Kelly Russell: Here to Help
Education and experience equip Kelly Russell to represent innovative horse health products.
Equestrian writer | Aug 20, 2020
Despite starting with horses at the age of 5, Kelly Russell had never heard of Haygain before an opportunity to represent their horse health products arose in early 2019. Yet it didn't take her long to realize that her life's experiences perfectly prepared her to represent high-temperature hay steamers and ComfortStall Sealed Orthopedic Flooring.
A graduate of Murray State University, the Ft. Worth-area based Kelly has a degree in Agricultural Business, and a minor in Equine Science with an emphasis in breed management and nutrition. She applied all that knowledge to stretches as a professional trainer and coach and in positions with other companies, including Purina and Nutrena.
"My own background with horses is so varied, it's easy to relate to the challenges faced by riders and facility managers no matter what disciplines they participate in or what kind of horses they care for," Kelly says. "I saw right away what an easy solution hay steaming is for horses with respiratory issues. And, if I had known about ComfortStall when I was managing facilities, I would have had zero hesitation allotting budget for it because of how much better it is for the horses."
"Sparkles and shinies" of the Western show attire lured Kelly away from the hunter/jumper path she'd begun as a young girl. She and her first horse, Deluxe Dazzler, aka "James," switched to the American Quarter Horse Association All-Around events, which "have been my passion ever since."
Showmanship and Equitation were Kelly's favorite divisions because they showcase the communication between horse and rider. "I really enjoyed these because I never had the super high-dollar horse, or the prettiest mover, but that is not what these classes are judged on. It's judged on our connection."
Maintaining equestrian internships throughout college, Kelly landed her first job teaching lessons at Carline Bronk's Silver Stack Farm in the Chicago area's Plainfield. A facility management post followed, along with various professional riding, training and coaching opportunities.
Different Disciplines & Locations, Same Challenges
As the regional sales rep for Haygain, Kelly is on the road a lot: throughout the Southwest and into the Chicago area where she grew up and surrounding Midwest areas. No matter what shows or stable she's at, the horses' health issues and concerns are the same. "There is not a single discipline that does not have respiratory issues with their horses," she notes. The observation aligns with numerous studies concluding that at least 80% of active sport horses have some degree of respiratory problem. "Nor is there a discipline where the average barn doesn't emit the smell of ammonia from urine that's seeped below stall mats."
She senses in a shift in awareness among the general horse owning population. "I think almost everyone is becoming more aware of external factors that can cause the horse to have respiratory issues. When I was growing up, the ammonia smell in the barn was just part of how barns smelled -- even when you had perfectly clean stalls and a large breezeway."
An increase in small privately-owned farms goes hand-in-hand with understanding the benefits of hay steaming and ComfortStall flooring. "People who keep their horses at home stables deal with dusty environments and ammonia odors every day. They're more likely to listen to alternatives that improve their horses' health and make their lives easier."
Her Agricultural Business and Equine Science studies make it easy to grasp and relay the science behind Haygain's offerings. "I know how important eating clean hay is for horses and it just makes sense how beneficial it is to be reducing the dust, mold, bacteria and allergens by steaming." She finds that younger riders and professionals are quick to embrace newer methods in stable management thanks to their ease with technological advances in all aspects of their life.
Education is Kelly's ace in the hole. "Many owners are not entirely aware what their horses are exposed to," Kelly reflects. "Part of my job is helping customers ask the right questions and encourage them to do their own research. When they can critically observe their horse’s environment, they see where the need for our products comes in." The internet is a great place to start the research, but with some products there is no substitute for seeing them in person. "Until you've smelled freshly steamed hay or stood on ComfortStall, you don't fully appreciate it." Hence, Kelly's extensive travels.
She's missed seeing friends and customers in person during the COVID-19 show shutdowns, but there was an upside in getting to spend more time spoiling her own horse. "I'm currently down to just one horse," says Kelly. She enjoys giving the occasional lesson or tune-up for someone else's horse, but there's nothing like giving back to James, who put her on the equestrian path in the first place. "About 10 years ago, I had the chance to re-acquire him," Kelly shares. "He is 28 this year and retired and gets to be spoiled by little girls at the facility where he lives."
In what free time she has, Kelly and her husband enjoy two cats and mixed reef aquarium at their home in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. And she looks forward to getting back out on the competition scene. The NSBA World Show, the Color Breed Congress and the AQHA Congress are all on her itinerary in the coming months.