'Tis the Season

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Dear Trainer,

I see that some—but not all—of your clients have been very, very good this year: on time for lessons and with their payments, neat and tidy in the barn, and supportive of each other and of you. Suddenly, it’s “that time” again. Here are a few ideas for those of you who need a little help with client presents for the holidays.

Checking It Twice

A free lesson goes a long way toward spreading a good vibe about your business, because only a small percentage of trainers actually give this valuable present. This is a gift of time, and is especially good for those trainers who need gifts in the low to mid price range.

In other categories, consider using barn colors and monogramming for subtle, savvy self-promotion and a sense of “barn togetherness.” Let’s start with stuff for horses. Coolers and fly scrims are always huge favorites—at the top of the line, of course. Saddle pads win raves too: Regular pads from Dover’s Riders’ International, Roma and Ovation are in that lower price range. Cotton or poly blends in new colors are big for ’08, made in muted plaids and pastels, or with “ribboned” or patterned borders or piping. Thinner “baby pads” are even less expensive and still a great choice to keep laundry to a minimum; try Equine Couture’s line from SmartPak. Polo wraps are always welcome and economical.

Back to more basics, a rider can never have enough brushes, shampoos, hoof or coat polish; maybe not terribly creative, but always necessary. And you can personalize some of these gifts by writing each client’s name on the back of the brush, for example. Lead ropes in your barn colors mean everyone’s is the same: No more “borrowing” another client’s rope. Of course, a nylon halter is a useful gift; schooling crops won’t break your bank, either. Those barn logos go far on jackets if you want to splurge on these higher-end items: three-season jackets or waterproof, lightweight models for summer, and vests for between-season climate changes. Sweat shirts and polo shirts are perennial favorites, as are barn hats to hide dreaded helmet head. For the wrists of younger clients, consider monogrammed leather bracelets.

Smaller items that are always practical, and can bear your message, include backpacks, tote bags, sports bottles, bottle openers, towels, coasters, travel coffee mugs for early morning shows, notebooks, calculators, tack totes, license plates and miniature screw driver sets (your logo on the holder.) On the Internet, Google the keywords “promotional gifts” and prepare to be amazed at the selection of useful items that can be personalized.

Crafting Creativity

Feeling creative??Make a big custom calendar with photos you’ve taken of clients during the year and print your 2008 horse show dates on it. Or take one great photo of each client and his or her horse and enclose it in a frame engraved with the barn name and year. Speaking of engraving, why not do stall nameplates, or bridle and saddle tags for each client? Barn-colored, logo’d boot, bridle, saddle and clothing bags are sure-fire ways to say, “thanks for a terrific year.”

One special gift we’ve seen was a ceramic box with horse pictures hand-painted on the lid. Check your local craft stores for those boxes, and while in the store, ask employees what other artsy, personalized options might work with “recycled” barn items. A visitor to one popular equestrian Web forum received a holiday wreath made of pony shoes welded together, with a hunt horn and ribbon hanging in the middle. Another covets her hand-painted dog dish—which would work equally well for cats—with her horse’s face a reminder that size does matter when it comes to living at home.

Yum: Not a new idea, but we humans will always love Dark Horse Chocolates by Harbor Sweets in standard jumper, dressage or pony shapes. They’re pricier but make a statement with your customized barn logo. Horses can’t get enough of equine treats, especially since now, the selection is not only good tasting but good for them, too: Stud MuffinS, Pink Pony Bakery and PetaFour Bakery are three to try. Amaze your clients by baking your own, and include the recipe nicely printed and enclosed with your baked goods.

Tack Shop Resources

We visited the International Equine Business Alliance EXPO in Richmond, Va., in August and saw lots of items in all gifting price ranges. Tack stores will have many in stock or will order. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What’s new for the holidays?” and let them provide appropriate gift suggestions, like these, that run the gamut—like your clients—from whimsical to practical. All noted here are low to medium in price.

For the very younger set, manufacturers are delivering lovely colors and innovative designs that are miles away from standard conservative looks. Ask your retailer to show you Perri’s Leather Pony Palooza line, with Perriwinkle umbrella, Wellies and grooming box. In the same youth category, Lami-Cell and its “Jack Lami” dog designs are adorable, with ear nets, pads, polo wraps and brushes, colorful and festive. A superb all-in-one grooming gift is Tail Tamer’s Bath Gift Set. Also for your young ones, Bella Sara trading cards include codes that girls can use to access horses on the company’s website for “grooming, dressage, and exploring.”

Summer is months away, but new Cool Medics products with hard-hat liners, scarves, head, wrist and neckbands will be in hot demand when the mercury rises. Ponyline Fashions’ glitter T-shirts and hologram snowflake horse patterns take bling to new heights, while LILO Collections makes super accessories for horse-lovers, like gorgeous sterling inlaid key chains and snaffle-bit napkin rings. Stylish knee-highs make the rounds over breech bottoms: Check out Royal Highness designs with 35 styles that are sure to please.

Decorative browbands are cool for jumpers and other disciplines. For dressage, saddleseat or baroque riders, Huszar Hungarian headstalls, belts and dog products are creating an industry buzz. Cashel Company makes a new trailer-door caddy for holding everything you need to show, and from Dos Equine LLC, a “whip clip” keeps you from dropping that crop, as you attach to your boot. Riders don’t need to smell like their horses, so Nuzzle fragrance is here to help; the company’s lipgloss, also manufactured with “the scent of unbridled compassion,” helps equines in need, with a portion of proceeds donated to HabitatforHorses.org. For the elegantly decorated horsey home, AWST International and its Hit the Hay sheets, bedding and towels bring a soft sense of barn life inside for those who live the equine life 24/7.

Hope these suggestions, sent with good wishes from the North Pole, end your 2007 on the right gift notes.