Messy horse plants seed for biscuit business
A feed bucket full of seeds and "a messy horse" inspired two Rochester women to create a unique product that has sprouted into a rapidly growing national business.
Horses and nutrition are at the heart of Pure Form Equine, the company formed by avid riders Mary Hartman and Deb Antolak in May 2017.
It all started when Hartman’s veterinarian recommended feeding chia seeds to her mare. Eating the small flower seeds are known to provide a variety of health benefits for horses as well as humans.
The problem was when the horse would blow into its feed, the light chia seeds would fly away or just spill. She would even accidentally inhale them instead of eating them.
Hartman then started working on a new way get the horse to eat the beneficial material without ending up sweeping the expensive seeds from the barn floor.
After some experimentation and lots of research, the pair came up with Chock Full’a Chia biscuits. The cookie-like creations are made by binding chia seeds together and then adding things such as sweet potato and fig to enhance the flavor and nutritional value.
"There’s truly nothing else like this in the world," said Hartman, sitting with Antolak by several bags of their freshly made biscuits.
Seeing their horses grow more glossy and healthy, other boarders at their barn, Bella Vista, started asking for biscuits for their horses.
Laura Matern and daughter, Marie Matern, who have horses at Bella Vista, are certainly fans of Chock Full’a Chia. Marie, who competes in dressage, has a horse with some medical conditions that dramatically improved after adding the biscuits to its feed.
"He’s thriving now. We’re believers," Laura Matern said. "And the horses do love them (the biscuits)."
As the orders grew, Hartman came to her fellow baker, Antolak, with an idea.
"This could be a business. Let’s try it and see," she said.
That led to forming Pure Form Equine and setting up a direct market website to sell bags of the organic, preservative-free biscuits.
Customers can order bags with 45 biscuits ranging in price from $22 to $30 or bags of 90 biscuits ranging in price from $44 to $59.
They started out selling about 10 bags or so each month.
Now about 20 to 30 bags of Chock Full’a Chia biscuits go out every week.
The pair are now looking for a possible processing site to move the biscuit production out their house and maybe hiring manufacturing and shipping staff to help keep up with the demand.
Of course, horse owners already have scores of supplements and treats to chose from for their horses.
In 2016, the global equine health-care market was valued at $601.7 million and it’s expected to grow to more than $860 million 2025.
However, Chock Full’a stands out as something different.
When asked if their biscuits are a treat or a feed supplement, Hartman says they are both.
"They are really a nutraceutical," she said.
After starting with a Sweet Potato-fig biscuit, they now have a line of seven flavors that include: Blueberry-Apple Spice, Carrot Cake, Mint Julep, Papaya Panacea, Prickly Pearadise and Sea Biscuit.
Chia provides a variety of benefits to help the general health of a horse. The last three biscuit flavors include natural ingredients to help horses with skin or gastric conditions.
The ingredients are all carefully chosen. The chia seeds come from Nicaragua due to higher amounts of fatty acids. They added spirulina, a blue-green algae known to help respiratory issues and Manuka Honey from New Zealand, a natural antibiotic.
"We’re very deliberate," Hartman said.
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D, owner of Texas-based Getty Equine Nutrition, says their close attention to what goes into the biscuits is one reason she started selling the biscuits on her website and recommending them to her clients.
"The first product that attracted me was the Seabiscuit. It feeds like a treat and has medical benefits," Getty said. "My clients love them."
She describes chia seeds as the "powerhouse of nutrients," that are an excellent source of fatty acids, Omega 3 and Omega 6.
Horses can’t generate fatty acids naturally and their only possible natural source is living grass, Getty said.
"A hay diet does not give them that," she added.
From the practical side of things, the biscuits are simpler to use than feeding loose seeds or adding a supplement, according to Berra Vista trainer and riding instructor Jennifer Hewitt.
"You can hand feed them or put it in a feed bucket … Horses take to them quite well," she said. "Quite a few of my clients are feeding the biscuits right now. We’ve seen a lot of great success."
While they are enjoying the success, it’s the interaction his other horse owners and their animals that still brings them the most joy.
"It is fun to do this," Antolak said. "You get know people and their horses. They send often send up pictures. You get to see changes in the horse and get to know the horse."