Sunday 18 March 2018

How a girl's love for her horse has blossomed into a business

60 Second Pitch: Why you should invest in Little Hoofs

MY LITTLE PONY: Caroline Mullen of Little Hoofs with her daughter Carla and ponies Snowy and Flash at Castletown, Co Wexford. Photo: Tony Gavin
MY LITTLE PONY: Caroline Mullen of Little Hoofs with her daughter Carla and ponies Snowy and Flash at Castletown, Co Wexford. Photo: Tony Gavin
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Caroline Mullen believes there is something profound in horses which draws people to them.

The mother of two developed a love of horses as a child. She got her first pony - a miniature pony - at the age of 10. "Horses were my escape," says Ms Mullen.

It's no surprise then that she has spent most of her life working with horses and set up her own equestrian business, Little Hoofs, about three years ago.

Little Hoofs, which is based in Castletown, Gorey, Co Wexford, provides pony rides at children's parties. It also trains its miniature ponies to jump at horse shows and other events.

Ms Mullen, who is originally from Surrey, in Britain, moved to Ireland 10 years ago.

"I came over here with a tenner in my pocket and I literally started working with horses within two days," she says.

It was in riding schools that she worked when she first moved here.

"I then fell pregnant with my first child and about 18 months later, my second child came along," she says.

"When my children started school, I said I need to do something about my situation - I had had enough of working for people for nothing."

Ms Mullen was determined to identify a niche in the market and to set up her own business based on that. It was here that her childhood love of miniature ponies came into play.

"I thought, why don't I bring miniature ponies to people's houses for birthday parties," she says. "So I set up a business doing that in 2011. I was the first to dress up ponies and bring them to parties."

There is a "huge demand" for miniature ponies at children's parties, according to Ms Mullen.

"The ponies are so convenient to bring around with you," she says. "If you have to go to a party somewhere in Dublin where people don't have a garden, you can still bring the pony. Some of the ponies are quite small - they can be the size of a Great Dane."

In her first year in business, she brought ponies to about 17 parties - despite starting her company quite late in the year.

"In my second year, I got between 70 and 80 jobs, including events and birthday parties. I'm already taking bookings for next year. The parties are great. They're not going to run out [as a source of business]. There are birthday parties every day of the year."

Ms Mullen gets bookings from tourists as well as locals.

"I had a woman ring from Washington who was about to visit Ireland. "She wanted to arrange for two ponies to be brought up to Galway so her kids could see them."

Another part of her business is the rugs it sells for miniature ponies.

"I design my own rugs - stable rugs, fleece rugs, turnout rugs, head collars and bridles," she says.

"I would love to be able to branch this area out more as the market is there."

Although Ms Mullen says her rug business "has only just really taken off", she is already selling her horsewear to people in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

"Everything you can buy for a big horse should be available for small horses - why not?," says Ms Mullen. "Some people look down on miniature ponies but they're just scaled-down horses, especially the ones that are correctly bred."

Little Hoofs featured in the Tattersalls International Horse Trials and Country Fair earlier this summer. The exposure received by the company during that fair was invaluable, according to Ms Mullen. She was also in Fairyhouse Racecourse last Easter.

"I was in Fairyhouse Racecourse on the day of the Grand National," she says. "We jumped horses in the parade ring."

Although Ms Mullen feels that everything has fallen into place for her company now, she has not forgotten the groundwork involved in establishing the company in its early days.

"When I first started out, there was one or two years of ringing people up and explaining what I do," says Ms Mullen. "It has taken me three years to get here but I'm one of those people who doesn't give up. I've gone from strength to strength over the last three years."

Ms Mullen owns nine miniature ponies - which she has all named, and colourfully so.

They include 'Flash', a blonde pony that jumps, 'Bruce Almighty' a nine-year-old mini-Shetland pony, 'Snowy' - a 15-year-old gelding, and 'Pedro' - a tiny miniature pony which is about 20 inches tall.

Any parents with young children will immediately know how appealing a pony called 'Pedro' will be - Pedro Pony is a character from the popular children's cartoon, Peppa Pig.

"To be honest, I'm still a child myself," says Ms Mullen, when asked about the names.

"I have different ponies for different jobs. I mainly just train them to jump for events. I also have my riding ponies which I use at parties. My children Carla and Wayne are the jockeys. They're the ones who are small enough to go on the ponies."

As for future ambitions, Ms Mullen would like to educate people about horses.

"I'd love to bring my miniature horses to Dublin where horses sometimes are not respected that much," she says. "I'd like to educate people about horses. Horses are quite similar to us humans.

They feel the same as we do at times - sad , happy, tired, excited, sick and depressed. Working with them is extremely rewarding. They can be your best friends."

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