The horse enters the walker and the door slides shut. The sound of the door sliding is very much like a finely crafted automobile door shutting. It’s a solid yet muffled sound that makes you think of the adage “fine German engineering”. Everything clicks seamlessly into place. The timer is easily set, with one flick of a switch the walker starts, and the horses move on. There are no loud noises or rattling, just calm. You can see it on the faces of the horses that they enjoy it. This is a Kraft Horse Walker.
“The horse walker is very often the most overlooked and undervalued piece of equipment on a horse farm,” says Frank Kraft, owner and CEO of Kraft Horse Walkers. “A horse is an animal that is designed to walk all day and what do we do with them? Put them in stalls. If you want what is best for the horse, you get them to move. If you have a larger operation, say 50 or 60 thoroughbreds, a horse walker is a great solution. While it will never replace the human element, never… but it can be a great part of your fitness program.”
Frank and his older brother Uwe built their very first horse walker in 1996 in their family’s back yard in Germany. Uwe Kraft has graduated from trade school and was working for Terex at the time, Frank was still in school. It was a fairly simple, straightforward walker that accommodated four horses, with a central motor and the traditional arms. The Kraft family had been breeding and competing horses for generations; hence the boys had a good understanding of how the walker needed to perform.
“You could say that we are horse driven. We see it from the horse’s point of view,” said Kraft. “We are innovative to help the horses. For example, we designed the very first oval walker. With no motor in the middle and arms sticking out as in a conventional walker, the “dual rail” gliding machinery operates over the horses’ heads moving the horse dividing gates round.
This frame system can move around corners holding the moving gates, which are stabilized on each side by guide wheels and connected by a pipe-profiled chain in the center. This chain then connects the moving gates to one another and pulls the entire walker sections through the established route.
This new system enables one to walk the horses in a straight line for a few strides and can make good use of less than perfect space. It is also possible to have a square & circular pattern with this “duel” rail gliding system construction which opens up endless possibilities. Since the moving gates are supported by a frame construction, the gates are more stable than the conventional walker style. As a result of this, the moving gates can also be constructed with more durable and heavier materials.”
Why go to so much trouble?
“It would allow the horse to walk forward in straight line for a few strides before turning and not to be constantly on a circle, a bending line. It’s just better for the horse. Everyone else copied us after we produced the first one,” he laughed.
While horse walkers have become increasing in popularity in the United States, they have been a staple of professional horse businesses in Europe for decades now. Kraft said, “a horse walker can be used to warm up a horse, or for a cool down while a busy rider gets on the next horse. The horse walker can be used as part of a rehab program as ours are easily programable for the length of time, the speed and even switching directions. As more and more Americans are buying horses and competing abroad, they see what the competition is doing. And they want to bring that home.”
In 1997, the Kraft brothers attended their first trade show in the United States, Equitana in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a huge success as they sold their very first walker which got sent out to Colorado. “It’s been mainly word of mouth, our success has been incredible,” remarked Kraft. “While it would be easy to say it’s because the quality of what we build, I would think that it’s more of the quality of the relationships we build. The customer service aspect of our company is huge. People come back to us time and again, and tell their friends, because of how we take care of them.
For example, years ago a horse walker at the Coolmore Stud was in need of service. The manufacturer of the horse walker wasn’t returning the farm manager’s calls, so he reached out to us. I went to see the walker, even though it wasn’t one of ours. The manager was shocked to see me and said, “you are even on time!” We had it up and running before the end of the day and now we have a client for life. We have installed seven more walkers for them since.
I think that is our calling card so to speak. Yes, we build for the horses, for their well-being, but what sets us apart is the customer service. If someone calls us, that call will be answered. It doesn’t matter what time, what day, that call will be answered.”
What is the Kraft difference?
“There is a lot of common sense in the details of our walkers”, said Kraft. “They are little things that add up. Like the latch on the door. The moment you unlatch it the walker comes to a complete halt. That is for the horse’s safety, for your safety. We build a six-foot-high perimeter for the walkers always. It keeps dogs and children out. Can save you from being kicked in the head. The control panels are designed to be simple and easy to use. Imagine if you are standing there with a fidgety horse…
When asked about the competition, Kraft welcomes it. “More competition brings awareness to the public, which is good. And if someone else comes up with an idea for the walkers that benefits the horses, then there must be something to it and we need to pay attention.”
You will find Kraft Horse Walkers on every continent in the world, 70 countries and with more coming. Kraft even built the largest oval walker in the world which is at the Spanish Riding School. Measuring 21 meters x 41meters, it can accommodate 20 horses. From the Dominican Republic to South Korea to Australia to China, there is even a Kraft Horse Walker a few blocks from the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai.
“In the beginning of our business, getting our foot in the door was in the form of repairs. We would service any walker, no matter who made it,” remarked Kraft. “But then the business grew so much, we decided to open a second in the United States in 2004. By this time, we were selling so many of our own walkers it (and not servicing other makes) that it made more sense to have a center of operation here. Because all of our walkers are custom, we had been fabricating them as a complete kit in Germany then sending them over. Now we have a warehouse of all the components at our Winchester. KY location. Now we can cut weeks out of the delivery schedule. 24/7 we are on the move.”
When asked what has been one of his favorite projects over the years, Kraft replied, “I really don’t have a favorite horse walker story to tell you per say. For me it’s more the people you work with. When you put it into those terms, then, one of my favorite projects is the work we did at the Fair Hill training track and at New Bolton. Those people are like family to me. We are not money driven we are relationship driven.”
We asked Kraft, what do you think the Kraft Horse Walker legacy will be? “In the end whatever bears the Kraft name has to be done properly. We will never cut corners; we will never skimp. Quality, craftsmanship, knowledge… You can have my handshake on that.”