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Creek business goes worldwide with running shoes for horses

Hoof Boots
hoof boots
Carole Herder, founder of Cavallo Horse & Rider.

Horses’ hooves have been clad in metal shoes for millennia, and Carole Herder is trying to change that with her Roberts Creek hoof boot business.

“What I recognized is that nailing metal shoes onto horses’ feet is not really a good deal for them, even though we’ve been doing it for 1,500 years,” Herder said.

The Roberts Creek entrepreneur launched Cavallo Horse & Rider in 1994, introducing the hoof boot as an alternative to traditional horseshoes, which she said are restrictive to the physiological process of bearing weight and absorbing shock.  “Just looking at the running shoes, I thought, why can’t we have Nikes for horses, too?”

The grassroots business is now international, with tens of thousands of boots sold each year in more than 25 countries. The company also sells the boots online, and through Cavalier Equestrian, a wholesale distributor based in Stratford, Ont.

She said her business is a niche within a niche, but this winter Cavallo received more mainstream attention when a video featuring the boots went viral.

In December, hoof boot advocate and outdoor adventurer Emma Massingale produced a Christmas-themed video in which her two miniature horses exchange hoof boot presents. The video garnered more than one million views in three weeks.

“We couldn’t believe it. We just kept looking at the numbers piling up,” Herder said. The video also led to an increase in sales.

Herder’s staff includes a team of five full-time employees in Roberts Creek, and one of their duties is to use social media to connect with horseback riders and industry stakeholders, many of whom she said were initially resistant to change, especially farriers.

“We don’t want to sell a product so much as build a community that will engage with us so that we can teach them,” Herder said, which is why they avoid commercials and provide more instructional videos that bring a “warm fuzzy feeling.” She also had success with her self-published book, There Are No Horseshoes in Heaven, which promotes horse health.

Cavallo embraces social media now, but Herder said that hasn’t always been the case. Before 2010 she eschewed the platforms because many clients were rural and older, making it more difficult to connect via social networks. Herder also feared that by putting the brand directly to customers on platforms like Facebook, the business would compete with the tack shops selling Cavallo products.

But that didn’t happen. “The next thing you know the tack stores were selling more,” Herder said.

Her advice for other local businesses interested in getting online is similar to Nike’s famous tagline: “Just start. Get going. Get your feet wet… The best way to learn is by doing. You don’t have to be big to start, you just have to do it.”