For Ruthann Smith of Lucky Braids and Top Turnout Inc., braiding isn't just another frustrating item on a pre-show checklist, but the gateway to a holistic approach to horse care that begins with beautiful braids and ends with a happier, healthier, more relaxed horse-and-rider team.
Smith, who began braiding at age 8 and has since braided more than 12,000 manes for world-class competitors, says that while Lucky Braids began as just a braiding system, her mission now is "to give horses better lives through education and by sharing best care practices and streamline grooming product systems.... The brand name is from my roots, but the clinics and coat care products are for all disciplines, breeds and levels of competitiveness."
Through her second company, Top Turnout Inc., Smith sells an integrated line of coat-care products, instructional braiding videos, tools and yarns. Her video, she says, is "the only how-to braiding video that teaches a tried-and-true formula for beautiful braids quickly and without cramped hands." And while she faced complicated logistics filming the video, Smith decided not to skimp on the production, hiring a crew of eight top professionals from Miami, Florida. "Most videos in this industry are very, very low quality," she notes.
Although Smith began her career working as a braider, she's also studied psychology, sociology and anthropology, and spent many years in the film and television industries. Back when she decided to jump from horses to television, she had trouble finding someone competent enough at braiding to take over the accounts that had become so dear to her, so she started teaching braiding clinics.
Over the course of several sessions, Smith learned "not only how needlessly stressed out people were about braiding, but also that the care, handling and safety practices standard among top horsemen have not been passed to the masses." Not one to sit idly by (Smith says she has a habit of "hurling" herself into uncharted territory) she set out to do something about it, and a new business, Lucky Braids by Ruthann, was born. Top Turnout Inc., she says, is about caring for the "whole horse." All of Smith's clinics, videos and products are dedicated to what she describes as "holistic braiding," a system through which the horse and rider can deepen their connection through the rhythm and intimacy of both grooming and braiding.
With so much time spent tending to horses' grooming needs, Smith also was in a unique position to develop products that could address specific mane, tail and coat needs and problems common to all horses.
"No vet or manufacturer had their hands in horses' hair for 18 hours a day for decades on end," says Smith. "I knew what the issues were and worked with a holistic vet to develop the products that solve far more than I ever anticipated."
And, as everyone who's ever braided a mane knows, a big challenge is finding the right yarn type. "Brands braiders used to use had changed their production processes, so it became essentially impossible to find the quality yarn I needed to braid well," says Smith, "So I set out to solve the problem. Lucky Braids Yarn is strong and stretches to make tiny knots that sit tight to the neck. With this yarn and my formula, anyone can learn to achieve the perfectly clean and uniform bottom line of the braids."
With a number of new products and educational courses in the works, Smith is hoping that Top Turnout Inc. will become something even bigger than she ever could've imagined. "I want to be like Martha [Stewart]. Take something mundane, such as grooming, and make it more fashionable and accessible to the masses.".