When one dream ended, another began

By Martha Barbone
Reprinted with permission from The Horse of Delaware Valley

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 couldn’t 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 family’s 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 Keppick’s portfolio to his replacement, Karen Lende O’Connor, and asked her to deal with it.

"Karen took me on as a working student," said Keppick. "It’s very unusual for a top class rider to take on a working student who doesn’t have a horse."

Keppick rode O’Connor’s top horse, Biko, from the time he was broken as a baby through his preliminary event career.

"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 couldn’t be blanketed.

"It was a long, slow process to gain his trust, but once he gave it to you, he was amazing," said Keppick.

"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 O’Connor’s chief rider for eight years, schooling several horses each day and keeping things going while O’Connor 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.



O’Connor 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 I’m 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."

Keppick’s 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 wasn’t perfect," said Keppick. "There was too much stretch, but the concept of the

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™ ever since.

"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 Bebie’s horses, Lunar Eclipse, is pictured in one of Keppick’s ads, still tacked in his Rein-Aid™, accepting the winner’s 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 than Rein-Aid™.

Now Rein-Aid™ and Elasto-Rein™ are available in tack stores, through the website or by direct order.

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 it’s made me use my brain in ways I’ve never done before," said Keppick.

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