RAVENNA, Ohio – More than just another horse farm sits behind Freedom Farm’s endless rows of gleaming white fences.
An elite fleet of horses fills the mahogany and wrought iron stalls, their heads poking out of the full-length windows.
Only the best for these horses – several of which have checks next to their names, symbolizing national championship titles.
Coming soon! For months, a sign on a rural road in Portage County, Ohio, announced: Coming Soon, Freedom Farm. And for months, backhoes, cement trucks and construction vehicles rumbled up and down the farm’s lengthy driveway.
Now with the horses snug in their stalls, the new research and development equine center is up and running.
Insight. From diapers to horse saddles, owner John Hall knows what people want.
Hall’s path to marketing notoriety and the equine industry is baffling.
After putting in two decades at Kimberly-Clark, known for Huggies diapers, Hall left the company in 1991 to start a business selling a baby must-have.
The endeavor was more than just a shot in the dark – he created the Diaper Genie, a no-smell diaper disposal unit, now at the top of every expectant couple’s list.
After selling the rights to Playtex in 1999, he was ready for a new adventure.
Civic duty. Shortly after joining a chamber of commerce in Portage County, Hall reluctantly agreed to sponsor a class in a local charity horse show.
The sponsorship simply fulfilled a civic duty. As fate would have it, however, the class he sponsored was the ladies’ side saddle – better known as his future.
One thing led to another and soon Hall agreed to help develop a side saddle of his own. The problem, he soon learned, was saddles’ designs are from eons ago and the shape of horses changed, making many saddles uncomfortable for horses and riders.
After further research, he found 85 percent of saddles in the United States hurt horses because of improper fit, he said.
Finding expertise. Frustrated with a lack of information, Hall needed to talk with an expert saddle maker.
That expert turned out to be Barrie Swain – one of England’s premier saddle makers.
Hall headed to England the next week and spent a day talking saddles with his new English friend.
“People who make saddles don’t know any horses, and riders who buy saddles don’t know any better,” Hall quickly learned.
After years of experience, Swain had developed the FREEDOM Holistic saddle – designed to change shape with the horse’s motion, massaging the back and shoulders.
With Hall’s track record in marketing and a saddle that lived up to his standards, Hall and Swain formed a partnership.
Hall now markets the saddles in the United States through Mondial Industries.
The Big Oh. Having an excellent saddle without a horse didn’t make sense; Hall needed a showpiece.
His goal: to win a national championship in side saddle within six months.
His trainer balked at the time frame: “You must be mad. People try for 20 years and don’t do this.”
Hall shushed him and insisted, “Never mind. We’re going to do it this year.”
And they did.
Within six months, Hall’s leading lady, The Big Oh, won the National Show horse national championship in side saddle.
“It shook people rigid,” Hall said of the feat.
The Big Oh’s win furthered Hall’s growing belief that less-stressed animals perform better.
Hall’s horse trainer Bill Rodgers shared this sentiment, soon trademarking his own holistic headgear, including a bridle, halter and cavesson.
“The fundamental principle of what we’re doing here is that a comfortable horse will learn,” Hall stressed.
“We take horses that people don’t understand or give up on, and we get them to want to perform,” he continued.
When that same horse gets to the championship standard, Hall’s point is proven: Technique and equipment are fundamental to getting a better result from the horse.
Branching out. Rodgers and Hall also agreed that in order to continue to develop holistic products, the horses needed to live in optimal conditions, letting nothing hinder their progress.
So Hall created the perfect home for a horse: Freedom Farm.
After boarding his horses for two years, it was time for a permanent home and he built it in Ravenna.
Equine opulence. No luxury was too lavish for Hall’s 20 Arabian and National Show horses.
The barn’s 100-by-160-foot indoor arena matches the outdoor one and reinforced walkways to the pastures keep the horses from slipping.
In addition to the horses, the barns also house a breeding room and round pen, an underground conveyor to dispose of manure, a second-floor storage room with an elevator, a reinforced feed room, a business wing with offices and reception area, maintenance building, three-stall stallion barn and three run-in sheds.
Another large room with an office, kitchen and bathroom will someday house a tack shop.
A place called home. The penthouse stalls feature full-length windows with a pasture view.
No water buckets for these pampered horses. Instead, stainless steel sinks with reverse osmosis systems offer fresh water.
All is proof that Hall and his three full-time employees uphold their holistic approach even in the barns – “the mind and body work as one” and “a healthier animal means a more relaxed animal,” said Judy Lee, who takes care of the horses on a daily basis.
This is the reason for the superior stalls and daily romps in the pasture with their horse playmates.
Show horses going out to pasture with other horses is unheard of in the show world, Lee said.
But she emphasizes horses are herd animals, needing to follow their instincts.
After the horses’ breakfast and several hours outside, trainer Rodgers works with them, riding and longeing.
Munchies. Just as exercise is emphasized, so is nutrition.
Rather than throwing in a scoop of sweet grain and molasses morning and night, Lee feeds the horses a mixture of oats, supplements, chopped alfalfa, beet pulp and water. What goes into the horses’ body is closely monitored, Lee said.
To complete the horses’ healthy diet, Hall treats them to The Mustard Seed Market’s organic carrots.
Aequus. With so much attention focused on the horses’ comfort and health, it’s no wonder Freedom Farm’s National Champion Park horse looks so spectacular on a championship video.
The perfectly groomed Aequus struts across the screen with his ears forward and his flowing, dark tail trailing behind him. A championship wreath circles his neck.
“We look for this attitude in horses,” Lee said. “One that says, ‘I’m happy and I’m the best.'”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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3898 Dawley Road
Ravenna, OH 44266
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