Liverpool, England, originally; now, Huntington, New York
Part owner of FootingFirst, LLC
How long have you been part of the horse world?
Since I can remember, I have just loved horses. I lived in England and hung out at the local riding school all day just to be at the barn with the horses. I started working in the industry at 16 years old, started on the Youth Training Scheme at that time and did my British Horse Society exams. I worked for top show hunter producer the late Vin Toulson; we had Seabrook, who was the top heavyweight hunter for a few years running. Then I became head girl at the late Colin Rose Show Pony Stables in Derbyshire. All were typical English yards with outdoor stabling, so rain or shine it was hard work. When I came to Canada and the USA, I was so happy that when it rained we could stay inside and work—it was like a dream. But the winter, wow—that was a shocker.
Karen Leeming in Wellington, Florida
As an equestrian entrepreneur, what part do you play in the horse world?
I was a groom and manager for many years, worked for many top professionals and loved my job. Now I’m 50% owner of FootingFirst, LLC, which creates fabulous arenas for all levels of equestrians—three-day eventing, Grand Prix show jumpers, dressage and now Western. I’m so lucky that I had such great friends that helped me and gave me advice. The late Julienne Vard told me to talk with Lawton Adams about this footing business. Lawton and I have been business partners for over 20 years now and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. Lawton had been building arenas for many years before I met up with him. Together we have a very successful business.
What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
Being able to go to horse shows and watch the Grand Prix. It’s great being able to work in the industry that you love and stay a part of the horse world.
Karen’s adventures have taken her around the globe.
What’s your biggest achievement in the horse world?
Being the Canadian team manager for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and again for the 2002 Jerez World Equestrian Games—it was such an honor. At Sydney I was able to walk in as an athlete in the opening ceremonies. I had worked in Sydney, prior to the Games. I knew the area well and was able to fly over to do some prep work before the horses got there. The Canadian team had a tight budget and the rubber stall mats were a fortune to buy from the show. Off I went to find rubber mats that where cheap and, even better, I found them for free. I found conveyor belt rubber in long 50-foot lengths. I’m thankful for good friends who helped me put them in. We had rubber mats for our horses, tack room, grooming stall, the whole length of the stable block. It was exhausting, as you can imagine. I then also got a bar fridge, which was very handy, and apparently, we were the only team with a bar fridge. Sydney was a super Olympics but I am biased, as I do love Australia and the people.
WEG was another fabulous experience. The games were great, and weather was good until the show jumping—then it rained like I have never seen. I remember Rafeal, Eric Lamaze’s horse at the time, was in the stable with so much water in the tent roof that it was on either side of him like saddle bags. We couldn’t move him and had to start siphoning the water from the roof, but I did enjoy the games, including working with the reining team.
Do you have any memorable stories from your time as Canadian team manager?
At the Sydney Olympics, I was talking with the reining team and I noticed an FEI steward waiting, looking like she wanted to talk with me. I became a little uneasy and had to close the conversation with the others and ask the steward if I could help her. It turns out the steward was a childhood friend, Christa Farmery, whom I didn’t recognize; I have quite the accent, so she recognized me. I had sold my first pony to Christa in Anglesea, UK, for 250 bales of hay and 500 bales of straw. I believe I was destined to be an entrepreneur—ha! We laughed and I
introduced her to the team and we all had a drink.
Karen believes she was destined to be an entrepreneur as she sold her first pony in exchange for hay and straw.
What are your goals for the company?
FootingFirst, LLC, has really exceeded all expectations and I couldn’t be happier. I am extremely proud of our work and our stellar reputation. I keep working hard and researching blends to see how we can improve. I really enjoy the research part and trying to stay current with new products. Goals are to simply keep enjoying what I do and never take it for granted.
What’s the best thing about your life?
That I’m in charge of my own schedule and I can go to the US Open and watch tennis, as that is my other huge passion, and then the next day go to the Hampton Classic and watch the Grand Prix—how great is that!
Do you have an exciting story from your past?
I used to deliver yachts and go back and forth to the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin and St. Barts. Once, we got caught in a huge storm off the Dominican Republic and had to pull into a port that we weren’t familiar with. We were on a 60-foot Sunseeker, which wasn’t really made for open water, being hit by 40-foot waves. I was looking for George Clooney, as I felt like we were in the movie “Perfect Storm.” It took us three hours to go what should have been 30 minutes. It was pretty scary, but I was dating an amazing captain at the time so it makes for some good stories. Everything was getting bounced around and we lost every bottle of wine, and the boat was a disaster. When we finally pulled into the port, we had to bring out the hardware (guns) as there are still pirates that will swim aboard and take the boat if given half the chance. What an experience! The port was very safe and we ended up staying for two days while the ocean calmed down, and we had a super time.
A life-long entrepreneur, Karen is part owner of FootingFirst, LLC with Lawton Adams.
For more information, visit footingfirst.com
Thanks to Kimberly Griffiths for the kind use of her beautiful horse Catan H, groom Luis Madriz and all at Pond Point Farm.
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com