It's widely known in the equestrian world that horsemanship skills and horse sense in a business context don't always go together. They do at Whillans Equine, where 24-year-old hunter/jumper trainer and barn owner Emma Whillan's clear vision for every aspect her new training and boarding facility has led to a remarkable first year.
Whillans Equine opened for business July 1 of 2019, in the Wellington, Florida area's Loxahatchee. Emma's idea was top notch care and training in a family-friendly environment and its realization resulted in the quick filling of her now 24 stalls.
Emma has been planning the barn most of her life. She kept a notebook of what she liked and didn't like in stables as a junior competitor and working student at several top programs.
Starting from scratch with five acres of former nursery, Emma put flooring first in prioritizing her budget. She knew what she didn't want: traditional stall mats. These provide little cushion for the horse and are a heavyweight hassle when they and whatever they're laid on top of need to be cleaned and aired out because of urine seepage and accumulation.
ComfortStall Orthopedic Sealed Flooring was exactly the flooring Emma imagined, even before she knew it existed. The multi-layer system functions as a single-piece thanks to a durable rubber top cover that is sealed to the stall walls with HDPE anchor strips. Under that is proprietary foam that provides give, cushion and energy return. Emma made an initial investment in 16 ComfortStalls and recently added another eight.
The flooring is a convincing selling point for prospective boarders, letting them feel with their own two feet the commitment Whillans Equine has made to their horses' well-being. Most important, the flooring is helping the horses, exceeding Emma's already high expectations at the outset of her barn and business building adventure.
"I am so lucky to have it in my first barn," she says. "I knew that flooring was something I could not cut corners on and I was right. We've actually had some miracle stories with some of our horses, and all of them are way better thanks to this flooring."
This is Cushy!
Tamara Ploskunak is one of those to bear out Emma's prediction that ComfortStall would impress prospective boarders. Shopping for a new home for her Andalusian mare, Rabina, Tamara saw stables that had dirt stall floors and others with rubber mats over concrete. "Oh, this is just bad," she thought. Then, "Wow! This is cushy. I could do gymnastics on this!" when she visited Whillans Equine.
Tamara purchased Rabina a year ago knowing the mare had some mild fetlock issues, most likely arthritis related. "I figured if that was the only problem, I wasn't going to worry." She accepted that joint injections might be a near-future reality to keep Rabina comfortable in her dressage work. After being at Whillans Equine for just a few weeks, "She was sound as a board," Tamara states. "I think the way the flooring takes the pressure off her legs is really helping her."
Rabina's general response on ComfortStall has been "amazing," the owner adds. "At first, I freaked out because she was always lying down when I came to see her. But now I realize it's because she is comfortable lying down and I know it's the flooring. In the past, she used to be fidgety in her stall. She used to pace and weave a little. She doesn't do that anymore. It is such a relief to know that she is comfortable."
Corey, a 17.2hh show jumper, is another ComfortStall fan, as is his owner and farrier. The 12-year-old Holsteiner has an issue with thinning bursa, the sac of fluid that helps lubricate joint function. "His navicular bursa was pretty beat up," explains farrier David Bustamante. It never manifested in actual lameness, but rather as occasional tenderfootedness, especially when first coming out of his stall each day. That's disappeared since Corey moved onto ComfortStall.
David had cared for Corey when he was stabled elsewhere. The first shoeing after moving to Whillans Equine, David didn't notice a difference in the jumper's hooves. After the second shoeing, four weeks later, "I told his owner, I really like his feet." Because Corey's nutrition and exercise routine had stayed the same, the farrier attributed the improvement to the flooring.
"But why?" he wondered. "I believe it's because this flooring allows the feet to articulate in whatever way they want to. The hoof is not set at a certain angle because it's on a hard surface. It allows give and take and for the bony structures of the foot to go where they want to go."
Corey and his junior rider, Victoria Craig, did well at the 1.1M and 1.15M jumper division at Wellington's Winter Equestrian Festival this year. They are confident about moving up now that his condition is so well managed.
The "big boy" also seems to be getting more rest. "He didn't used to lie down that much before, but now he is really comfortable doing so," observes Pat Craig, Victoria's mother.
Easing Pregnancy Problems
Breeding is a new adventure for Emma, and for her former Junior Jumper mare, Delfine 3. As usual, the stable owner approached the task with extensive research and inquiries.
Ample bedding was advised for the mare's comfort throughout her pregnancy. Emma was happy to already have that detail covered with ComfortStall's orthopedic foam.
The eight ComfortStalls Emma added to the original 16 include two stalls adapted into a 12' by 24' foaling stall. "I knew I wanted the ability to un-divide two stalls to make one foaling stall, and I'm so glad I thought of that in advance." The ComfortStall top cover is normally installed so that it extends a few inches up each wall, to which it is sealed with HDPE anchor strips. A modification to accommodate the removable stall divider was easy to devise, Emma says.
Because Delfine is a first-time mom, Emma removed the mare's shoes. A maiden mare is more likely to accidently step on her foal in the early days. That advice made sense, but Emma worried that carrying an extra 200 pounds on unshod feet would be rough for a show horse that had worn shoes for 12 years. "I pulled her hind shoes first," Emma explains. "On regular barn aisle mats, she was a little ouchy, but in her stall, she was completely fine."
Pregnancy usually brings swollen legs from restricted circulation, but that was another non-issue for Delfine. The constant, tiny muscle movements that occur while standing on ComfortStall prompt proprioception that improves joint health, whether pregnant or not. As a result, Delfine has not suffered the usual lower leg stocking up.
ComfortStall requires only enough bedding to absorb urine and it prevents urine seepage that creates unhealthy barn air and requires regular, heavy-duty cleaning. For those reasons alone, it substantially lowers bedding and labor costs, often paying for itself in less than a year. Less bedding in means less soiled bedding out, making ComfortStall an environmentally friendly choice, too.
At Whillans Equine, Emma is most impressed by how far beyond the bottom line the benefits extend. Most of all, seeing her own and her clients' horses at ease in their stalls and in their bodies is the best dividend for this forward-thinking barn builder and business owner.
Press release by Kim F Miller - Haygain News