By Catie Staszak/Catie Staszak Media, Inc.
Together, brother-and-sister duo Wilhelmina and Fred McEwan have traversed most areas of the equestrian industry. An accomplished show jumper, Wilhelmina was a member of the 1976 Canadian Equestrian Team at Spruce Meadows and competed in the 1977 American Invitational. Fred began riding at a young age, traveled the show circuit with his sisters and then moved on to the racing industry, working for the likes of SamSon Farm in Canada, as well as Spendthrift Farm in the U.S.
But now a 12-stall barn in Camden, SC has been converted into their temperature-controlled product warehouse.
No, they’re far from out of the horse industry. But ask either sibling, and they’ll tell you they did not envision this career path.
“We thought we’d be working with horses the rest of our lives,” Wilhelmina said. “We’re involved, but I never thought we’d be doing something like this.”
The McEwan siblings founded and still are the sole owners of Fenwick Equestrian, and within that, the creators of the Fenwick LT Mask—the innovative therapeutic mask that helps horses relax and focus naturally. Having taken off in the Thoroughbred industry, the recognizable mask is now a staple on the show jumping circuit.
It all started with a sibling quest for a better blanket.
At the time, both McEwans were operating Fenwick Farm, their thoroughbred training center in Camden. Wilhelmina had found her way into her brother’s industry by way of her husband, Brownell Combs. Wilhelmina and Fred were in the process of breaking yearlings and sought out a better therapeutic blanket.
“I was looking for a therapeutic blanket for the horses that was affordable, easy to take care of and didn’t have wires and magnets and lasers,” Wilhelmina recalled. “I had used the whole gamut through showing and racing and everything else. Then, we found this fabric.”
The fabric, which has become the Fenwick hallmark, is a Far Infrared (FIR) therapy, based on the dispersion of titanium in water at the nano level by water-soluble metal technology.
“It was an immediate success,” Wilhelmina recalled. “It improved circulation [and] accelerated healing, and that was something that was unique to it that a lot of the other blankets didn’t have. After more research, we learned that a few studies showed that it reduced stress and anxiety in humans.”
After about a year, Fred brainstormed the idea that changed everything—thanks to some nervous Thoroughbred yearlings.
“We basically made a blinker—sewed the fabric in the same pattern as a blinker—and started using it, and it was immediate. Within 10 minutes, you could see a difference in some horses,” Wilhelmina detailed. “Thoroughbreds can be so high strung, and we just thought, ‘This can’t be true.’”
“We were very skeptical,” she continued. “Maybe this horse just decided to wake up that day and be good, but [the LT Mask] has proven us wrong, over and over and over.”
The McEwans began producing more masks and giving them out to close friends to try, and by word of mouth, use of the masks spread like wildfire.
“The harness industry picked up on it first,” Wilhelmina recalled. “They swore that the horses didn’t break stride when they were wearing it. We had the Hambletonian winner in our first year.”
Fenwick’s LT Mask has now transcended industries, sports and disciplines, and its uses have grown by leaps and bounds. Approved for use in numerous racing jurisdictions, as well as by the international governing body of equestrian sports (FEI), the LT Mask can be worn 24/7 and is not only used to increase relaxation and focus while riding; it is also used on the ground with farriers, vets, shippers, and horse owners at all levels.
“We started using it on all of the yearlings that we broke,” Wilhelmina said. “We put the mask on from day one, and we just had much calmer babies, hardly any ulcers and fewer riders falling off. It made our jobs so much easier, and the horses were happier.”
Over the course of the next six years, the McEwans meticulously perfected their design so that it would be durable, soft on the horses’ faces, and hypoallergenic; they now own an international patent for the use of the fabric. The product line has also expanded to ear bonnets and graphic coolers, among other items that utilize the Far Infrared Therapy technology. LT ear plugs were created for show hunters and used by the only three-time champion of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, Brunello. In the dressage arenas, the LT Mesh Ear Bonnet was approved to meet the standards of the United States Dressage Federation (USDF).
“The titanium is unique in that it actually accelerates healing in the body, because the bodies of humans and animals don’t reject it,” Wilhelmina said. “The other advantage of our products is that you don’t need compression to improve circulation like with other products [on the market].”
Fenwick’s warehouse is proudly based in the United States—at Wilhelmina and Fred’s Camden, SC Thoroughbred training center, where the duo can test their products in the most real-life, natural of settings. The benefits of wearing their LT products—supported by research—is a laundry list, from improved relaxation and focus to boosting circulation, healing, pain relief and more. The fabric also boasts moisture-wicking and 50+ UPF-UV blocking properties. Did they mention the mask is machine washable and able to go in the dryer?
“After all the years working with stinky, smelly horse laundry…Humans have such easy-to-care-for clothing. We thought, ‘Why can’t we do this with horses?’” Wilhelmina said.
It’s a closely-knit team effort, with the wellbeing of the horse always at the forefront. Fenwick Equestrian now produces 600 masks a week, with more LT product ideas on the pipeline.
“It’s turned out to be a great product,” Wilhelmina. “It’s helpful for the horses and it’s easy. It continues to amaze us.”