California Riding Magazine • June, 2010

Saving Shorty
The Story of the Natural Look CatchMask

by Denise Pressler

My husband, Kurt, and I invented the Natural Look CatchMask®, a new kind of fly mask made in the colors of horses that has a catch-halter built into it. Many people have asked how the CatchMask came to be, and a lot of folks love our poster horse, a beautiful black and white paint named Shorty. The CatchMask and Shorty are forever linked and both have stories worth telling.

Shorty belongs to our good friends Craig and Mary Bostard, but before he came to live with them he belonged to a neighbor. In October of 2005, Shorty had injured his leg so severely he could barely walk. This neighbor was going to have Shorty put down, so Craig, an expert farrier who loves a challenge and loves horses even more, talked the neighbor into selling Shorty for one dollar. It took 30 minutes to walk Shorty the 50 yards to Craig’s house. Thanks to custom shoeing and their loving care, Shorty, now in his mid-20s, is a fine trail horse. But, Shorty still had one more problem. He couldn’t keep his fly mask on!

Like many inventions, the CatchMask was created out of a need to solve a problem. My husband and I board our horses at Craig and Mary’s place. One day, I showed up to visit my horse and noticed Shorty was wearing a fly mask that looked like it had been through a shredder. I asked Mary why Shorty’s fly mask was all torn up. She said Jack, a little Tennessee Walker trouble maker, tore Shorty’s mask off every day and she had to pick it up, clean it off and put it back on. I started thinking about why a horse would be so drawn to remove another horse’s fly mask.

Then it hit me. It must be a matter of horses’ perception of each other. If a horse sees something it thinks is not natural, then, being a curious animal, it investigates the situation. Some horses apparently take exception to their buddies’ new look with a conventional fly mask, a “mask” that covers up animal markings. I thought if I made Shorty look like he had nothing on at all, maybe Jack would leave him alone. I took a black fly mask and painted Shorty’s blaze on the mask, making it look exactly like himself. That mask didn’t come off again! Ah ha! Make sense? We tested different color masks and nine times out of 10 it worked. Do they see colors? We don’t know. Shapes and shades, I think for sure!

But, now I couldn’t see the mask on Shorty from a distance! What to do? I thought that most horses are used to seeing halters on their buddies, so if I put a halter trim on the fly mask, I would be able to tell at a distance whether Shorty had his mask on. I made the mask look like it had a halter and Jack still left it alone. And then……

My husband, being a practical kind of guy, said he wanted to make the halter trim actually function as a catch halter. We had a nice little discussion where I insisted it couldn’t be done, and he insisted that it could be done in such a way that the mask would function as a tear away fly mask when used as fly mask, but not tear away as a catch halter, simply by attaching or detaching a lead rope. More discussion ensued, followed by a quick sketch on a napkin.

The prototype worked so well that it became clear a patent was needed, so we proceeded with the patent while attempting to find a suitable manufacturer to help bring this product to market. I talked with Jack Peacock of Stagecoach West, and he recommended a small New York company called Triple E Manufacturing run by Dick Watrous. Dick and his staff were a huge help in the development of this product, patiently working with us as we developed and tested numerous patterns. Their quality workmanship was key in the enthusiastic acceptance of this product by our customers.

Equine Affaire Debut

We brought the CatchMask to market through our company, KD Western Works, at the Pomona Equine Affaire in January, 2009. By the end of the show, we had not only caught the attention of the public but some large industry companies. The Best of America by Horseback did a two-minute spot for their RFD TV show. Over the next few months other companies expressed interest, and we began negotiating with several. In the meantime, we attended the Equine Affaire in Ohio, where we got to know The Best of America by Horseback folks a lot better. Chairman of the board Tom Seay and his wife Pat were very helpful in introducing us to a number of people, and CEO Mark Laney invited us to his ranch in Texas.

We decided to help sponsor the Mexico to Canada Trail Ride that The Best of America by Horseback was putting on for the summer of 2009. We wanted to be at the kick-off festivities and meet all the riders in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but didn’t really have time to drive from Ohio to home base in California and then to Las Cruces. Mark invited us to follow a day or two after they left for Texas.

One detail had been overlooked: Mark’s gracious and lovely wife Brenda had not been informed that we would be spending a week as her guests at home and she had never even met Kurt or me. We showed up on a Thursday afternoon and knocked on the door. Brenda, a classy lady who always dresses to the nines, answered the door covered in paint, her hair wrapped in a scarf, with a polite “Hi, can I help y’all.” My husband and I looked at each other and we knew: Mark hadn’t told Brenda we were coming!

Making an incredibly smooth recovery, Brenda invited us in, guiding us through her living room, which was in complete shambles due to her remodeling project. She excused herself for a minute and dialed Mark at the office, and I remember hearing something like “Hi honey, there’s these two people here, Kurt and Denise, you know, the ones from Ohio with the CatchMask? Was there something y’all wanted to tell me?

That was the start of a great friendship.

Kensington Partnership

After the kick-off of the Mexico to Canada Trail Ride, where the 50 core riders who would make the entire trip were each given a CatchMask to test daily for the next five months, we headed back to California. We decided to team up with Alan and Anthony Gatto of Kensington Protective Products, Inc. because of their experience in the fly protection business and reputation for quality. Our alliance with Kensington has resulted in the formation of a new division of Kensington known as the Natural Look Division. The flagship product of the new division is the Natural Look CatchMask® by Kensington.

We are now supplying Natural Look CatchMasks in two models, one of which is a basic fly mask with a built-in catch halter, and one which also has soft ears and a long nose for sun protection. Colors available are bay, sorrel/chestnut, grey and black, with more colors to come. Sizes available for immediate delivery include Arabian/Medium and Horse/Large, with Mini A, Mini B, Yearling, Warmblood, Mule and Draft sizes coming soon. We also supply a paint pen with a brush applicator tip for those of you who would like to easily customize your CatchMasks to exactly match your horse.
Check out these and other fine products at
www.KensingtonProducts.com or call 877-469-1240 for more information and a dealer near you.

KD Western Works has evolved into a design company and is available on a consulting basis to assist others who would like to develop products for the equine market. We can be reached at www.KDWesternworks.com or 925-858-7601.

This story, which is far from complete, could never have happened without the love and support of our family and friends. From packaging to business cards, our family pitched in to help get things done. Our friends Craig and Mary Bostard have supported us emotionally and financially, taking care of our horses while we are on the road, keeping our horses shod, providing us with help in product development, photography and our great poster horse, Shorty. We owe thanks to Jack Peacock of Stagecoach West, Dick Watrous of Triple E Manfacturing, and to Tom and Pat Seay and Mark and Brenda Laney of The Best of America by Horseback, whose help was instrumental in bringing this product to market.

We continue to meet fine people in the equine world, and at every show and function we attend, we grow our circle of new friends and business associates. We look forward to many years of mutually beneficial relationships with all whom we have met and have yet to meet. For any of you out there reading this article who have an idea you would like to develop, we would like to steal a quote from Ted Turner. We once heard him say, when asked what his secret to success was, he said “early to bed, early to rise, work like hell
and advertise!” To Mr. Turner we say, thanks for the advice!