Fred Erik Nilsen (on left), who is Vice President North America for Horze, stands inside the Horze booth at the American Equestrian Trade Association's International Trade Fair in Oaks, Pennsylvania on August 16th. A small portion of the runway (a blue ribbon on the far right is attached to it) can be seen where Horze staged fashion shows three times a day during the three-day event.


If you have ever been to an equestrian-related flea market on the one end or something like the Equine Affaire at the other end, you know that horse people will set up their products in a booth at one of these events and passersby will stop to see what is for sale. Some booths are wall-to-wall people. During peak operating hours the scene becomes a chaotic one, with shoppers frantically trying to visit as many vendors as possible in a short time.

The American Equestrian Trade Association (AETA) held their yearly International Trade Fair at the Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania August 14th through 16th, which visually resembled an equine affaire-style gathering but without hoards of people. This is because the AETA International is not open to the general public, with primarily Manufacturers and Retailers taking up the majority of the booths. "Uniting Equestrian Trade" appears on the official AETA business cards, which somes up exactly what goes on at an AETA event. The goal is to match the products of Wholesalers to Retailers who in turn sell to the general public. Those fresh out of school looking to set up their own lines or to market a horse-related product of their creation would be wise to seek out the AETA and set up shop at a future fair.

Over 250 exhibitors set up shop in the expo center, with perhaps 75 of them new to the event. According to several in attendance the turnout was better than one year earlier, as an entire room which had not been in service last August housed most of the well-known industry wholesalers. Just as a Toys-R-Us will put essentials like diapers in the back of their stores so that young children will plead with their parents for a toy found along the way, the AETA put many of top wholesalers in the industry in the back so attendees had to travel past 99 percent of the vendors to get there. Once someone had reached the back area they found the largest booths in the entire complex.

"They put us in the back this year with Ariat," said Tim Bird, Sales and Marketing Manager for JPC Equestrian. "Everyone wants to see the major players in the industry." On their website JPC claims to be 'the world's largest manufacturer of popular, affordable and innovative rider apparel.' Many know JCP through such product lines as Tuff Rider and Equine Couture. JPC had one of the five largest booths and were in fact next door to an equally-large Ariat booth.

In the back along with the likes of JPC and Ariat was a line by the name of "Horze." A sign in front of their booth indicated they put on three fashion shows a day (the Horze booth had the only 'runway' for modeling purposes we saw at the event) while inside one could find everything from blankets to britches to bridles. "The company that owns Horze has been around since 1982," said Fred Erik Nilsen, the Vice President North America for Horze. "We are a leading Manufacturer in Europe. We started in the USA in 2007." A quick look at their Winter 2010/11 catalog shows Horze will certainly set trends regarding jackets, boots and even socks. Expect to see their catch phrase 'Horze - It's a lifestyle' in print and display ads as the company grows in the US.

Sales Manager Jamie Millard (seated on left) and Owner Ben Inman (on right) threw us for a loop when they explained that although the company name is Dakota Saddlery they are headquartered in Alabama.

While some vendors had large booths with an array of product, others either had small booths with several items (think coats, jewelry, hats) or, like Dakota Saddlery, one medium-sized booth with only one specific product. Dakota Saddlery makes and markets one item - Western Saddles. Owner Ben Inman and Sales Manager Jamie Millard had a large selection of saddles on display. In business for over 20 years, Dakota Saddlery is not based in the Dakotas but rather the much warmer climate of Alabama. When conducting a few internet searches for this story this writer was impressed that everyone who commented on message boards for other equestrian-related sites had nothing but praise for Dakota Saddlery saddles. It is rare not to find someone who is upset, but regarding Dakota Saddlery their customers seem to be completely satisfied.

It was litterally a maze to navigate the expo center, with many of the aisles varying in length. In some cases a display could really make your eyes pop, but if you did not stop to visit at that moment you might have trouble finding your way back! At one point we saw a saddlepad display with a color spectrum not unlike a box of 64 crayola crayons!! After getting distracted we had to 'circle the block' so to speak several times before finding this display again. It turned out to be a display of Toklat Originals. On their official website Toklat states they are a 'premier resource for all equestrian needs' and that they are a 'distributor and manufacturer of tack and apparel for today's rider.' While it was their saddlepad display that caught our eye, Toklat senior vice president and chief operating officer Rick Mreen pointed out that several adjacent booths contained other Toklat lines. "'Silverleaf' is a new bridle line," said Mreen, who pointed to the bridle display. "Bucas horse apparel is also relatively new. We have distributed Bucas for two years." Irideon Riding Wear, another of Toklat's interests, had two women working in their booth who were wearing Irideon britches.

It was not uncommon to see a vendor wearing his or her clothing product for promotional purposes. Such was also the case at the booth for Arista Equestrian and Horse Manuwear (a large banner for the latter caught our attention thanks to the catchy name). Frann MacLean, the Managing Director of both Arista and Horse Manuwear, and Catherine Murray, who works for both as well wore their britches and half chaps to better capture the feel of the product (after visiting the Arista web site -, it appears MacLean was wearing their 'Modern Competitor' jacket). Apparently both received strange looks when they went to dinner dressed this way on Sunday evening. MacLean and Murray traveled to the Expo Center from the town of Saanichtan, British Columbia, not far from Victoria and Vancouver.

The event was definitely international, as many vendors were from outside the United States. In some cases a company has U.S. offices but is owned by someone in another country. In the case of La Mundial the company is based in the South American nation of Ecuador. Since 1906 La Mundial has made riding boots by hand. "This is an artist's work," said Roberto Rivas, who owns La Mundial. "It is difficult to find this around the world." Greg Carmack, who sent some old machinery from the U.S. to Rivas has brought on board several western boots to compliment the english styles La Mundial has been noted for. Rivas and Carmack maintained the La Mundial booth, which was adorned with both english and western boots. Rivas stated that 35 people make the boots in Equador. These 35 individuals will no doubt be busy as many individuals (some who work for retailers and perhaps those who work for other manufacturers) kept Rivas busy as he measured them for their own pairs of custom boots.

Roberto Rivas (on left) owns La Mundial, whose motto is "Craft quality footwear by hand and made to order." Though the Ecuador-based company has made english boots for over a century, Greg Carmack (on right) is involved with their recently-introduced western styles.

Though we visited the fair on the third and final day (a Monday), two vendors told us it had been much busier the previous two days, with many retailers lining up to place orders with wholesalers at that time. Though vendors such as Rivas at the La Mundial booth had their share of visitors with a personal interest in the product, most visits were by a business looking to order product. In some cases visits between the booths were to forge a business relationship. Some booths were busier than others. One booth was so busy every time we went to visit that we were unable to talk to one of their representatives. Though they had a display made up only of several pairs of britches, several jackets and a few photos of models in their apparel, the representative from Kentucky Riding and Fashion Wear had such a consistant line of retailers placing orders that we were unable to talk to her. Kentucky Riding and Fashion Wear was blessed with a good location in the Expo Center (straight down from the main entrance on the way to the back) and a very attractive display. Their product likely appeals to young women (though women of all ages would be fashionable in their apparel). The Kentucky display proved it isn't necessarily quantity but quality and style that produce sales.

Considering how large the event was it is hard to believe that the AETA was only formed a little over three years ago. A quick count of the personel that attended on behalf of each exhibitor (found in the back of the AETA Directory distributed at the fair) indicates that over 1,000 people were on hand to man the booths. Managed by Hopper Expositions, inc, the next American Equestrian Trade Association event will be January 29-31, 2011 at the same Expo Center in Oaks (a western suburb in the Philadelphia area). Yet another event will take place nearly a year after the one that just ended, on August 13-15. This writer cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of an event like this one for touting a product or line of apparel in the horse business. Even if you are not looking to market your own product the AETA International fair is a great place to learn about the industry if you happen to be working for one of the exhibitors.

"Last night we went out to dinner dressed like this," said Frann MacLean (on right), Managing Director of both Arista Equestrian and Horse Manuwear. MacLean and Catherine Murray (on left) came all the way from British Columbia to model their line (and their half-chaps) within the Arista and Horse Manuwear booth.

(Our thanks to Ginger Estepp of Hopper Expositions, inc. for granting us permission to cover the event; To Lua Oas Southard of Equine Resources International for offering to answer our questions on the AETA and its history; To Richard Luckhardt, Head Coach of the Connecticut College IHSA team attending with one of the vendors, who provided useful information on past AETA events; To Fred Erik Nissen at Horze, Tim Bird at JPC, Roberto Rivas and Greg Carmack at La Mundial, Ben Inman and Jamie Millard at Dakota Saddlery, inc, Rick Mreen at Toklat and both Frann MacLean and Catherine Murray at Arista and Horse Manuwear for their willingness to talk with us. For more information on the American Equestrian Trade Association, please visit their web site at - Editor.)

---Steve Maxwell


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