|Certificates:||Certified Riding Instructor and Trainer|
|Current Position:||Temporarily retired instructor and trainer; active inventor and marketer of equine products, recently featured in Horse & Pony, Horse Capital Digest and on RFD-TV. Avid Trail rider.|
|Advice:||Recognize that you are one of the fortunate few to have a “passion” that you can turn into a career.|
August 2006 - Kim Read-Graff likes to kid that her horse career has gone full circle from Lutz, Florida, where she started riding at age 7 and back again. Probe a little, however, and you find that on the road back to Lutz, she took the “international” in Meredith Manor’s name quite literally.
After graduating, Kim returned home to Tampa and landed a position at the Spotted T, an Appaloosa barn with an active breeding program located in Lutz. Kim started a showing and lesson program for several years. "We were a force to contend with at the shows too,” she says, usually walking off with the top ribbons.
Kim got married and she managed a barn of her own for awhile. Then her husband’s work took them overseas to Singapore. Kim walked into the Singapore Polo Club with her Meredith Manor certificate and was hired immediately as a riding instructor. “I was the only American there for awhile,” she says. “I was the riding instructor with an accent!” Kim schooled polo ponies for their owners in the morning then taught lessons to children and adults in the afternoon. “I was spoiled,” Kim says. Malay grooms called syces groomed the horses and had them tacked up and waiting for her. She admits that this pampering came at a cost. “I missed brushing and saddling up because that’s when you get to know the horse you’re riding.”
After 2 years in Singapore, Kim & family moved to Bangkok, Thailand, where she applied to the brand new Bangkok Equestrian Center. The local Thai horses were tough, belligerent ponies. “Willing" is not in their disposition,” she says. The Center bought Australian horses, some of which were Thoroughbreds fresh off the track. It was Kim’s job to reschool them and get their understanding of the basics down pat so they could go into the lesson program. She rode four hours daily even though she was pregnant and only took a month off when she delivered her son Justin.
“Thailand is a third world country,” Kim recalls, “a hot and difficult place to live.” After a year, the family returned to the USA. “Coming back after 3 years was culture shock all over again,” she says. In 1993 she was comfortably settled in, when a contest in an equestrian magazine caught her attention. Riders were asked to submit their resumes to the editors who would then select a lucky four to ride with Olympic champion Bernie Hill and his son Tony at Great Rapscot Farm in the south of England. The editors choose a Brazilian, a Briton, and two Americans. Kim believes that her Meredith Manor background played a significant part in her selection because the other American was also a Meredith Manor graduate.
“In the morning, there was dressage to warm up,” Kim says, “and then we would terrify ourselves on the cross country course. You knew the horse was familiar with all the jumps, so it was you working on just you. That was a lot of fun.” In the afternoon, the four students and a guide were free to ride the English countryside. Kim fondly recalls Limerick, the big Irish draft that she picked to ride. “The others rode Thoroughbreds,” Kim recalls. “We would gallop across the fields and the thoroughbreds would be gone, while Limerick would just go da dump, da dump, lumbering along. Limerick & I had a great, relaxing time.”
Back in the States again, Kim built a boarding and eventing facility in Georgia called Wind Ridge Manor. Kim recalls working with top quality horses over the farm’s cross country and stadium courses, as a lot of fun—and a lot of work. For Kim, it's not all work though. "I love to trail ride. Horses seem to enjoy it too. The riding trails in Georgia are just beautiful!"
Following a divorce, Kim returned to Florida and bought a small farm. She named it Nine Pines Farm, and started retraining Thoroughbreds coming off the track at Tampa Bay Downs for trainers interested in giving their ex-race horses a second chance. She had roughly 90 days to school the horses and figure out whether they wanted to be a dressage horse or hunter jumper. Kim would do her best to have horses move on to their new careers within that time span. The horses were generally taken on commission. Ideally, Kim says, she would have turned the ex-racers out for 6 months to adjust to their new lifestyle. Instead, many raced on the weekend then shipped to Nine Pines Farm on Monday and started their new training regime. It was a challenge that Kim thoroughly enjoyed. “I ran across some brilliant horses,” Kim says. “I love Thoroughbreds. They’re more delicate and hotter than other breeds, but there’s just something about a Thoroughbred that is phenomenal. They’re the most brilliant, talented horses I’ve ever been around.”
Kim retrained Thoroughbreds at Nine Pines for 9 years. But life is often about juggling priorities. So, when Kim’s son qualified for an advanced college-prep program, she decided to sell Nine Pines and move closer to a school that offered the curriculum. The new move brought her full circle back to Lutz and the park trails she rode as a little girl. The only difference, she says, is that the trees are much bigger. When she sold her farm, Kim hung on to a little chocolate palomino filly she purchased as a 2 year old. Now she's a 5-year-old and, with her arena basics down pat, she’s learning to be a trail horse. As 16-year-old Justin accompanies them on his bike, the little mare and Kim head out for 40-minute trots. “She’s my exercise gym,” Kim laughs.
While Justin channels his energy into academics, Kim now channels hers into inventing horse products to solve problems she’s encountered as a horsekeeper. She sells them via her website and sometimes on eBay. The SafeSoak is an insulated, soft-sided bucket for soaking a horses’ hoof or lower leg. Kim designed it to allow the horse to move around. There is a strap-type handle that allows the caretaker to move the "bucket" along with the horse. Not too many horses will stand still for an entire soak treatment, says Kim from long experience. SafeSoak is soft, safe and insulated to hold heat or cold, and it has a level, padded bottom to be kind to sore hooves.
Another product she has created is the Boredom Ball. It's a lightweight ball surrounded by a net of bungee cords. Stuff it with hay, apple slices, carrots or any favorite treat and let it swing while the horse works to get the goodies. “I have more products in my head,” Kim says, “but I’m taking off with these two first". When RFD-TV filmed the SafeSoak for its product spotlight, “The phone was ringing off the hook,” she says. “Every time I’d turn on the computer, someone had bought one from my website”.
Does Kim’s entrepreneurial activity mean the end of training and riding? Hardly. “I LOVE Horses,” Kim says. “Always have. Always will! After my son graduates and goes to college, I might go back to Meredith Manor to be an instructor—unless I become a millionaire with a bucket and a ball. Then I’ll just keep trail riding.”