BY JESS CLAWSON
There’s something so elegant about the perfectly turned out horse in a custom cooler. For decades, The Clothes Horse has set the bar for horsewear and is well known for providing the awards coolers for The Devon Horse Show. They feature almost limitless color and pattern options with attention to even the smallest detail to appeal to every horse owner.
We sat down with Katrina Coldren, owner of The Clothes Horse since 2001, to learn more about this incredible legacy brand and her involvement in it–the highs and lows, and the rewards of being such a pillar in the horse show community.
Tell us about your background in horses.
My mom calls it a “genetic flaw.” My parents were not horse people, and I spent my early years living in the suburbs of Hartford, Connecticut—no horses to be found in my day to day life. Nonetheless, my mom says my first word was “pony” and I begged for riding lessons non-stop as soon as I could speak. When I was nine years old, she sent me to a riding summer camp on a horse farm, and that was that!
From then on, I rode and showed in the hunters and equitation. I continued with the hunters as an adult until my daughter took over the horse show budget. I still have my “heart horse”–who I bred–but he is mostly a pasture puff now. We still ride him and sometimes even go to a small horse show, but mostly he just lives a life of grass turnout and equine serenity.
How did The Clothes Horse get started?
I say “for one man’s want of a rain sheet and one woman’s willingness to try something new,” The Clothes Horse was born. My predecessor, Edith Friedman, was a seamstress and home economics teacher by training, and a horsewoman as a hobby. She encountered someone who envisioned a better rain sheet, so she went home and made one. He showed his friends, then they wanted them too, and it grew from there. Edith was the first person to dress a barn as a “team” in their own special cohesive color schemes. The Clothes Horse was her invention, her baby. I am honored every day to get to continue the tradition that she started.
How did you become involved?
I was living in Pennsylvania and looking for a change. A dear friend of mine lived in New Jersey and was working part time for Edith. This friend offered me a room in her house, and Edith offered me a part time job. Edith and I just clicked. Within a year, I was full time, and by year two, I was the shop manager. I continued in that position for ten more years until Edith retired and I bought the company in 2001. It seems crazy to me that I am now closing in on being the owner for twice as long as I was an employee. It doesn’t seem possible.
What sets your products apart from the competition?
Our almost insane attention to detail, and willingness to work outside the box. Yes, we have standard trim styles, layouts, and options, but if someone wants to try something totally new, we are always game to make it a reality if at all possible. One of my favorite things is to create something that a customer envisioned, sketched, and then can hold in their hands as a working, finished piece.
Our quality of workmanship is unsurpassed. We use processes that are often lost in modern times, like sewing in a mitered corner because we only use single-needle machines. As companies pursue increased efficiency and reduced cost, we take a different approach. Those details are the things that make our product last, that make your horse stand out from the crowd when they are wearing our clothes. They increase the value and longevity of our blankets, trunk covers, or tack room drapes. Which means you don’t need to replace them as often, and in the long run—ends up costing less.
What new designs or products can we look forward to?
We are really a super traditional company that provides the traditional pieces of horse clothing and other textile pieces that are basic essentials to horse show operations of all sizes and types. For that reason, change in our base products is slow moving. What we do see changing are designs: color choices and trim layouts.
I am currently enjoying combining different wools – like, for example, using a solid color base, with a plaid wool stripe down the side. Or making the top half solid, and the bottom half herringbone. Similar to boots made of contrasting leathers, these coolers take on an even more personal identity for the client, as they become more and more unique.
We have also been making so many pillows! Pillows to match the barn colors and logos, and pillows to commemorate championships or important wins.
Some of my favorites, although it tears at my heartstrings, have been the customers who entrust us with a cooler bearing the name of a beloved and now departed “horse or pony of their lifetime” for us to convert to a pillow. Instead of sitting at the bottom of a trunk, now the cooler is living in the space with the people who loved that animal. In some cases, those coolers are worn, the wool is pilled, and the colors are faded – but they are still the most beautiful pillows I’ve ever seen.
Do you have any favorite horse show venues? What makes them special?
Well that would have to be Devon. It is cliche in my discipline to say that Devon is beloved, but my reasons are less typical than some others, I think. I have never showed at Devon other than in the local hunters. I have never participated in a qualifying division there, but when I was a kid, we used to go every year to see the Devon Grand Prix or the Gold Cup way back when it was held there. Since I moved to the area in 1990, I have not missed a year of at least making it over there to spend one day.
And we have had the very great honor, here at The Clothes Horse, of making the award coolers for Devon for my entire tenure here. My favorite day of the year is the Tuesday before the show starts, when I load my car up to the roof full of Devon award coolers and deliver them to the horse show. On that day, the grounds are pristine, as yet unmarred by so much as a single hoofprint in the schooling area, and there is a calm quiet as it awaits the arrival of the horses and the start of the excitement a mere 24 hours later. It is my special day with the show, my special relationship with that storied facility.
What is the best part about working with The Clothes Horse?
The customers! They make me crazy. They are always in a hurry. They are demanding, decisive, and pervade my life day and night. And you know what? I would not have it any other way. They challenge me with their creative ideas. They impress me with their show ring triumphs. They humble me with their repeat business and kind referrals.
I have known many from the time they rode ponies until they put their children on ponies and beyond. I love that when many of them call me, in addition to business conversation, we catch each other up on our lives and families and changes. That history, those long term relationships that often become friendships, are what makes my heart happy.
The new customers are just as exciting. There is nothing greater than working with a young professional just branding their business for the first time, or with a retiree who supported her kids’ riding habit for a decade or two, and is now buying a horse for herself for the very first time. Or a non-horsey grandmother who calls and trusts me to guide her in buying something special for her pony-crazed granddaughter’s birthday or Christmas gift. I could go on an on! I love them all so much, and am so very honored to work with each one.
The Clothes Horse has been manufacturing custom made horse blankets, tack room drapes, and trunk covers since 1972. The Clothes Horse now makes items for some of the most prestigious show barns and horse shows in the country, as well as for private horse owners nationwide.
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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