The equestrian store where everyone knows your name
By Rebecca Car
Three decades ago, Pat Lehner turned a tiny room in the back of her barn into a tack shop, selling leather bridles, halters and girths. Back then, customers would simply take what they needed and leave a note if she was not there.
Today, the Farm House is a multimillion-dollar business with one of the largest equestrian stores in the country, an exploding internet sales business and a mobile store that frequents the nation’s most elite horse shows, including Rolex in Lexington, the World Cup in Omaha and the Capital Challenge in Baltimore.
“I think my mother would be very proud to see how we have grown,” said Noreen Lehner Cothran, who took over the Farm House when her mother died in 2000. She now owns the store with her brother and sister.
Despite the growing national presence of the Farm House, the place still feels very much like a general store out on a country road. A bell chimes when the front door opens. A team of staffers, nearly all of whom ride, greet customers — usually by name or with a question about one of their horses or dogs. Hope, the resident Jack Russell Terrier, saunters up expecting her pat.
Inside the sprawling 7,000-square-foot store just outside Tryon, N.C., equestrians find top-of-the-line clothing and equipment. There are beautifully crafted shadbelly coats that look like they are right from a fox hunt on the set of the PBS series Downton Abbey. There are sleek jumper jackets from Tucci’s Ego 7 line and staffers trained to measure for custom Vogel boots or fit a plush leather boot from Ariat. The saddle section features Butet saddles that can cost upwards of $6,000 and soft leather bridles with faux diamonds on the nose band for those wanting a little bling. There are rows of crisp white show shirts from Essex as well as top-of-the line KEP and Samshield riding helmets. And there are unique items like sterling silver stock pins shaped like a crop and navy horse print welly boots from Joules.
“Basically, we have everything you could possibly want, and if we don’t have it, we will canvass the country looking for it until we find it,” said Cothran, who has tapped her sister-in-law, Celine Lehner and her vast retail experience, to help manage the day-to-day operations because the business has grown so much.
As the Farm House grows, the Lehner family is determined to stay true the store’s hometown roots. Here, stories are swapped like the horses they serve. A bulletin board offers pasture for rent, horses for sale or information about a pot luck to help someone down on their luck. When the local fox hunt’s barn burned to the ground, the Farm House was one of the first to offer to help raise money for the organization to rebuild the barn.
In the riding community, the Farm House is known for going above and beyond the call of duty. In one recent example, a mother discovered that her daughter had grown out of her riding jacket the evening before a show. She made one frantic call to the Farm House’s legendary staffer — Vicki Wood. The next morning, Wood arrived on the show grounds at 7 a.m., three hours before the store even opened, with five jackets for the young equestrian to try.
“It’s just what we do,” said Wood, who has worked at the Farm House for the past 25 years, watching it evolve from its early days into the business it is today. “We always try to do what we can to provide the best possible service to our customers.”
It is people like Vicki Wood and the rest of the staff that make the Farm House stand out, horse trainers say.
“The staff is extremely friendly and accommodating, and I love the quality of the merchandise and the variety of what they offer,” said Jeanne Smith, owner of Clearview Farm, a hunter-jumper training facility based in Landrum, S.C. But it is not just a knowledgeable staff that keeps Smith and her riders coming back. “It’s the way the Farm House contributes to the equestrian community,” said Smith, noting that the Farm House helped start a local horse show series. “Tack stores like the Farm House are few and far between,” Smith said.