BY TORI SHEEHAN
Like so many adult riders, Caitlin Dance made the decision to come back to horses. After countless hours of early mornings and long drives to ice rinks throughout Canada, Dance traded in working weekends as a hockey scout for a return to her passion.
“Just for the goodness of my soul, I wanted to get back into riding. Not just for the activity, but emotionally and mentally,” Dance tells The Plaid Horse.
Dance had been riding since she was four years old, but took a break in college to pursue her studies and eventually start her career. Once she returned to horses, she soaked in every part of being back in the equestrian community. Then, in March, she had an epiphany.
“One day, I joined a group on Facebook where it’s just horse-related jobs, and I saw some Canadian Olympians actually hire via Facebook groups,” says Dance. “That was mind-boggling to me! I just thought: How many messages do they get from people who wouldn’t be qualified? There’s no screening, so now everybody has your contact information, and now they’re going to follow up with you every week for the rest of your life if they want?”
Dance had pinpointed a long-standing issue with the way hiring, sales, and information has been shared in the horse world. In April, Haute Equestrian & Co. was born.
What started as a platform to safely post jobs and administrative work has expanded to a multi-faceted company. Haute Equestrian & Co. focuses on giving equestrians the tools they need to be successful—from help with managing a business to educational resources to sustainably-sourced equestrian fashion.
“Fashion is something I’ve always enjoyed about the equestrian world,” says Dance. “Personally, I don’t go out to be super stylish, but everyone always gives me compliments on what I buy, and I thought this company could be a one-stop shop.”
Through Haute Equestrian & Co., The Essentials Boutique was created to connect consumers with businesses who are creating equestrian fashion and staying true to core values that Dance holds dear.
“I’m lucky enough that I already had a website and a platform to be able to expand, so I wanted to do that with a focus on North American companies, other small businesses, women-owned etc. that have good core values like that,” says Dance. “So, people can know they’re supporting those good values and being very transparent.”
On Haute Equestrian & Co., one click is all it takes to provide customers with clear insight into where their money is going. Each product is labeled for whether it is sustainably made, if it’s from a minority-owned business, or if it’s made from organic materials.
“It gives the ‘feel goods‘ about your purchase so that you actually know what you’re supporting,” says Dance.
Dance sees potential for equestrian fashion to provide something more than just great style. Along with quality materials that provide comfort, form and function, one of Haute Equestrian’s top priorities is inclusivity.
“Equestrian fashion needs to be branched out into something that works for everyone,” says Dance. “And that is our goal.”
Along with the Essentials Boutique, Dance and her business partner, Andrea Conway, are creating a clothing line for the site called Cavalleti & Coach. Together they are designing clothing like riding tights and breeches that riders would want to wear to and from the barn.
“We want it to be something that is comfortable, so if you need to get groceries afterward, you can,” says Dance. “It’s materials that you can feel good wearing. We’re working really hard on getting a bunch of different kinds of test fabrics and we’re going to order a few pairs for ourselves and ride in them and run them through the grinder of all that we can at the barn and make sure that we’re really happy with what we put out.”
Dance and Conway aren’t just focused on the materials of the clothing, but on how it will make their customers feel. Size inclusivity is a major concept for the two partners and something they keep in mind with every step of their clothing line.
“I think the biggest we’ve seen so far is like maybe a 2X in terms of larger sizes, but [we’re thinking about] smaller sizes as well. A lot of riders who are petite get told, ‘Okay, now you have to go look in the kid’s section,’ and as women, you want to feel like a woman. You don’t want to feel like you have to just wear what all the kids wear,” says Dance. “It’s being able to offer something to make everybody feel included.”
Conway and Dance hope to revolutionize their sizing by not attaching numerical values as sizes. Instead of numbers, words like ‘Confident’ would be a size. “So, you don’t need to worry about if it says ‘extra small’ or ‘4x.’ Instead, you find based on your size a word, and then you know which word is your size.”
Instead of a sole focus on profits, Haute Equestrian & Co.’s goal of inclusivity doesn’t just mean helping riders feel comfortable finding clothes that fit. The company also strives to provide educational tools for anyone who wants to learn. Haute Equestrian’s site boasts more than ten specifically curated educational links and resources, including discounts to top video tutorials and horse care classes.
“There’s always room to grow in the industry,” says Dance. “In terms of inclusivity and things of that nature, I like being able to say I’m actively working to be a part of this and contribute to it and pave the way to show people and other companies that it’s not that difficult. You put the work into it to be inclusive and break down barriers.”
When Dance imagined her dream job, it involved a vision of mixing and mingling with equestrians of all kinds at horse shows of many levels. Now, her dream is part of her reality as she spends most of her time researching and talking with people in the horse community.
“I ask for people’s opinions and hearing everyone’s different experiences. I’ve really enjoyed it. I might talk to a few people and be like, ‘Okay, this is what we need for the recruitment side,’ or ‘This is what people are really wanting from a fashion side.’ Someone else may have a completely different experience, and I never thought of it. The horse industry is so diverse in terms of how things are run, and it always keeps me on my toes. But it’s never dull, and it’s work that I enjoy doing.”
Haute Equestrian & Co. is already in the process of taking a percentage of their net profits and giving charitable donations to youth and inclusivity programs within equestrian governing bodies. Giving back is something that Dance feels has been passed down to her from her family. Her grandmother traveled frequently to war-ravaged Sierra Leone and helped women and children flee violent conflict and civil unrest. While the equestrian world has very different needs, the example Dance’s grandmother set is still present. Because of her upbringing, Dance has learned that it is imperative to use the tools you have to make the world you love a better place.
“It definitely takes it to the next level for me,” says Dance. “I think of all the great life lessons that being around horses has taught me. Whether it’s when you fall in the dirt you get back on, or just even the work ethic of having my own horse and making sure he’s taken care of … and I think of children that may not be able to afford to do that because this sport, in any capacity, isn’t cheap. So being able to give back and give [others] an opportunity to get involved and have a chance, it means a lot.”
Dance knows that Haute Equestrian & Co. has a chance to be more than a company, and she takes care to stick to priorities that have made her successful throughout her life.
“This is not just a business,” says Dance. “It’s a passion.”
Meet the Founder
Cailin Dance’s path back to the equestrian world gave her the perfect perspective to help equestrian businessowners
- Former OHL, NHL Hockey Scout
- Worked in inventory management and purchasing before and while starting Haute Equestrian & Co.
- Grandparents raised racehorses, she started riding at 4 years old
- Owns an 18h Warmblood named Moe (Short for Slo Mo)
Why Inclusivity Matters
Dance’s business partner Andrea Conway recalls an emotional moment when she couldn’t find a pair of half chaps that fit her at a local tack shop. She started to cry in the fitting room, struggling to get the zipper to come all the way up. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve been a dancer as long as I can remember, my calves are so strong.’” But the experience didn’t make her feel strong—it made her question whether she belonged in equestrian clothing. That feeling was the motivation to make sure size inclusivity was at the forefront of Cavalleti & Coach, and Haute Equestrian & Co. as a whole.
3 Divisions, 1 Goal
Helping Equestrians Make Trusted Decisions
- Recruitment: Includes a free job board, VIP recruiting services and educational resources to help equestrians of all levels grow and find their path in the industry.
- Management: Help with day-to-day operations for any equestrian business owner needing help with their business. Whether in a specific area like administration, management, or social media, or helping to streamline aspects of the business, Haute Equestrian & Co. can help.
- Essentials: The Essentials Boutique provides high-quality products and clothing that support small businesses and ethically sourced material, not to mention a jumping off point for a clothing line specifically for Haute Equestrian & Co.
Additional Ways Haute Equestrian & Co. is Making a Difference…
- Member of Wren.co : Calculates and helps to offset Haute Equestrian & Co.’s carbon footprint
- Part of the No Issue Eco Packing Alliance: For every order sent, a tree is planted in areas of need
- Supporter of the Indigenous Ally Toolkit: Acknowledges that work is conducted on traditional territories of indigenous people and provides resources for people to better understand indigenous culture and respect
Photos Courtesy Caitlin Dance
*This story was originally published in the September 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!