I recently reviewed a very cool product called The Equestrian Journal. This simple and yet indispensable tool has already lead me to quite a few “ahha!” observations with Spice and I just put in an order to refill my disk binder. Inspired as I am by this product, I decided that I needed to get to know founder and busy entrepreneur Catherine Respess a bit better and share her story with you! She’s a go-getter that’s for sure! If she doesn’t inspire you to get out there and go for it, then maybe having one of her journals will!
How did The Equestrian Journal come to be? What inspired you?
The idea came to mind after chatting with my business coach in November 2016. Dr. Heike could hear that I was feeling motivated to do more for my clients but frustrated that I didn’t have enough hours in each day. She gently pushed me to review what I was currently offering and take steps to develop a product.
I’ll admit I am a collector of journals, planners, and organizational systems. I have a secret LOVE for office and art supplies! So, unwittingly, I spent my life researching different journaling styles and techniques. As I child, I had several diaries (with that flimsy key and lock closure) and my mechanically inclined brother was always trying to pick the lock. If he ever got it open, he was likely disappointed to find farm design layouts, barn floor plans, and gushing about the welsh ponies who taught me so much: Firefly, Goblin, Dumplin, and Gondolier. This is an entry from elementary school that I have hanging in my office. The last part is my favorite, “ Take horse bake riding a lot. Paktis. Get horse crasey. Larn difcolt things.” That kid had it right!
My students inspired me to create a practice that guides motivated riders to capture more from each lesson and return to their next session prepared to pick up where they left off. Just like students in a classroom, creating a record of what you are learning and observing contributes powerfully to your development and understanding. I was also inspired by my own efforts while tracking the progress of the horses in my program.
In recent years, I was juggling time blocks on my Google calendar, a daily details business notebook, a personal journal, a gratitude journal, clinic notes in a moleskin, my weekly agenda planner and a loose-leaf half-page horse diagram (that often ended up misplaced) to record my training progress. That “system” was starting to drive me nuts.
The inspiration to create the journal came from so many places and with my experience in graphic design, I didn’t even question if I could do it, I just got to work. So the day after Thanksgiving I sat down with my laptop and my cat and I didn’t stop until I had the first version of The Equestrian Journal. I launched The Equestrian Journal in January 2017 at a Charles de Kunffy conference hosted by my trainer, JJ Tate. JJ is also a TEJ sponsored rider!
What makes The Equestrian Journal different than other products on the market?
There are a lot of great journals and planners out there for equestrians, but The Equestrian Journal is unique in the Monthly, Weekly, Daily perspective. No other journal provides questions appropriate for any level and discipline that guide equestrians to learn from themselves.
Do you have plans for new products in the line in the near future? Do you have any long term goals for your product line?
I will continue to design and release new pages as my “journalers” give me ideas for they need. Within the past week, I created the Lesson Page and Student Evaluation Pages. The Lesson Page is a two-page spread with a brand new rider diagram. One of the new guided questions was suggested by a trainer that I respect immensely, Susanne von Dietze. Soon I’ll be adding custom pens to the shop! My neighbor is a master craftsmen and we plan a line of writing implements made from upcycled barn wood and interesting equestrian bits/bobs cast in resin. I’m so excited!
I am in communication with an E-Ink tablet business regarding the development of The Equestrian Journal tablets that feel like you are writing on paper. You still get the experience of writing your notes and convenience of a digital file synced across all devices and be searchable. An investor would help it will come to fruition, and I am determined to find a way!
How did you develop your product?
I was already comfortable with journaling so when it came time to create the journal – I was really clear about what I wanted to include. I already had my diagram – I’d been using it for years. I knew I wanted for riders to plan ahead, note important details, push themselves to improve, visualize their sessions, and plan for the next step. My goal is to enhance the bond between horse and owner.
What is your professional background? Is The Equestrian Journal your day job? If not, what else do you do?
At age 16 as a working student for a dressage training and warmblood importation stable, I first combined horses and design when I learned how to create and maintain the business website. Ten years later, in 2008, I started a free-lance training businesses and website design, Red Mare Enterprises LLC.
For 6 years, I rode at private farms in the morning and I taught at a lesson facility in the afternoon. When it was too cold, wet, or hot to ride, the cat and I snuggled up to design websites, write content, edit images, create logos and advertisements. I designed for my fellow trainers, veterinarians, breeding facilities, lesson facilities, on and on. I’m so thankful that horses and design were always a natural fit for me.
In the past year, I’ve ventured into a few partnerships to create several new businesses inspired by the experience I gained operating Red Mare. Launched May 2017, Horse World Connect is an interactive, online directory that connects horse people to the products and services they need. A month later, I began to write a book with a fellow trainer and a former student and Equestrian Power is starting to grow legs! Our little project now has big plans to help riders optimize their mind, breath, body, and passion in order to bring their best to the horse.
This past month, I officially launched my Red Mare Training project, Healing Dressage. This represents an approach that I have been developing to help riders deepen the relationship with their horses and help horses release tension, regain normal musculature and posture, improve mood and manners, recover from lameness, return from retirement, and find joy in their work.
There is another “back burner” project that I can’t talk about just yet, but I can say I’m excited to contribute to preserving the legacy of a master.
Who can benefit from The Equestrian Journal?
Any rider who is motivated to capture more of the information they learn in their riding lessons, clinics, competitions or in those quiet moments alone with your horse. Regardless of ability, discipline, and competitiveness, this journal is for you.
Where do you see The Equestrian Journal brand in 5 years?
I love providing the journals to grant winners and I plan to do more for associations of ALL disciplines. Currently I’m working with Lendon Gray’s Dressage 4 Kids, The Dressage Foundation, and here in Atlanta – GDCTA and AYDC. I’m delighted to provide a resource to help grant recipients, embarking on an exciting training journey, capture every moment and develop their understanding. I am actively seeking more rider ambassadors for the product! If you are interested in sponsorship from the equestrian journal, please reach out.
I have big dreams about encouraging the thinking rider to develop their sensitivities to what the horse needs. I’ll surely need help with that, so we can expect to add staff and investors to the team at the Equestrian Journal! Fingers crossed the e-ink tablet will be for sale then!
What is your equine story? Do you ride/show?
I started riding at Welsh pony breeding facility when I was 3. The owners let me be a free range kid there and it was glorious. My parents would drop me off and from dawn to dusk I was playing with the ponies, trail riding alone, and watching the trainers work. Those wonderful ponies also took me to some of my first shows. After relocating with my family, I began taking lessons with a fox hunter. She gave her students the tools to be brazen in any situation – we even practiced falling techniques by jumping off, tucking, and rolling away. Again, it was a time when I hung out at the farm, helping the staff when I could (they gave me little water buckets to carry and a broom my size!), and eventually, I was picking up rides on more complicated horses.
In fifth grade, I had the honor to train with a true southern gentleman and an equitation master. He taught me to be poised and effective. Another move introduced me to my first dressage coach. She loved me like a daughter and I lived at that barn every weekend and holiday through middle school.
After another move, I began riding at the training and import facility. My trainer took me under her wing, and every weekend, holiday, and even all summer – I lived on the farm with my trainer and her family – learning everything I could about running a professional barn. She trusted me, modeled a strong work ethic, and pushed me to be better. When I turned 17, I transferred to the high school near the barn. I was able to arrange an internship at the stable for course credit. All I had to do was keep a journal of my training activities every single day! My life was waking up to feed and turnout, then I would go to high school at 7 am, take 1 class, and head back home to ride for the rest of the day. I was able to graduate early and join my trainer for a season in Wellington, Florida. I managed the barn, presented sale horses, showed at WEF, and met a few lifelong friends.
You won’t be surprised that I chose my college based on the proximity to the barn and I got lucky to attend Emory University. While there, I helped start the equestrian team and once we began competing, I was voted Captain. In 2004, I was 1st in the region, 2nd in the zone, and 10th in the nation on the flat in IHSA championships.
After college, I was really unsure what to do with myself. I took art classes to beef up my portfolio, I participated in the Career Discovery Program for Architecture at Harvard, and I took a bit of time to travel to Mexico, California, Alaska, Japan, Costa Rica and eventually I resettled in Atlanta. I got to know myself better while working a few jobs – office supply sales, assistant to a celebrity photographer, apprentice to Chef Heinz Sowinski, polo instructor, accidentally illegal auctioneer and even mortgage broker. During that time, the idea of Red Mare Enterprises began to form.
Which horses have been the most important in your life?
I actually have owned very few horses in my life, despite having ridden hundreds of horses, mostly because I had such generous trainers. These do stand out:
● Goblin – I wish I had video of those rides because I’m fairly sure he only cantered. He had my heart.
● Lenox – He was always my favorite in lessons, but we really bonded at an event where I was sharing him with a more experienced rider. Her division went first and Lenox bucked her off on the cross country course. When it was my turn to go, I just ignored what had happened and took my turn on the course. I won my first blue ribbon that day and it felt like I won the Olympics.
● Bugle Boy was the first horse that I was able to lease and break free from the typical weekly lesson schedule. He taught me to ride with finesse and become a thinking rider.
● Copperfield – In a year of many changes and my wonderful parents kept me grounded by buying Copper. He was the horse that introduced me to Dressage and he took care of me.
● Felicia – My first red mare. Felicia saved me from my teen angst, she sculpted me into a capable rider, and then she taught me about profound loss in 2000. The day she died in my arms after a freak pasture accident, her full sister, a matching chestnut with 4 white socks, was born on the same farm. The shock of this profound experience is still with me.
● Kyrie – The first horse I trained and showed for a breeder. Kyrie was sensitive, powerful, and exhilarating! She helped me recover from the loss of Felicia.
● Elf – I wish I had a picture of him. This tall bay was in training with my mentor and he was a very interesting case. To give you an idea of his personality, his front teeth had been kicked out by an annoyed pasture mate and I had to make him a new stall toy to entertain him every.single.day. He was a bit of an unpredictable pest at first, but physically he was a mess too. He had bizarre muscle atrophy and posture when he arrived, but I was able to witness my trainer transform this horse. I rode him regularly and she coached me through the challenges – teaching me to heal a horse with my seat. I learned so much watching Elf transform from a gangly misfit into a strong, confident, calm, and fun partner. I still remember how it felt when I taught him canter zig zags. As proof of how much his personality changed, he switched careers when we sold him – to a hunter!
● Zola – My second red mare. I leased Zola during the first year that I played polo. She was amazingly 27 years old and going strong. She loved to play, went from my seat alone, and taught me how to let go, get out of my head, and into my body.
● Tilly – Till Next Time or more aptly TNT, a Secretariat granddaughter, was one of the first horses I took in training after I started Red Mare Enterprises, and my third red mare. She had been turned out for a couple of years after a traumatic trailer ride and some behavior that warranted a “dangerous” label. You could barely catch her and she did not tie, worm, wrap, or trailer and you could barely trim her hooves. She was claustrophobic and she was livid. But I was a young, hungry trainer, and I had history with red heads. I saw a gorgeous horse in need and I was instantly obsessed with her.
The first three months, she literally tried to kill me. Striking out, charging, balking, cow kicks, bucking like you wouldn’t believe – but I kept my cool and just long lined her. Adorably, if she saw a cavaletti, she would hop over it and at first, that was the only thing that inspired her to move forward. One day she stopped in her tracks and eyed me after jumping through a grid – her energy suddenly felt different. I approached her and she allowed me to stroke her neck and then I resumed the session. After a minute she stopped again, and eyed me solemnly. I approached again, knowing that she was pleased with me. I hugged her for the first time and we shared a moment, the first of many. A few years later, when we qualified for regional dressage championships, Tilly’s owner gave me a ceramic plaque that said, “happiness is being owned by a horse” and I can tell you it is true.
● Catawba – Over the years I have sustained a few injuries and in 2014, I was at a point where discomfort was compounding. I was looking for project horse and what I bought was a healing pony. Catawba was a lesson program reject. He was careful with himself and felt disrespected by inexperienced riders. He was back sore and grumpy when I met him and so I embarked on a journey into bodywork and barefoot trimming. Catawba taught me so much and forced me to bring awareness to my own pain.
We healed together over 2 years and then a buyer approached after an agent saw me and Catawba at a clinic with my trainer JJ. The Governor General of Canada (shares governing power with prime minister) wished to acquire my little gentleman! It was an amazing honor and surprise – so after a lot of long phone calls – I agreed. Last summer I got to go visit Catawba at his new home in Ottawa. Catawba’s new owners welcomed into their home, Rideau Hall, “The People’s House.” I had a view over the high garden and my room just down the hall from Queen Elizabeth’s suite. From start to finish, the experience felt surreal!
● Tina – I have rehabbed quite a few horses over the years and Tina may be the most adorable of them all with a personality that belies her 41” stature. I am grateful to Tina for providing a path for me to explore and incorporate in-hand work. Previously, I relied on my experience in the saddle to problem solve, but due to Tina’s size, I got to practice my in-hand work which synchronized perfectly with my education and inspiration. My time with Tina helped me to form my latest project: HealingDressage.
Describe a typical day running The Equestrian Journal (and your other brands).
Everyday is very different and the schedule depends on where I am. I am based in Atlanta, Georgia, but you can frequently find me working in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
When I’m home, I teach and train at a private farm nearby. On any given day, I may be training, trimming or doing bodywork on horses and ponies.
Or you can find me, with my laptop and my cat Lemon:
● designing websites/logos/marketing materials
● creating new pages for the discbound journals, shipping orders
● adding businesses to HorseWorldConnect
● writing, reading, researching, studying hoof care, cranial-sacral therapy and equine anatomy
Sprinkled in between I’ll be doing yoga or qigong, walking my two dobermans – Olive and Maris, and fishing, hiking, gardening, and spending time with my husband Ben.
What parts of running a small business do you find the most challenging?
I struggle with prioritizing high return activities. Being helpful and creative happens naturally, but I have to remind myself that I don’t work for free.
What parts of running a small business do you find the most rewarding?
My business is a practice in creating my mastery. I love having the freedom to pursue what I’m interested in studying or learning. I’m a sensitive and empathic person so a flexible schedule plus the ability to shape my environment and client interactions helps me stay focused and productive.
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurial equestrians that might want to start their own small business but are hesitant to take the leap?
I’ve naturally diversified my income as an entrepreneur and that has worked for me. Having a balance of indoor/ outdoor activities keeps me sane and I always appreciated having something to do when it was too hot/cold/wet to ride.
Also, everyone needs a mentor or life coach. Having a support team will get you through the hard times with the lessons you need to grow and evolve.