Founder Madison Smith couldn’t find tops and breeches that worked for her—so she created her own.
It is amazing what a little frustration can make someone do. Madison Smith, founder of Nikovian Equestrian, never met a horse she didn’t love, but the same could not be said for the apparel she had to wear while riding. Breeches had a seam that felt like it was embedding in her leg while wearing tall boots in the saddle. Her tops pulled out in the back when stretching over a jump. The materials didn’t stretch enough, which felt binding given the range of motion a rider needs to use. The materials also weren’t thick enough to provide confidence that her sports bra wasn’t showing through. Where were the tops that allowed her to stay comfortable and look good before, during, and after jumping?
Smith wasn’t alone—many riders were dealing with this problem. But it was still frustrating, not to mention distracting. Being confident in your appearance isn’t a matter of vanity—a rider’s confidence and focus is incredibly important, so when riders wear clothes that don’t fit right and make them feel self-conscious, it can impact their performance and even safety. You don’t need to be distracted by physical discomforts and mental insecurities while riding a 1,200-pound animal.
Those frustrations led Smith to cast a more critical eye on what she was wearing and realizing that much of the equestrian clothing did not seem to be designed for riders. Beyond the seam, breeches are typically low-waisted, dig in at uncomfortable and unflattering places, and are made with materials that do not stretch much. Tops were missing a number of features she wanted, and they did not come in colors and styles that made her feel good at home as well as in the show ring. Black and white are certainly traditional, but tradition isn’t necessarily what you want every time you get on a horse or walk out of the house.
How about a high waist breech to flatter the body while adding a thick waistband that engages the abs to help balance the rider in the saddle? What would you say to a material stretchy enough to stay tucked in on a jump and was thick enough to not show your bra, even if the top is white? Since she couldn’t find these options, Smith decided to make them herself.
A Lifelong Desire for Horses
Raised in Bozeman, MT, Smith started out riding Western while working on the family ranch and competing in rodeo. She transitioned into English riding in college, at Texas A&M, where she started eventing. Graduating in 2018 from A&M in Sport Conditioning and Neuroscience, she started her first business as a neurotherapist. Later, she added real estate as a second job where she flipped homes in San Antonio, TX.
But that itch for riding horses never left. She always found that no matter how stressful her day could be, at the barn she felt happy and free. You get enough horse hair under your skin, and it is impossible to walk away from the animals. While real estate and neurotherapy had nothing to do with horses or the equestrian world, her work and cowgirl life experiences had trained her to take the initiative and to challenge base assumptions. That’s when she decided to start her clothing brand, Nikovian.
In talking with the cloth mills and actual fabrication plants to make the new designs, Smith found that there were a lot of new fabrics that had not been incorporated into horse riding apparel but were wonderful for what she wanted. She designed and re-designed the breeches and tops to get rid of those frustrating features, and to add some new ones as well. No more seam in the legs! Longer tops on the lower back with a stretching material! A thicker waistband that actually flatters the body! She also expanded the sizing to include from XS – XXXL because not everyone is S or M.
Smith tracked down the actual manufacturers for equestrian wear and established connections. She made some basic changes when she got the samples back. Using the materials she had picked out, she found that she loved some aspects of them, but hated others. Using her own samples and the 15 pairs of breeches from other manufacturers she bought as research (if it’s research, it’s much easier to justify buying 15 pairs of breeches!), she started tearing down the designs and figuring out what she wanted.
The hardest part of the design was working with manufacturers who had become too accustomed to doing things the exact same way: They all said you couldn’t make breeches without the seam, they all didn’t like the high waist with a stretch band. It took time, effort, and persuasion to convince them to either take her corrections or figure out some of their own, and send her new samples. For the first collection coming out of Nikovian, the Invictus Collection, the seam has been moved and reduced so as to minimize discomfort of riding in tall boots. But Smith kept pushing and now has a design for the next collection that will get rid of the seam altogether.
Working with the manufacturers wasn’t all bad, though—they also had some great ideas, especially when looking at some of the newest materials developed for other uses completely unrelated to horses. That was how Smith found a material that was both warmer on cool mornings and cooler when the day heated up. The material was thicker, but still breathed better and handled sweat much better than any other clothes she had worn, making the tops so comfortable she started wearing her samples on days she didn’t even make it to the stables. A surprise benefit to the material was that both Smith and her testing friends found they did not need as many layers —or any additional layers at all—when dealing with a day that has fluctuating temperatures.
Smith is also an artist and so, as a designer, she wanted to have a bit of fun with the clothing. Her logo is boldly printed on the upper-arm of the sleeve in shiny gold, which creates an attractive contrast to the bold colors of the material. She chose colors that were not typically found with other brands, but still looked reserved and appropriate for equestrian standards. On the tops, she made the neck zipper handle bigger, in the shape of her logo, and gilded it. (Why not?) Smith says she liked that it adds a touch of bling and makes it look like you are wearing a little jewelry but without the risk of losing actual jewelry.
When Smith field-tested her new designs, her riding friends tried them out and some loved the new design because the clothes fit their body types better, but not everyone did. You just can’t make a one-cut-fits-all given the beautiful variety of shapes and body types in women riders. Seeing another frustration to address, Smith is expanding on that theme and is currently working to include even more designs to fit different body styles.
At first, Nikovian will be focusing on the super-basics such as tops and breeches, but then moving on quickly to expanding the lines to include different body types and smaller sizes (below XS). She also plans to include different types of clothing such as jackets for colder days, safety clothing for jumping, and even just fun things to wear around the house.
Nikovian’s new pieces include breeches with compression technology increasing blood flow, and minimized seams preventing painful seam marks under your boots. Thick, high waisted, textured waistbands keep your shirt tucked in, engage your core, and accentuate curves.
To learn more, visit www.nikovian.com. Use code “TBH10” for 10% off your Nikovian order.
*This story was originally published in the September 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!
This Post Brought to You by: American Stalls
Designed for Horse People
by Horse People.
American Stalls began building horse stall equipment in 2006 when HITS Horse Shows approached our family’s steel business to build 1,500 horse stalls for its Saugerties location. Ever since, we have worked on thousands of commercial and private equine facilities across North America. Horse stalls, barn doors, and flooring are large investments that you will make toward your horses’ safety and facility longevity. This is why we design and build equipment that fits seamlessly into your lifestyle.
When you work with our team, we will work to understand your needs as the horse owner, your facility’s environment, and your horses’ needs. We will then recommend options that are best suited for your project. In addition to clients, we strive to provide architects, builders, and designers with the knowledge, technical drawings, and customer service needed to ensure success for your project. Our mission is to build the most elegant and safe equine products while delivering world class customer service. Our equipment is designed for horse people by horse people.