Back in the Saddle
Coverage of a keynote speech with Brice Goguet Developer and CEO of the popular Voltaire Saddles (featured in an exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art-on US Highway One in West Palm Beach Florida) as well as a personal interview with this Saddle guru.
Wellington and the equine community go hand in hand. It has been labelled, “horse country” because it is the home of many horse trainers, equestrians, aficionados, equine photographers, and anyone remotely interested in horses. All of the “horse experts” understand the relevance of a saddle. It has been comparted to having the “correct shoe” for a human. If you wear a shoe that is too tight or too loose, it affects everything from your posture to the horse’s gait and also your comfort level – which affects job performance and everyday activities. Thus the saddle, the horse and the human are involved in a “symbiotic relationship. The saddle positions – the rider on the horse, keeps him/her in place and makes the ride and pleasant and productive experience. That saddle is also considered to be “an extension of the horse.” Therefore, when this “extension” is ill-fitted, it can and will affect both the rider’s abilities as well as that of the horse.
At the Starting Gate:
And so it began . . . I was asked if I could cover a keynote speech and also interview at a private, posh, 10th year Anniversary party for Voltaire Saddles. This was an experience most unique and different for me. Let’s move on…
Picture: a private party, complete with all the bells and whistles, gourmet appetizers, open bar, and a D.J.- the works . . . Caviar was being served. This was a party to be remembered. My friend Tina came as my guest and we stood people-watching for a good while. There were women dressed to the nines in intricate cocktail gowns, strolling along-some with well-dressed gentleman and others going “stag”. Everyone was issuing equine news and sipping champagne from crystal flutes. This world was so different than my daytime job as an Elementary School Teacher. I could best compare it to the party scene of one of my favorite novels: The Great Gatsby. There were French accents floating in the air. I was informed by a few publicists that these same “fancy folks” rarely dressed up and were used to wearing riding clothes. So, this was indeed, a big affair.
Eyes on the Prize: The Exhibit
Outside the party room was a beautiful garden area that was a side wing of the museum. My eyes immediately focused on a beautiful exhibit of various saddles mounted like works of art. However, you were able to actually touch the saddles and breathe in their intoxicating aroma of fresh leather. Each saddle had a history that was embodied on a marble structure, highlighting its background and uses.
My friend and I were mesmerized by a saddle that was entitled “the blue infinite.” Little did we realize that the majority of the keynote speech would revolve around this innovative, technology-based saddle which has become extremely popular around the world.
There were saddles of varying sizes and widths. However, each saddle had the same familiar “marking” characteristics: each one had a silver “V” pendant branded into the saddle as well as sporting the pink and blue double striped insignia that displayed the Voltaire trademark.
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: The keynote speech
The next stage in the process was being led to the auditorium where the audience would get to hear the background and history of the Voltaire name and of course, get interviews done. I knew that I had to move quickly as I was NOT the only enquiring mind. Thanks to Elaine Wessel, a Senior Account Executive at Phelps Media Group, I was able to get my interview expedited.
Tina and I tried to find the best seats available as the auditorium filled up faster than Black Friday at Best Buy! A young, dashing man clad in a light periwinkle suit came out to greet some members of the crowd. This man was no one other than Brice Goguet, President and Founder of Voltaire Design. One would assume that a man of his caliber and extreme wealth and popularity might be a bit stand-offish, but this was the farthest from the truth. Brice was funny, humble, informative and acted like “your everyday Joe.” In fact, there was no pretention or presumption in anything he did nor said. Being a newbie to the whole equine world, I was captivated by the Hamish presentation and even more excited to interview this inspiring man!
C’est La Vie
Brice showed us a slideshow of his “beginnings”. He had been riding ponies at the tender age of six and got “hooked”. He laughed and prefaced his “journey” as being “in line with the stars”. The “dream” had begun with a series of “unfortunate events”. First, Brice lost his job and then his long-term girlfriend of 10 years broke up with him. Instead of throwing in the towel, he told himself, “the stars are in alignment”. He realized these were signs from the universe to start something new – not to give in to being thwarted by some mishaps in life. And so, Voltaire’s misfortunes sparked an ironic and incredible journey of success and fortune! The Voltaire dream was born – out of the fire – he had risen from the ashes!
Brice spoke to the audience as if he were more impressed by us than the latter. He told us how he had started this business venture in France – from collecting special leather to involving his friends, Andrew and Shane, because they were the first riders in his life. He emphasized that his team was more like a “family” and that they always worked as a “team.” With great pride, Brice explained how Voltaire Saddles are the “best saddles where you can express your riding potential.”
We also learned that Brice Goguet was not just an amazing and innovative entrepreneur but also a prominent philanthropist. Goguet works closely with the organization JustWorld International (equestrians provide education, nutrition, health and hygiene to impoverished communities). He has been given the Gold, Bronze, and Silver medals of honor for donating proceeds from his saddles to end world hunger in impoverished countries. In fact, he is a huge supporter of JustWorld and had started a special initiative back in 2011. He had pledged his nineteen limited-edition saddles to benefit the organization. He had each saddle placed with a special purple signature that read “jump for a justworld.” For each saddle that was sold, Voltaire pledged to donate $1,000 to the non-profit agency. He has also done several charities to aid this organization and rests heavily with a conscience for social responsibility.
It’s all about the Technology
With technology being constantly upgraded (even on a daily basis) Brice realized that he would have to “up his game” and keep up with the modern day needs of riders. He wanted to make it easier for riders to keep track of their performance, the obstacles involved, the time taken for jumps and also still measure the comfort level of the horse during its activities. Thus, the Blue Infinite saddle was developed with technology that “exceeded riders’ expectations and created a revenue of over a million dollars in sales. The device was basically a chip inserted into the saddle that had no battery in its girth or wiring – the horse nor the rider would feel uncomfortable with the addition. The two major goals that this technology addressed and accommodated were:
First, to make the best and lightest saddle in the market.
Second, to fashion a device that would be useful to the rider and even anticipate their riding needs. Blue Infinite became popular instantaneously. Riders were able to take precise measurements of the horse if there were any issues and forward the information straight to a vet. The technology also allowed for doing an Electrocardiogram on the horse and also tracking the calories horses were burning during riding, jumping, and general activities. The heart rate was measured with a red color that would be apparent with little effort from the rider.
Goguet proudly announced that there would be a “second version” of this saddle technology with extra support for riders, which would soon be available to the general public. The new technology would allow for the saddle to be 30% lighter and more comfortable through “Active Flex” technology which gave both freedom and balance the horse and its rider. He added that “horses are the real athletes, and not just the riders. Good saddles can help riders with what they can’t always see and feel. “
Goguet concluded that he was “thankful for his audience for being “who they were” and that he “loved them.”
I was only able to interview Brice for a short time as there was a line of fans and other media lined up anxiously waiting for their “turn”. However Brice was comfortable amongst the stress of the crowd. He sat directly next to me in the auditorium, as humble as can be:
AW: What makes your saddle stand out from the rest?
B.G: (smiling) Our saddles are in line with our mission statement. We produce saddles that are for the analytical rider who is accustomed to both style and substance while keeping in line with the comfortability and flexibility of the horse. We also have innovative technology, like the Blue Infinite mentioned in the speech. We believe in comfort and loyalty. Comfort for the horse and the rider as well as a providing durability.
AW: How often does a saddle need to be replaced?
B.G: It is just like a car – about every 4 years or its durability will slow down. Our mission statement basically honors the analytical rider who seeks style, substance and innovation. It also allows for freedom of movement for the horse, together with durability and loyal customer service.
AW: Are Voltaire Saddles more popular amongst men or women?
B.G: Many people are surprised when I answer this. 90% of our customers are female riders. We are the first saddle maker to work closely with the fashion industry to deliver our product. Our saddles come in a variety of panels, flaps and seat sizes.
AW: What challenges have you encountered while developing your saddles?
B.G.: It was a very busy time. Our whole team had to work to not be complacent. To keep up a positive attitude and keep striving to be more innovative for the “times ahead”. We all helped each other like a “family”. We are all part of the success that was created! Our goal is to always keep the “challenger mindset”, our growth mindset. In conclusion, we must stay focused and keep the creativity flowing.
AW: Voltaire Saddles are “high end saddles”. What can someone do if they are unable to afford one of your saddles but they want the “Voltaire Experience”?
B.G.: We have second handle saddles that they can purchase at places like EBay and Equitack.
We also have excellent customer service and can give advice to those who struggle on where they could go to get a saddle that would accommodate their particular needs and challenges.
AW: The Blue Infinite is a huge accomplishment for Voltaire design as per your speech. Tell me more about how it helps both the rider and the horse.
B.G: We started off working in a garage in the south of France and then transformed to a world-wide distributor of trustworthy and durable saddles that could be given to athletes as well as elite champions. We grew as a team and created the phrase, “if it doesn’t exist, then design it”. We have kept promises that we have made to the public. The Blue Infinite delivers this promise in many ways. It allows for owners to track saddles across their lifetimes and prevent possible theft. It is also adaptable for both men and women. It has a memory foam support that provides shock absorption and adapts to the rider’s “fit”. The saddle is literally “connected” because of the computer chip in its interior which lets you analyze your jump course, jump by jump, measure weight percentage on each leg and pressure upon takeoff and landing. We also have a way to synchronize data with video footage on any device to help the horse and the rider. It is extremely practical for horse riders as well as providing feedback for the vets if a horse has a particular issue or challenge.
AW: Does the “Voltaire” name have any connection to the French Enlightenment writer and Historian named Voltaire?
B.G: In a way, but not completely. The name embodies enlightenment. Voltaire wrote about freedom of expression and our saddles provide “freedom” and “style” to the rider. My mother founded the name and initiated the effort to have this as our “title”.
AW: Are there any Voltaire sellers in the United States?
B.G: Our sales team is growing due to an increased demand. Many saddles are purchased online. We have about twenty sales people in the United States and have been recruiting candidates from across the U.S.A. to apply for various positions with our sales team.
AW: As per your key note speech, you are very proud of your mission statement. Can you please reiterate and elaborate on this statement for the public?
B.G.: Of course! It is to enable every rider and horse to fully express their own potential. We have made the comfort and performance of the horse and rider our primary concern. We have also made “innovation” our motto; to offer better products which will help riders and their horses achieve their optimal potential
AW: Do you have any “final words’ for the general public?
B.G.: This is a company of “good people” who have a passion for what they do. When you purchase a Voltaire product, you are not just getting the name, but also acquiring a promise of achieving your best performance. I want people to always remember that…
That’s a wrap
I will never forget that memorable, multifaceted day as it enlightened me on a whole new world of thinking and opened my eyes to a new interest – the Equine Community. I look forward to attending a Horse Show and perhaps getting “back in the saddle” myself (it has been many, many years.) If I happen to purchase a saddle, I know that I will definitely make sure it has the Voltaire Emblem!
Denise Marsh is a Writer and an Elementary School teacher in Palm Beach County. She has found writing to be a major catharsis in her life. You can hear her poetry at Open Mic night at Village Music in Wellington every Wednesday night.