BY SISSY WICKES
Photos © Andrew Ryback Photography.
Valencia Sport Saddlery in Lake View Terrace, California is nimble in its ability to navigate the tricky waters of today’s retail equestrian business. Founded by Ecole Lathrop, the shop caters to the needs of equines and equestrians alike. From their impressive building on the grounds at HITS Coachella to their brick and mortar site in Los Angeles, to a global network of customers, VSS is a ubiquitous presence on the horse show scene.
Valencia Sport Saddlery opened its doors fifteen years ago in the eponymous town in Southern California. Ecole credits its longevity with their ongoing mission to help people enjoy the fun of horses! Whether your visit to VSS is for start-up gear for a new rider, custom tack room designs, or prepping for A-Circuit horse shows, the crew at VSS will give you a top experience in equestrian shopping. “We welcome every horse enthusiast and encourage their delight as they explore our shop.”
Ecole left a successful career in the commercial production industry to pursue her passion for all things horses. Identifying a need for a quality English riding store in the fast-growing community surrounding Valencia, Ecole launched VSS with no previous experience in retail, and some prodding and much support from her family. The same ability to identify the desires of the marketplace has served Ecole well through the years. She grew VSS from a small town shop to a multi-tiered retail triumph during a period of seismic change in equestrian gear and apparel. As Ecole explains, “With the advent of social media, the landscape for equestrian shopping has dramatically changed. Suddenly you’ve got little girls in small towns with access to the big ring at WEF and World Cup riders. And they want to look like Lillie Keenan too!”
Ecole is continually fielding new products and product lines as they explode into the equestrian marketplace. She receives inquiries daily from suppliers all over the globe. While game to try new things, Ecole is committed to brand loyalty and long term partnerships. “Some things work, some don’t. A lot of luck and an enthusiastic audience keep me brave and taking the risks.” Callidae, Dada Sport, JOTT, and Katherine Page are examples of labels that VSS brought early to the west coast market. “We play on the tradition and heritage of our noble sport. I’m very proud to offer quality saddles, bridles, bits – the toys and things that riders and trainers like to touch and feel. We promise exceptional service with a friendly and knowledgeable crew.
VSS = quality and choice.”
Quick to leap onto the equestrian social media scene, VSS developed a significant Facebook and Instagram following with stimulating visuals and an engaging storyline. Their strong platform presence resulted in much global interest. While tempted by the draw of an e-commerce share, Ecole has kept the focus of VSS on the local customer. “We must maintain our level of service that our loyal customers know and expect. I’m continually building our infrastructure so we can stay solid and keep growing.”
Ecole has created new opportunities in the marketplace by launching Valencia Sport Saddlery’s own private labels. Horse|Man in its quality bridlery and belts, HABiT in both custom-tailored and ready-to-wear show apparel. Ecole explains, “It was all so much of the same. Everyone was just copying each other. The technical fabrics are here to stay and a welcome necessity in the equestrian world, but I just had a desire for the beauty of natural fabrics with bespoke detail.”
Hoofprint is a luxury, personalized service. Offering customers the opportunity to gift and mail a personalized package to anyone. Hoofprint took off in 2015, although says Ecole, “It’s really something we have been doing for 10 years. We just finally branded it.” Sign up online or phone the store and you are assigned your very own equestrian concierge to fulfill your every wish. For a birthday, a thank you, a holiday… “With Hoofprint we are giving an experience, a memory. We want people to open the box and think ‘Wow, they made this just for me. They know exactly what I like!’” Ecole is excited about this service because she believes that people are craving personal interaction. And it gives VSS another avenue to provide individualized service and build loyal customer relationships.
Valencia Sport Saddlery’s long-term growth plans all radiate from Ecole’s vision of keeping the VSS shopping experience fun and fresh for every customer – from today’s first-timer to tomorrow’s competitors at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics! “We’ll react to what the customer demands. And we will keep encouraging Horseplay!” Ecole Lathrop’s Valencia Sport Saddlery is a shopping experience unrivaled in the equestrian world.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Editor of The Plaid Horse. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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