full-time competitor after high school and then began training horses and riders. According to Kim, her training career gave her an "understanding of how and why my products work. Really, the horses were my mentors." As an international competitor Kim also traveled which she said got her "used to the ways of the world." She credited designing lesson plans and scheduling lessons efficiently with for her organization skills. Her accounting skills came from "always doing the books for the family–that is, my husband’s farrier business and my own training business.

To make Rein-Aid Productions a success, Kim also learned a whole host of other skills. "I was, and still am somewhat, a complete rookie in the business world. Looking back--this is actually quite funny--my original advertising idea was to put two-page, full color ads in all the ‘best’ horse publications. Something that would really make a splash and get people’s attention. Then, I contacted the publications and got a real shock. At the time, I think one full color page in Practical Horseman cost $5,000. Needless to say, the cost was way outside the budget in my business plan."

Unlike many entrepreneurs who would have blown their budgets to do two page ads or place just a handful of full color ads, Kim stuck with the budget and the ad frequency in her business plan. "I ended up with 1/6 page black and white ads," she said.

Kim knew to develop a business plan because "Ed Hauswald [a retired Exxon executive and one of Kim’s students] told me I needed one." She learned business a piece at a time. "Any idea I had I’d bounce off people before and after I acted on them," Kim recalled. Kim’s client mix was similar to most trainers’ client mixes; it included a number of people with substantial business training and experience. She asked those clients to share their expertise with her. Then, she used their advice to guide her business decisions. In a perfect description of ‘networking’ Kim said, "I’ve always respected my clients and helped them. In return, they’ve helped me. For example, I was exercising race horses for Roy Lerman who is an attorney. I asked him for advice. He encouraged me to patent the prototype for Rein-Aid® inserts and put me in touch with very good patent attorneys."

Like any successful person, Kim had some lucky breaks along the way. She knew she needed big name endorsements before launching her full-scale advertising campaign. One day, Hilda Guerney, the legendary dressage trainer, came to Kim’s trade fair booth to buy a pair of inserts. Kim capitalized on her lucky break. She recounted, "after Hilda had the inserts for a few weeks, I called her to follow-up. She raved after the product, so I asked her if she’d endorse it." Hilda agreed, giving Kim the big name endorsement she needed.

As she assessed her business venture so far, Kim was most pleased by the feedback she received from customers. "It gives me goose bumps every single time someone picks up the phone and says how much better their horse is going, that happens a lot." Her business has also been financially rewarding. "I care about that, too," she said. "Can my husband get a 72 foot boat yet with the money I’ve made–no. But, he’s hoping."

Kim’s biggest frustration as a business person was "finding a reliable source to actually produce the Rein-Aids® and Elasto-Reins® in a mass quantity at a quality I find acceptable. One of my biggest losses has been returning merchandise of quality I won’t even try to sell to the consumer." Like a true entrepreneur she added, "other people don’t care about [Rein-Aid] as much as I do. I guess when something’s your baby, you want it to succeed."

Kim believes she reached her market awareness goal. In her words, "my goal was to build awareness so that people with a problem with their horses accepting the bit would consider Rein-Aid. Now, I think most horse people are aware of the product."

Kim believes the large numbers of people that start riding as adults create a growing market for products like hers. "The adults have full-time jobs, meaning they cannot perfect their riding skills by riding 15 horses a day for 20 years." Kim’s goal is to see every rider with a full-time, non-equestrian job in a pair of Rein-Aids® or Elasto-Reins®. "Eventually I want to license out the patent or sell to a larger company. But, first I want to grow it because I’m passionate about it."

Kim said the biggest surprise of her career as a businessperson is how much time it takes. Her advice for other equestrian entrepreneurs and potential equestrian entrepreneurs is "ask advice. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know. Also, talk about your ideas to people." Kim credits the advice she received from people and horses with helping her become a successful businesswoman.


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