I was speaking to Adolfo Cambiaso’s groom today on the phone, and he asked how we had got Adolfo to use our products, as he is pretty impossible to contact and even harder to convince! It lead me to explain our story to him, and I realised that it would be nice for others to hear it too!
One of my horses, Tia, had a bad reaction to some light weight neoprene brushing boots that I had put on her for turn out into a new herd, as I was afraid that she would hurt her legs. Her legs swelled, and she developed sores on her skin. I never used boots again as a result, as despite searching for something breathable and light, I found nothing. Most breathable boots had neoprene or foam linings with holes in them, and plastic coverings, that I knew were not giving enough access to air flow for the leg.
While on maternity leave with my second child I decided to look into making the horse boot that I had imagined in my mind after having seen and been exposed to new technical materials. I remember saying to my husband that if they were a success, and I ended up selling them, that as long as I could make enough money to pay the bills I would be happy.
My history is in the pharmaceutical industry, working as an international marketing manager for many medications for 14 years. I’ve always had a passion for producing solutions for health issues, and had been governed by the rules of Pharmaceutical governing bodies that claims could not be made without work to prove it. So this was my approach with the boots. I needed to prove to myself, if not anyone else, that these boots did what I wanted them to do, as it was not about the money for me, it was the sense of achievement. I wanted to make a change to traditions and old ways of thinking, that was my goal, and that’s what gave me drive and motivation, and still does to this day.
I had never created my own business before, I knew about budgets, product development, marketing through my previous roles, but this was a whole new ball game!
To cut a long story short I found a manufacturer, I registered my designs, and I had the products made, and I tested them on numerous occasions to be sure that they worked. I started promoting over Facebook and Twitter, as I was unable to get out and about due to nursing a newborn baby! Within a few months I was contacted by two polo players, who subsequently used the boots. I knew nothing about polo, but I watched, listened, asked questions, and took the time to learn about the horses, and understand their needs. I was gaining some ground in the polo community, and a competitor then stole both players with a huge sponsorship deal, with a clause that they could not use my boots anymore. I was devastated, but my husband told me then that this meant that I was making traction. I could not, and still could not understand the scale of the impact that these boots had made as I spent most of my time behind a computer screen or looking after children!
I then had a phone call to tell me that the Argentinians wanted to meet me! I was given a name and an address, I handed the children over to my parents and I nervously drove to the venue. I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, I didn’t really know what they wanted from me or the boots either! I arrived at the yard, it was busy with horses to ing and fro ing, people everywhere mucking out, delivering hay, farriers, vets. But it was very calm, relaxed, the horses were very happy, and immediately I warmed to the atmosphere. An older man in jeans with trainers came to greet me with a big, welcoming smile, little did I know that he was going to change my world forever!
This man was an international polo vet, a vet for all the big teams in Argentina and travelled around the world with them, Dr Jorge Mac Donough. He was also the father of two of the best players in the world. He offered me Argentinian tea, Matte, and we sat and talked for hours. He told me about his favourite mare who broke her leg, and how he had a prosthetic leg made for her. He showed me pictures and videos of her progress as she healed, he loved his horses so much. He told me that he had spent most of his career trying to change the norm from bandages to boots, due to his ongoing research. If anyone knew Jorge, they knew that he constantly searched for the ultimate boot, aligned to his research:
He described his ideal boot to look like a honey comb cage, and as I pulled the boots from my bag his eyes widened in astonishment. He couldn’t believe what he saw, they were exactly as he had imagined! And was amazed at the fact that someone with little idea for business had made it, just a girl with an idea.
We worked for 3 years together, myself, Jorge, his sons Pablo and Matias, and his nephew Jaso, to evolve the boots, and make them ready for war, or polo should I say! I travelled to Argentina, Spain, France, Dubai, and all over the UK to name a few places to trial the boots with Pablo in particular. We had many ups and downs, moments when we thought we had made it and then parts failed, and then we were hit with terrible news. Whilst we were in Dubai celebrating the win of the Gold Cup for Pablo, paradoxically, Jorge had passed away from a polo accident. The news was crushing, we were so close to producing our’s and Jorge’s vision, but we hadn’t completed it fast enough for him to see his life’s work complete. I wondered if Pablo in particular would ever play polo again, or have the love for it that he once had.
We met a few months later in Spain to decide our next steps if any. And we decided that we needed to complete in honour of Jorge, it was what he would have wanted. In fact his nephew, Jaso, was with Jorge the day before he passed away, and one of the things that he said was that we had to get on with these HUSK boots! So we pushed harder than ever to make it happen. The final boots were named in honour of Jorge, after his stud and polo team, La Irenita, and were released at the Argentine Open in 2018. It was at that point that we carried out even more work to demonstrate the thermoregulating properties of the boots, alongside the vets and grooms.
Since then we have been approached by many of the top players to use the boots, to make my dream of changing old ways come true, and also to make mine and Jorge’s dream of giving better health to horses through our leg protection. One of the players being Adolfo Cambiaso – many call the King of polo. These players know every inch of their horses, they are not just vehicles to their game, they are partners, part of their team, and they care deeply for them. I remember in Spain, Pablo’s vet Ruzza saying that they start the day at 4am. They exercise all of the horses each day, and Ruzza sits with binoculars and a note pad, taking note of every fine detail of each horse’s way of going that day to be sure that they are in good physical health. The grooms and players meet and are updated every day on the vet’s findings. The horse is the centre of everyone’s attention at all times, and therefore paramount that they have the most efficacious leg protection on every level.
Every day I pinch myself as to what is happening. The people that we work with are so kind and above all deeply passionate about what we do, which is an honour, and drives us forward. I am still very much involved in the business as I feel so very responsible for making sure that we don’t forget where we came from and why we started. In fact our whole family is involved from kids to grand parents, often all travelling together to support one another, which is wonderful!
I continue to test the boots for thermoregulating ability and impact protection to remind myself, if not everyone else, that these boots are pretty special, and extremely unique. They are not off the shelf with a little branding on them and a few tweaks for personalisation, they are not mass produced, they are ethically made, the patterns sit with us and belong to us, and the boots are now hand made here in UK to enable us to oversee production, as we cannot afford to make the finest of mistakes as so many horses rely on our boots to protect them.
So there it is, my story, HUSK’s story……and it all began with an idea for one horse whilst on maternity leave!