Troy Lynn Norris had a clear vision when she started Top Trail Horse Productions. She envisioned a nationwide network of horseback riders who, like herself, wanted to keep track of their mileage and the trails they’d ridden. The members could share their ride information; including locations, photos, candid write-ups of their rides, and even the GPS-generated maps of those rides with the entire group, their friends, or keep them private, like a diary.
She knew what she wanted, but how could she incentivize those riders who were already interested in tracking to get excited about this new and innovative program for trail riders? She would need great people surrounding her (check!), and a very special group of corporate sponsors: creators of great quality horse- and rider-related products, to keep the members competing year after year (and… CHECK!).
We truly appreciate the relationships we have formed with our sponsors, so I wanted to highlight the brands with whom we are fortunate to partner with — making our friendly mileage tracking challenges even more fun and exciting. I recently had the opportunity to visit with one such wonderful sponsor, Sherry McLean from SpecTACKular Tack. I think you’ll enjoy reading about her.
This first interview goes way back to the beginning, when Troy met Sherry at a horse event. Sherry is the CEO and President of SpecTACKular, headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, and is Top Trail’s official supplier of BioThane Beta equestrian tack.
Tack design, production and sales are all in a day’s work for this busy lady, so I had to race to catch up with her in order to meet the brains and the beauty behind SpecTACKular’s catchy name and creative line of tack. She was gracious enough to give me a lesson on this miracle BioThane Beta strapping tack material she’s created her line with. I found there is much more to creating a line of tack than I had ever imagined!
A little background first: SpecTACKular is a line of tack created exclusively with BioThane Beta strapping (instead of Leather or Webbing), then complemented with all Stainless Steel hardware for a Lifetime of easy care. Sherry uses BioThane Beta exclusively in her creative line of EZ Change tack items, an incredible material with qualities that make it superior to strap leather.
Sherry hand picks every material used; all colors chosen; every (stainless steel only!) fastener, clasp, snap, and clip—to ensure horse and rider comfort. She also personally shows her line at events across the country — and changes long held opinions about BioThane vs leather tack along the way.
TTH: Sherry, what inspired you to create your own line of tack?
SML: Being a rider myself, I was never satisfied with the design, function, or quality of tack I was finding: the strap leather’s craftsmanship of western styled halters, bridles, and breast collars simply wasn’t what I was looking for. I was very specific in that I wanted a product with the quality and craftsmanship I’d seen in Amish BioThane strapping material, and would also look great in the western style I had in mind. I felt the market was overlooking the ease of use and the horse’s comfort too. Tack designs could be improved all the way around and that’s what I set out to accomplish.
I then found BioThane: a strapping material much stronger and longer lasting than leather strapping. I realized at that time that I had a great idea for creating my own line of tack utilizing this versatile material.
And that’s precisely what she did!
TTH: Once you found the base material, how did you progress from there?
SML: We began our initial tack designs, sourcing our stainless steel hardware and creating our patterns for sewing. Proto-types were created then field tested by me and experienced trail riding friends who provided input for improvements. Each suggestion for improvement was a “chat” around the campfire on many, many horse camping trips. Their candid feed-back on rider ease and horse comfort remains the foundation of each Tack design. Real Riders, Real Tack.
With the finalized pattern and specs in hand, we began to educate ourselves in the manufacturing and sewing on BioThane Strapping. Done correctly —its nothing like leather. Different machines, needles, thread, tensions settings are required to become an BioThane Authorized Retailer and produce a quality product.
The experts in sewing on BioThane are the Amish. It turns out this traditional group makes and uses the modern BioThane for 80% of their own driving harness. Eventually, we found and hired an Amish workshop that understood our demand for quality, attention to detail and beauty to bring our SpecTACKular Tack Designs to life using our proprietary patterns.
BioThane is NOT a new material! It’s actually been around since 1978. AND… It’s Made in the USASherry McLean
TTH: Now that your base product material is selected, how do your tack designs come to life?
SML: I hand pick every color combo, the bling, every single hardware and snap (which are stainless steel exclusively) with the idea of the rider and horse’s comfort in mind. Even the snaps I use have a self-sealed chamber spring inside, so when clipped on, are easy to use for the human. Nothing is ever left to poke or rub on the horse either. I wanted the tack designed in the Western style, and I wanted pieces to be changeable.
Our customers are inspiring too and come up with creative color combinations.
TTH: You mentioned you are today also the “official” field tester of the SpecTACKular product line. Why not have another staff member handle this for you?
SML: My favorite part of the j-o-b. I wanted to create a line that was based on the comfort of the horse and ease of use for rider, and which would stand up to conditions of real trail and endurance riding. I’m all about the comfort, so I field test everything myself to ensure that’s what I’m selling. I ride with a piece until its “right” meeting every SpecTACKular criteria or we don’t sell it.
TTH: Who all is in your stable? Do you have several horses helping you test your tack creations? Or a one and only?
SML: Oh, I have one: my first mare, Sophie. She’s a red and white spotted Tennessee Walker. She and I are a team. That girl is my heart horse. Sophie travels with me to the events and trail rides where I show my line of SpecTACKular tack.
TTH: Thinking about the products currently in your line (halters, bridles, halter-bridles, breast collars…), what do you feel will be in your line 5 or even 10 years from now? Any saddles in your future?
SML: Saddles can’t really be created with BioThane, as it is exclusively a strap material (under 3” wide) , and saddles require large, flat sheets of hide. Instead, I enjoy creating pieces for my base line that can be easily switched out to change or match colors, etc. Right now we have a EZ Change collection of changeable browbands and shoulder overlays for our breast collars which are great for color coordination, or just a change in mood!
A new SpecTACKular website, which is coming soon, will show off many new products.
TTH: So, is SpecTACKular a “family” business? Have you recruited family members to join you in this endeavor?
SML: Well, my husband, Roger is a Kansas City Attorney running his own small business! However, Roger does help—he actually came up with our company name “SpecTACKular” and then filed for the Trademark. He is amazing at holding down our fort in Kansas City while I’m out showing off our line. He’s also been known to pitch in with shipping or proof reading when I need an assist.
TTH: Alright. Kansas City, huh? I’ve gotta ask… are y’all Chiefs fans?
SML: Kansas City loves the Chiefs! By the way — have you seen Warpaint, their equine Mascot? She looks like my horse, Sophie.
Sherry’s idea for the best designs:
I create my designs to fit the horse like a great pair of yoga pants.
TTH: You’re simply an incredibly interesting woman. What’s next for Sherry McLean and SpecTACKular?
SML: Thank you. After our new website is launched, we have several new product lines and our Fall Collection. There is always something new and SpecTACKular underway.
TTH: Sherry, the members of Top Trail Horse and I cannot thank you enough for your time today, and for your continued sponsorship of the program. We do all appreciate you!
Now, before I wrap this up, I want to mention something from a purely personal standpoint: it was truly enjoyable interviewing Sherry. I could hear the true passion for her creations in her voice, and it made me excited to learn more about BioThane, her line, and the company, in general, as well.
When we hung up, I felt like I’d just caught up with an old friend—a friend who just so happens to create incredible tack which I’ll be outfitting my Layla in from now on! ?
Until next time, may your miles be many, your journeys incredible, and any winds fall only on your back. Oh, and keep tracking those miles, posting your photos, treating your equines as family, turning on your trackers and Get Out and Ride!!!!!