doesn’t ride horses but she talks horses all day long. All her clients
are horse people. At work, she is surrounded by the unique tack and clothes
that only horse people understand. Her extensive library of catalogues can
put one in touch with every single item, no matter how minute or specific,
that a horse person could imagine. Three out of every four weekends she lives,
eats and breathes horse shows. What does she do? She operates a mobile tack
shop called Bridle Suite of Texas, specializing in English tack and paraphernalia.
In 1998 her sister, Mary Anne Caruis, convinced Christine to begin selling tack down in Texas. Mary Anne already had a similar business up and running in her home state of Illinois. Christine decided to give it a try and set up shop out of the back of a Dodge Dakota truck. She’d arrange for vendor space at horse shows, mostly in the Central Texas area, and would arrange her wares under any “piece of roof I could find,” she said. For the first time she set up at the Rose Palace in Boerne, she was amazed to realize she was sandwiched in between gigantic rigs of other more established tack vendors.
“Yes,” she said with a laugh, “if you walked down vendor row that year you would see big trailer, big trailer, big trailer, and then there was me with my table and pad rack and a four-prong and then another big trailer, big trailer and so on.” A four-prong, for those not in the retail business, is a display rack used to showcase clothes hung on hangers.
It turned out it was cold that year at the show. Competitors and the other vendors noticed how cold she was and brought her extra horse blankets to help her stay warm.
Christine, a tall, leggy red head who looks like she’d be at home in New York’s high end urban market, has an easy way about her and does not believe in being pushy to her customers. By now, she has built up a lot of return customers, a fact I can testify to as I was able to work side-by-side with her at the Region 9 Dressage Championships held in early November at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy. To research this story, I decided to live, eat, and breathe the life she lives as a mobile tack seller that particular weekend and functioned as her helper-clerk.
“It’s physically demanding,” she explained. “It takes me three hours to set up at a show. Everything breaks down and I have to pack and unpack all the items for every show.” She can fold, put up, unhook, every one of her many display racks and tables. This means she has to put all her wares in boxes before hitching up her large gooseneck trailer to the back of her taupe Chevrolet 2500 truck. And it also takes her about three hours to load up to go to a show, unless it’s a small show, then she only has to take two hours to load. “But I love my horse people. They are so much more fun than dealing with the general public.” Christine should know. She spent many years in the merchandising trade working for a large retail chain. Today, her Bridle Suite business is just one job she has, a part time one that mostly functions on weekends. She has another, complementary job, that allows her just enough flex to make the two jobs work.
The day after any show, she returns to her home in Round Rock, Texas, and has to ship out any orders that customers requested, put up her wares and park her large trailer at its special storage site as well as do the paperwork. She has a twelve-year-old son, Christopher, who waits patiently at home with her husband, Pat, holding down the fort. Once she asked her son if he misses her while she’s gone. He paused and answered her, “I only miss you on he weekdays, mom,” he said. “I’m used to you being gone on the weekends.”
Christine has another helper she takes to every show and many of her customers know her helper’s name more often than they even know her name. That “helper” is her nine-year-old blonde Corgi dog, Cider, who stays with her at each show. Cider usually lies in the entrance of her step-up to her trailer, watching the parade of competitors walk by. From her vantage point, she can also often see the action in the warm up and sometimes the show rings. Cider probably knows more about hunter/jumper and dressage than many humans after all the exposure she’s gotten from attending so many horse shows. Christine, though, is usually so busy writing up tickets and keeping her stock organized and tagged, that she does not have an opportunity to be so leisurely. In fact, I mentioned that it was as though I was working in a candy store. I found myself encircled with horse “stuff” and couldn’t resist the temptation to purchase a few items that weekend. Of course I wasn’t the only one. She sold several thousands of dollars while at the show. And she mentioned that she had done extremely well when she ventured to the World Cup World Finals in Las Vegas this past April and operated as a vendor there.
The job is not without its headaches. Usually Christine spends her entire weekend on the show grounds and lives a life that is a bit like camping out. She keeps a cooler stocked with refreshments and only leaves the grounds in the evenings after things have shut down, to eat dinner at a restaurant nearby, if there is one. Christine constantly has to pull out her feather duster and broom to spiff up her displays. She makes it a practice not to put her show jackets outside of the trailer to keep them pristine, but lets the customers view and try those on inside. And the paper work can be intense. She has to charge different rates of sales tax at just about every location as it differs from county to county, city to city. At the drop of a hat she often has to pull out her tape measure.
“Does this browband fit a warmblood?” clients would ask as they lovingly pulled out one of the many she had for sale for $16.
“Let me see,” she’d offer. “Yes, it’s sixteen inches long. That should do it.” I learned that 14 inches meant cob size and 15 inches was horse size which was also called “full size.”
She allows customers to run a tab over the weekend and usually experiences a “rush” in sales on the last day as competitors dash in to settle up with her, sometimes forming a line so they can pay up. But the traffic through her trailer is constant throughout the shows, with clients touching, looking, and trying on her many items. If someone needs a whip or spurs that morning, she allows them to dash and go.
Each year, if they can afford to do so, she or her sister attend the huge annual trade show, The Stanley International Western and English Marketplace, that is designed precisely for folks in their line of business. “It used to be in King of Prussia,” Christine explained. “Now it’s held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, twice a year.” They stay abreast of the current fashions and trends, a fact I could tell her clients appreciated. The entire weekend consisted of names like “Ovation, Arista, Dansko” being bantered about. The language is precise. A dressage whip can only be 43 inches long if it is used in the show ring. Clients wanted to know if a whip was “legal or not.” She had even had piaffe whips in two different colors.
“Look at this bridle,” one customer from Oklahoma remarked admiringly
“The jowl strap is laced in with the headstall, which means less pressure
on the poll.” Any “normal person” wouldn’t have a
clue what that customer was talking about. Christine did though, and could
further extol the virtues of the $145 black bridle with its padded cavesson
as she took down the customer’s order.
Christine Munoz of Bridle Suite of Texas, English Tack and Apparel, can be reached at (512) 218-9001, 1802 Aster Way, Round Rock, TX 78664. Her email address is none other than firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy shopping, y’all!
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