BY SISSY WICKES
Horse treats are a part of every rider’s shopping list. Shelves in the tack store are full of brightly colored boxes and jars like a candy aisle in the supermarket. Which to choose? Let’s be honest – horses will eat almost anything sweet. Listen to the story of the Pony Pantry and the choice will become clear.
Pony Pantry produces a variety of horse treats – beautifully packaged in different quantities and available at either your local tack store or for direct purchase online.
Buy a one-pound tub for your barn, a carry tube for your own pony, or sign up for recurring monthly delivery so your horse is never without his favorite treat. Pony Pantry follows a recipe refined to promote equine nutrition and healthy eating. The treats are made with an understanding of the sensitivity some horses have to sugar. Healthy ingredients, low sugar, beautifully packaged, available on shelves – an excellent product. Yet, the most compelling reason to buy these products is the story behind them.
Pony Pantry began in 2014 as an annual 4H presentation project for young Gabbi Sousa. 4-H presentations give children an opportunity to create a message or product, present it in front of other 4-H’ers, and be judged on their presentation and public speaking. After her success at 4H, and in her kitchen at home, the eleven-year-old continued to bake horse cookies. Over time, Gabbi kept refining her products and recipes into the treat they are today.
Steadily, the demand for the treats grew and the Sousa family found itself at a crossroads. Gabbi’s father, Rick, explains. “All of a sudden this project gained traction and we had to sit down and decide if we were going to move forward. This is Gabbi’s idea and it is my job to nurture it and support her career.” The family collectively decided to move forward with Pony Pantry. Today, it has grown from a young girl’s project into a national phenomenon.
Pony Pantry became a family enterprise. Beginning with Gabbi’s research of healthy, veterinarian-recommended recipes to baking in the family’s kitchen to packaging and mailing at the dining room table, the Sousa’s were all in.
Orders were filled and mailed with a personalized note in each (a practice that continues today). Expenses were tracked as Dad taught his daughter to understand the cost of goods sold and profit margins. Rick states, “Gabbi is involved in every aspect of the business. She understands cost of production, machinery, packaging, and marketing. It is like getting an MBA at 15.”
Gabbi arrived at The Devon Horse Show in 2017 with much excitement and a bag of Pony Pantry treats. She scoped out the iconic show, hoping to qualify on her large pony in 2018, and to sell her goods. The first person she met with was TPH Publisher Piper Klemm, a great mentor for the young entrepreneur. Piper grilled Gabbi about the product and helped her develop a business plan. She escorted her to Vendor’s Row and listened as Gabbi improved her sales pitch at each stop.
After Devon, two local tack stores began to stock Pony Pantry’s products – Paradise Farm and Tack in Mooresville, NC with Jenni and Jim Radke and Farm House Tack in Landrum, SC with Noreen Cothran.
Rick notes, “Noreen saw the growth opportunities immediately. She was instrumental in our success in the retail space by providing referrals to other tack stores and a venue at the 2017 Pony Finals. With that soft start, we booked a booth at the 2018 American Equestrian Trade Association (AETA) annual trade show so we could debut the product to tack stores from all over the country.” Following the show in January of 2018, sales really took off. Most tack stores today are run by strong businesswomen and they loved the story, the products and Gabbi. They offered to carry the product in their stores and promote it from their counters. Pony Pantry has since added a national team of field saleswomen who visit tack stores across the country and promote their products.
Pony Pantry nuggets are a huge hit with horses and owners alike. Using only all-natural ingredients, the treats are made from food – quality oats, molasses, and whole grain rye flour and packaged with food-grade materials. The price point is slightly higher than the mass-produced brands, but less expensive than the trendy, boutique items. Buy a one-pound jar, buy a small tube – support the entrepreneurial venture and vision of a young girl.
Pony Pantry has since outgrown the Sousa’s kitchen and now produces the treats in a certified organic commercial bakery. The goodies are then shipped to Pony Pantry’s offices where they continue to be packaged by the Sousa Family. Gabbi remains integrally involved in every aspect of Pony Pantry’s business. Each product – from apparel to treats – is hand packed with a personal note to the client. In addition to direct sales, Pony Pantry goods are now available in over fifty retail stores throughout the U.S. Renowned rider Hunter Holloway is their national brand spokesperson.
From a young girl’s 4H project to a nationally popular product, Pony Pantry is not just a sweet for horses. It is a lesson in empowering young women; it is a business project; it is a crossover from equestrian sport to industry. Gabbi Sousa has successfully turned her passion for horses into a niche business with a social conscience. Pony Pantry donates part of its profits to the Susan B. Komen Foundation and equine-based charities and rescues. Next time you reach for a horse treat, reach for a brand that is more than a lump of sugar.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist and an autism advocate. 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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