By Sarah Shuping
A lot goes in to the search for the perfect dress sheet. Custom colors? Yes, please. Must match the barn aesthetic! Superior quality, of course. Equestrians know how something well made can last generations. Exquisite details make us swoon. From intricate swirled piping to special buckles, we want to add a bit of our own flair to tradition.
Katrina Coldren, the owner of The Clothes Horse, understands. A horsewoman herself, she takes great pride in providing exemplary service to each and every customer—whether it’s an order for that perfect sheet or an entire tack room setup.
The Clothes Horse has been an icon at shows around the country for nearly 50 years. Edith Friedman, the original owner, established herself as a premier equestrian seamstress by 1990 when Coldren first joined the company.
“A friend told me she knew a business that made horse blankets, and was looking for someone to answer the phone for a couple hours a day who could actually talk to horse people and understand the nuances of ‘horse speak’,” Coldren says.
Very quickly, within weeks, she became the shop manager and fell in love with the business. “Growing up, I didn’t do a lot of the big horse shows,” she adds. “I had posters on my wall of Katie Monahan, Leslie Burr Howard, and Margie Engle. When I came to work at The Clothes Horse, those people called all the time. It was a bit of a fan girl moment.”
Coldren went along with Edith to make deliveries at the Devon show grounds, where all the big name riders stopped by to say hello and ask Edith how she was doing. “I realized that Edith had built a following from the top riders and barns in the industry, and that The Clothes Horse was really something special,” Coldren says.
The heart of the business—creating beautiful products—proved to be another joy for Coldren, one that still continues thirty years later. She took over as owner in 2001, and still enjoys tapping into her creativity to make products.
“We aren’t just turning out the same thing over and over,” she adds. “People challenge us with design ideas. I can do navy and green all day long, but when someone comes to me and says ‘I really want aubergine’ I like the challenge.” Collaborating with the customer to create something that meets their vision in a beautiful end product remains a joy for Coldren.
A lot has happened since 2001, but at The Clothes Horse most things remain the same. The core value of what the businesses does hasn’t changed since Edith’s original work ethic that attracted all those famous riders many years ago.
“We don’t cut corners just to save a dollar,” Coldren says. “Quality is paramount. I’d rather be able to ship out ten perfect dress sheets a day, instead of fifteen ‘good enough’ sheets.”
Above all else, the businesses commits to customer service. They have stood behind every single stitch for over 50 years. It’s all about how they can cultivate long term relationships, as opposed to pushing to sell more and more.
There are modern updates though. Their website features a blanket creator, where you can choose your horse’s color and pick colors down to the piping and trim. Coldren also enjoys thinking outside the box on designs when her customers want a bit more flair. But mostly, the products are steeped in the time-honored tradition that is the hunter/jumper world. They continue to use the same quality fabrics as they did back when riders wore hunt caps instead of helmets.
Unlike helmets, the coolers and products made by The Clothes Horse often outlive the horse they were originally purchased for. (The author of this piece lost her horse years ago, but the cooler remains in excellent condition.)
When asked how these items last so long, Coldren says it begins with quality fabrics. Buying the best wool isn’t as easy as running to the grocery store to pick up the same brand you always get, but the effort makes a difference. “We’re not looking for the cheapest product that will fulfill the minimum requirements,” Coldren says. From fabric to buckles to trim, “it’s about being meticulous and a little obsessive about sources of good quality material.”
The rest of the brand’s magic is in its workmanship. They use a single needle machine, a rarity in today’s mass manufactured market. “Most blankets nowadays are made with automatic binders and double needles,” Coldren adds. “It means they can just zip around the blanket once, where we actually do that four or five times.” This process allows The Clothes Horse to do very accurate mitered corners. Many blanket manufacturers will stretch out the stitches to make the process quicker, leaving the blanket with weak spots that can come apart. The Clothes Horse keeps theirs small, tight, and precise.
“It’s not that either method is the wrong choice, but it’s just a different business model,” she says. “We work really hard to make sure our products are the highest quality because we want them to last for a lifetime.”
Putting such an emphasis on quality has meant that not only will their blankets last generations, but their customers do as well. Coldren often takes orders from riders she helped when they were on small ponies, only now they’re calling for their children on their own smalls. She keeps extremely intricate records dating back over twenty years. Trainers call to setup what The Clothes Horse calls a “recipe” that matches the barn’s aesthetic. That makes it easy for clients to call in and get exactly what they need and keep everything consistent. “We’re a little obsessive about it honestly,” Coldren says with a laugh. “it’s kind of our claim to fame.”
Though she’s been working in this business for over thirty years, Coldren still has stars in her eyes when it comes to serving her clients. The Clothes Horse makes all the coolers for Washington, Harrisburg, the National, and Devon. She’s even been able to send a cooler to an even grander arena… The White House! “President George HW Bush hired us to make cooler with the crest from the Mexico flag as a gift to the president of Mexico,” she says.
But her favorite projects are retirement coolers. “From the super stars like Gem Twist, to someone’s beloved junior hunter, I am always honored to be included in such a touching tradition.” These kind of projects, including memorial pillows from coolers worn by special horses, show how it’s a lot more than “just” a blanket. “It’s not just a cooler with their name on it, it’s something they wore. That sort of thing is just as near and dear to my heart as the higher profile orders.”
That sentiment is a large part of what has kept The Clothes Horse thriving for the past 50 years, and what will ensure it remains an equestrian institution. Because it’s not always easy to find exquisite products thoughtfully made by industry professionals. But with The Clothes Horse, you can always trust that no detail will be spared for you and your horse.
*This story was originally published in the May 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!