December 2018 - Big Horse Feed & Mercantile
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 30 November 2018 19:01
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Temecula institution offers a wide array of horse keeping staples, everyday and special occasion apparel, plus gifts, gear and surprises.

by Kim F. Miller

“Wow!” is typically the first thing a new customer says when they enter Big Horse Feed & Mercantile in Temecula. It looks like a sizable place from the outside, but the sight of 8,000 square feet of merchandise still surprises. On a closer look, it’s not only the quantity that boggles the mind, it’s the quality and scope of the inventory. There are items for horses, people, dogs and cats and for a long list of activities and interests that comprise the equestrian and/or country lifestyle.

As the store’s tagline explains: “More than just a feed store.”

Now celebrating its 20th year, Big Horse carries an inventory driven by owner Rose Corona’s original vision for the enterprise. “Ninety-five percent of horse owners are not professional trainers,” she notes. “Horses are a hobby and passionate pastime enjoyed by people who have other things going on in their busy lives.”

Big Horse Feed & Mercantile has something for everyone on your holiday shopping list! Photo: Kim F. Miller

With the exception of standard feed items, Rose makes all of Big Horse’s buying decisions herself and they’re driven by the interest and needs of people she envisions as regular horse owners. As a result, customers can come in for hoof dressing and go home with that, plus a crisp show shirt by Ariat, the just-right bling of a Kelly Herd necklace, an elegant wedding present and holiday gifts for every friend and family member.

Another Big Horse motto is “something for everybody” and that often includes “a little surprise,” Rose notes. A child with $5 is just as likely to find something suitable as the A-circuit jumper rider with unlimited funds.

Photo: Kim F. Miller

Rose’s clear understanding of her customer’s lives underpins Big Horse’s approach to customer service, too. The store’s gift registry is one example of that, with givers and receivers equally grateful for the chance to get things right.

Rose recounts previous attempts by Big Horse staff members to help a certain segment of their clientele: the “horse husband.”

Photo: Kim F. Miller

“We’d have well-intentioned husbands come in and ask for suggestions. We’d ask what they were looking for and hear: ‘My wife has a horse…It has four legs.’ Or, telling a 5’4” sales associate that their 5’10” wife is ‘about your size.’”  The gift registry can eliminate such scenarios. Instead, the recipient updates their Big Horse wish-list, givers can make one phone call to the store, pick an item off the list, and pick it up gift-wrapped in Big Horse’s trademark red box with a white bow. “For our customers, it’s the equivalent of a Tiffany’s box,” Rose smiles.

Ladies Night is another example. Set for Tuesday, Dec. 4 from 6-8 p.m., the event gives customers a head start on holiday shopping, with deep discounts on everything in store. While picking up items for everybody on their list, attendees can also fill out their own wish-list.

Photo: Kim F. Mliler

Ariat, Kastel Denmark, RJ Classics, Kerrits, Nunn-Finer, Toklat and other familiar equestrian apparel brands are Big Horse staples, while Rose’s eye for elegance and detail bring new brands including Alan Paine under the Big Horse roof. There’s clothing for every minute of an equestrian’s day: from warm boots for early morning mucking to cuddly pajamas and riding wear at various price points for schooling and show.

In the back of the store, racks brim with grooming and care supplies, bridles, bits, boots – for horses and humans, helmets for safety, hats for shade and style, jeans for grubby barn days and glittering gowns for glitzy galas.

Photo: Stephanie Baldwin

And, oh yes: feed. Big Horse opened its doors as a feed store, namely the hay grown on family land. The store sits on the corner of 165 acres of farm land originally purchased by James and Mary Corona in the early 1970s. Today, the feed inventory includes hay, grown by Rose’s brother Steve Corona, grain and a variety of packaged feeds from firms including Star Milling, LMF, Triple Crown, Eqyss Feeds, Nutrena, Purina Horse Feeds and Canidae, Blue Buffalo and a variety of other dog and cat Food.

When the family bought the farmland, the Coronas joked that Temecula’s 200 population count must have included the dogs. Today, residential development has brought that total to roughly 110,000 and growing fast. Vineyards and wineries bring tourism, and the expanding roster of equestrian sports, concerts and special events at Galway Downs makes Temecula an Inland Empire Mecca for many throughout Southern California.

Photo: Stephanie Baldwin

Old Fashioned Advantages

Big Horse stands steadfast even as its environs – physical and societal -- change. Brick and mortar retailers going strong in the internet age tend to be community institutions and Big Horse is exactly that.

The walls of its back offices are lined with pictures and thank-you plaques reflecting the store’s place in the community. Year-round generosity culminates every October with a Corn Maze festival that’s become a happy fall tradition for families throughout Southern California.  The fun adventure through a maze grown and designed by Steve Corona has raised thousands of dollars for military charities over the years. It also extends Big Horse’s long-standing mission of connecting the community to the farming way of life through educational interaction with animals, the land and those who work with them.

Photo: Jim Dorsey Photography

Cow and pig exhibits are popular, but the “mane” attractions are the store’s namesakes, the Big Horses.  Three draft horses (2 Belgians, 1 Percheron) live in a paddock outside the store when they are not pulling hitches in exhibitions. Although the shortest in stature at “only” 17 hands, Jim is the boss. Now 32, he was purchased by Rose as a 5-year-old to be half of her first team of driving horses. Nineteen-handers Elmer and Melvin are Jim’s neighbors and all three serve as living billboards for the store and its rural roots and values.

Photo: Jim Dorsey Photography

Rose got hooked on these horses when she rode along with a friend who drove his hitch through a McDonald’s drive-through. “The horses were completely unfazed,” she recalls of that catalyst for indulging in her lifelong love of horses. Her life with these “gentle giants” was greatly enhanced by mentorship of the best: Dick Sparrow. The late draft horse expert was best known as the driver of the Schlitz Brewing Company’s 40-horse hitch: that’s four Belgians abreast and 10 deep.

The digital age presents challenges to traditional retailers, but Rose senses a shift in shopping preferences. While the visitor who snaps a picture of something in the store then leaves to shop for it slightly cheaper online still exists, a new breed of customers is coming in, too.  “I think society is undergoing a bit of online fatigue,” Rose posits.

These shoppers are attracted to Big Horse for a number of reasons. The desire to touch and feel a new product, and have the help of a knowledgeable sales person, are common denominators. They want to try on that new show coat, closely examine the stitch work of a bridle, or experiment with different pieces of next season’s show wardrobe as inspiration and good advice guide them through rackfuls of options.

Photo: Jim Dorsey Photography

Others are wary of the identify theft and theft of packages once safely delivered to a doorstep or courtyard.  And some make a point of supporting “mom and pop”-owned small businesses as a matter of principle. In the case of Big Horse, the feel good is amplified by knowing that Big Horse is an institution within the Temecula community and well beyond.

Show jumping legend Susie Hutchison is one of many equestrians to be especially grateful for the products and great service Big Horse offers. “Rose is great and her staff is always very accommodating,” says the Temecula-based professional. Blankets, supplements and other everyday horse keeping items are Susie’s main purchases on regular visits. But even she is not immune to the tempting array of apparel, décor and gifts that welcome visitors.

“There’s always some cute thing in there! But above all, it’s great to have them here, so convenient and a pleasure to work with.”

Visit www.bighorsefeed.com for more information.