All Hops, No Stops. Hay in Your Bra is Life. Be Resilient Like an OTTB. These are all quotes from Amy Summer Ellison, the creative behind the equestrian greeting card and paper goods brand Hunt Seat Paper Co. Amy pairs her witty equestrian expressions with hip graphic design to bring equestrian gifts and cards to the next level of modern.
Not only is Amy a talented equestrian entrepreneur, she is one of the most generous-hearted women you’ll ever meet. When I first met her, I knew I would have to feature her on the blog because she is so cool and her products so relevant and unique.
Recently Amy and I connected because she led the charge to raise awareness and funds for both Northern and Southern Californian equestrians affected by wildfires by creating a special button. She also spearheaded donation efforts in the form of gently used horse items ranging from bits to saddle pads to even a manure pick! I was able to take these to share with members of my barn family who lost all or most of their gear during Canyon Fire 2. Before that I had met her at Horse Expo in Pomona and later the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show.
During the interview process I found out even more reasons why I like Amy so much: we both majored in political science (anyone else out there have that one?), we both had the same color and model of car, and we both kept our horses in a very small equestrian neighborhood in the San Gabriel Mountain Foothills at the same time (but we didn’t know each other) and the cat eye sunglasses!
Please have fun reading about one of my new friends, equestrian entrepreneur Amy Summer Ellison! And check out the very special holiday giveaway of Hunt Seat Paper Co.’s goods over on the Saddle Seeks Horse Instagram.
Interview with Amy Summer Ellison of Hunt Seat Paper Co.
When did you fall in love with horses?
I can’t remember the specific moment I fell in love, but I was young. My mom grew up loving horses, but could never have one, so she always gave me horse toys. All my drawings from childhood are Appaloosa horses and I had a billion Breyers and My Little Ponies.
For my 5th birthday party, my mom hired a pony-ride company to come to our house and take us around the front yard. That was when my riding career started. As part of my birthday gift, I got riding lessons at Bright Promise School of Riding in Bradbury, California. Little did I know what a huge role Bright Promise would play in my life.
When I was 9-years old, the barn we were at sold and the new owners didn’t want the riding school there. I was devastated, but too young to see what was happening behind the scenes. My parents would take my brother and I to see ranches on the weekend. I thought we were looking for a new place to ride, not realizing we were shopping for a new house!
To my surprise, they told my brother and I we were moving and took us to an old, run-down lay-up barn in the Bradbury Estates, our new home. They tore it all down to a giant 5-acre dirt lot, and built a 5-star equestrian dreamland from the ground-up. To make it even better, it was the new home of Bright Promise School of Riding! I was the luckiest kid in the whole world!
I would wake up every morning and run down to the barn. I had lessons 5-days a week and went to horse shows every weekend. My whole life was horses. My mom had a dinner bell she would ring when it was time for me to come home, but she’d often have to come down and find me hiding under horse blankets, refusing to eat dinner because I wanted to eat with my horse!
I was lucky enough to have lots of horses during my time in Bradbury. I had amazing trainers, and we hosted a lot of riding clinics with dressage, equitation, and hunter/jumper clinicians. On rainy days, we’d study the Pony Club manuals and our vet and farrier would come to the barn to tech us kiddos how to give shots, pull shoes, and be good horsemen. The horse was all that mattered, and if our horses or tack were dirty, we weren’t allowed to ride.
We didn’t have any grooms…
students were required to do EVERYTHING. I am so thankful that I was taught horsemanship first, riding second. It made my passion for horses what it is today. It is ingrained in my soul.
When I was 18-years-old a lot of things were happening. I was getting ready to go to college, I was discovering the party scene, being rebellious, and had a new trainer who was pushing me to be something I wasn’t. I had a 4-year old psychotic OTTB mare at the time who made me nervous, and I was being pushed to do things I wasn’t comfortable with.
I got in an argument with my trainer one day….and never rode again. For 10 years.
In those 10 years, I went to college, started a career, my parents retired and sold our beautiful ranch and rehomed all our horses. It was a tough pill for me to swallow.
I didn’t ride anymore, but the ranch was a physical memory of the best years of my life. It sold to a non-horse person and was again, torn down into a giant 5-acre dirt lot. I was completely heart-broken.
And then I met Rowdy.
After the ranch sold, I posted on Facebook that I missed horses. One of my old riding friends commented that she still had her old horse, but with three kids and a full-time career, she was looking to lease him. I went to meet him, and instantly fell in love. I was a kid again, I was obsessed with Regal Rowdy.
Rowdy is a 28-year-old OTTB, bred as a racehorse by my friends family, then re-trained to be her hunter/jumper. Rowdy was perfect for me. He was seasoned, forgiving, and taught me how to ride again. I would wake up every morning thinking about him, and would sit at my desk everyday counting down the minutes to barn o’clock.
While every now and then I get serious about perfecting our flat work, usually you’ll find Rowdy and I wandering around the barn bareback, saying hi to all the horses and listening to the wind blow. We’re very low-key, and it’s perfect.
Rowdy made me remember how much I love our sport.
If it wasn’t for Regal Rowdy, I would have never started Hunt Seat Paper Co.
On the footer of my website it says, “For Regal Rowdy,” and that’s the truth!
At what point in life did you know you were artistic?
I’ve always been a doodler. From the moment I could hold a pen I was drawing and crafting. When I was about 14-years old, my dad sent me to a 3-day Photoshop class at Comp USA (Dating myself here!) so I could make the parts manuals for his manufacturing company.
I learned how to use Photoshop 4, and was sent home with the program….on floppy discs! At my dad’s shop, instead of making parts manuals, I was making horse pictures and fake party fliers on Photoshop.
Fast forward to college. I had no idea what I wanted to do, like most students, and found myself floating around community college with no idea what I was doing. I was so very fortunate to be found in the quad by my local bar-tender…who also happened to be the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper…and not just any school newspaper, the #1 college newspaper in the country.
He recruited me and introduced me to the department chair, Bud Little.
Bud changed my life. He asked me what I was good at. (Susan’s note: Whoa! as a teacher, this really struck me. I need to ask students and even friends and family this question. Powerful!)
“I’m pretty good with Photoshop!” I said. So Bud gave me a license to install the entire Adobe Creative Suite on my laptop, and taught me everything I know about design. In my two years with the Santa Ana College el Don Newspaper, we went on to win two National Pacemaker Awards for editorial design, and I won five Columbia University Gold Circle Awards for editorial design, along with several other national and state awards and scholarships.
I was in love with design…but even after all that, it never even occurred to me to pursue an art degree. I went on to graduate from Chapman University with a degree in….Political Science?
It was about two months before my graduation that I realized I should be a designer. Unfortunately, this meant it was totally impossible for me to find a job as a designer with a political science degree. Fortunately, I’ve never been one to take no for an answer and started my own freelance design company fresh out of school. It was a tough road, but I am so proud of my achievements.
I am completely self-taught, and have owned my thriving boutique design studio for seven years now, working with small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike.
Inspiration comes from everywhere when you have a creative mind, things that can’t be taught in school like ingenuity, originality, and creative problem solving.
Bud used to tell me, “You’re just a natural.”
Describe your work space.
I work out of my home office. I’ve worked in offices before and was miserable…my mind is free to wander at home, and that’s where I do my best work.
My office is a 12 x 12 room with two big windows facing my pool. My desk is against the windows, which are usually open flooding the room in light, with a soft breeze and the sound of birds chirping in the trees. The walls are lined with black-framed prints by my favorite designers, prints from the 2015 and 2016 Longines Masters Grand Slam.
Generally, my office looks like a tornado came through with coffee cups and paper scraps all over the place…but my desk is usually pretty orderly. I can’t think when I feel cluttered, but if the clutter is behind me it doesn’t seem to affect me, haha! Business in the front, party in the back.
Where do you get your design inspiration from?
Everywhere! My iPhone is full of the most random pictures because I’ll see a cereal box or something with good text layout and snap a picture! I never know when inspiration will hit, it just hits. A good example was my “Equestrian Tan Lines” piece.
I had been stuck for a few days trying to think of something cool. It was a Monday morning and my boyfriend and I were sitting on the sofa drinking coffee and watching KTLA. I was scrolling through my Instagram and saw a post by an eventer with her watch and glove tan.
“Classic,” I thought…..then I had the vision of what the piece would be and off to my office I went! I didn’t even say bye to the boyfriend, haha! An hour later I had created and posted “Equestrian Tan Lines.” It was my most successful post, with over 2,000 shares on Facebook!
Tell us about your heart horse.
I have two, one for each era of my life with horses…
Rusty: Rusty was a Thoroughbred/Appaloosa cross with one hell of an attitude. He belonged to my vet and she brought him over to my house to board him. She would let our trainer use him as a school horse, and I found myself riding Rusty a lot. He had the Appaloosa attitude with the psychotic TB blood…he challenged me with every stride.
I ate a lot of dirt in those days, but I learned from every mistake…he wouldn’t let me do it twice! On the ground, we had an incredible bond. He would follow me around everywhere, and I would often sneak out at night to sleep outside his stall. I was head over heels in love with Rusty.
Under saddle…he was a total jerk, but I did my best riding on him.
My proudest moment with Rusty comes from unfortunate circumstances. We were at a small show at Arroyo Seco Equestrian Center in Pasadena, CA. I was in a schooling dressage class…I entered the ring and halted at X.
I was ready to do our test, Rusty was not. He bolted from X and jumped OUT of the dressage court and ran bucking into the driveway. I was so upset, I made him halt and walk back to the gate. We entered the ring and halted at X. I basically forced that horse to finish the test, which wasn’t bad if you weren’t counting the bucks and crow hops across the diagonal.
When they called ribbons, I was surprised to have placed fourth! I went to the ring to get my ribbon and the judge told me, “I gave you very high marks for horsemanship, you rode that wonderfully.” I was just beaming with pride, I’ll remember that feeling forever. We ended up winning reserve champion for that show.
Rusty pretty much ended up being mine in my heart, and I was with him to his last breath. It was a very hard day when I had to say goodbye to Rusty, but I think of him often. He’s the one I’ll always think of.
Regal Rowdy: Rowdy (pictured above) helped me realize what I really want in life. He closed the gap in my life that was an open wound for 10 years…I am truly happy when I’m with him, I forgot how good it felt. I can groom him for hours, his coat is like velvet and his tail is like silk. His eyes are as deep as the ocean and his gentle breath in my chest is the greatest comfort.
Sometimes I’ll just stand in the cross ties and hold his head in my arms, our souls literally connect. The relationship I have with Rowdy is different than any relationship I’ve had with a horse.
Maybe now that I’m older, my emotions have evolved into something deeper, or maybe Rowdy was just meant to be in my life at this moment. Either way, I need him.
Rowdy is an old man, so I don’t ride much. But it doesn’t even matter…I could never ride again and still go to the barn every day to be with him. He is my heart horse #2, and will be very hard to replace. I cherish each day with him.
What is your favorite smell at a horse show?
This is super weird…but I have no sense of smell! About five years ago I woke up and couldn’t smell anything, but can still taste food. (Thank God!) I have to ask people at the barn to smell Rowdy’s hoof to tell me if he has thrush haha! I still remember some smells, and if I close my eyes and focus I can smell it in my head, if that makes sense.
The smells I miss the most are roses, my Origins skincare products, and the smell of horses on my clothes when I get home from the barn (And I actually miss the smell of thrush too!).
What are the three biggest challenges you’ve faced as an equestrian entrepreneur?
Managing real job and passion job. While I would love for Hunt Seat Paper Co. to become my full-time…I still have to keep my design studio up and running. I’m also a partner and Chief Creative Officer for a tech startup, so that also requires a lot of time, attention, and we travel quite often. There’s just not enough time in the day! But Hunt Seat Paper Co. is my true joy, I find great pleasure working on new projects and sharing them with my Instagram family!
2. Being Cool.
I quit riding for 10 years to go to college and start my career. When I came back into it I was very out of touch! All my riding gear was totally out of style and there were so many new trends I couldn’t figure out where to start. I’m only 31, but boy did I feel old trying to figure out what was going on in equestrian fashion (My, how it’s changed!) I kept catching myself thinking “back in my day….” haha!
That was a big hurdle for me when trying to come up with relevant things to create for Hunt Seat Paper Co., I had to catch up with the culture quite a bit.
3. Making industry relationships.
I don’t come from a sales background and I’ve never worked with retailers, so I had to learn “on-the-job.” When I first started I had two equine sales reps contact me about helping me get into retailers. I was so excited about it, they worked with big companies and seemed very well-connected. They both asked me to send them all my wholesale info and a sample kit so I spent a bunch of time putting together presentations, shipping them next-day-air sample packages….I put my soul into it hoping to impress them.
They both got their packages….and then never responded to my calls or emails. I was heart broken. I’d sit up at night wondering what it was they didn’t like. Did I do something? Are my products bad? Is it me? After a few weeks of feeling like a loser, I decided they didn’t matter and I was going to be fine with or without them!
I’ve since made a few wholesale orders and am slowly but surely making the contacts I need to grow my business in the equestrian industry….but it’s tough being the new kid.
What is the best part about the work that you do?
What ISN’T?! Hunt Seat Paper Co. is a perfect collaboration of my passion and my talent. As a professional designer and creative director, design and branding are my specialties. As an equestrian, I just love the culture. The equestrian lifestyle is my muse, I have been known to work a 12-hour day then sit up till 4 am making random posts for my Instagram. I get in a groove and will sometimes pump out 5-10 posts a night…those are my favorite nights!
What’s on your horse-lover’s bucket list?
Oh good question, I have three things I MUST do someday!
- I want to go fox hunting SO BAD! I want nothing to do with killing a fox, but I would just love the chance to go out in the country with a pack of dogs, jumping over fallen trees and tromping through streams all day.
I saw the documentary, “Unbranded” and lost my mind with excitement over their journey. I’m a West Coast girl and love our story of discovery and adventure. Before I die, I will spend a week of my life in a saddle seeing our beautiful country and experiencing what our ancestors saw as they made their way west. I don’t think I’ll ever find the time to go from Mexico to Canada on horseback like the boys from Unbranded, but I could probably make it across a state or two!
I’m also a bit of a history nerd and read a ton of books about English history. I would love the chance to go to England, ride the countryside on horseback and see the old castles and fallen abbeys of the Tudor reign.
Who is your equestrian hero or heroine?
Beezie Madden, hands down. When I was a kid I was obsessed with her, and still am today. Anytime I meet someone from Cazanovia, NY I ask, “OMG do you know Beezie Madden?!” and turn into a 12-year-old girl.
I met her at the 2015 Longines Masters Grand Slam and was so star-struck I couldn’t even say a word…I just stood there and smiled at her like a weirdo! I’ve always looked up to her for her superb horsemanship, lovely style, class, and killer horses. Cortes ‘C’
But really, Andy Klug. I met Andy when my brother and her son played soccer together, she and my mom became good friends. Come to find out, Andy was a phenomenal rider and rode at Flintridge Riding Club in it’s hey day. She rode with the famous Jimmy Williams, Hap Hansen, Susie Hutchinson, George Morris…all the legends.
She demoed a horse for the Mexican Olympic Team at Flintridge by sailing over a 7×7 fence….when she was 12 YEARS OLD. (Susan’s note: I have to meet Andy! She sounds incredible.)
Andy is an absolute gold mine of stories, lessons, and knowledge. When I was younger, I would just stand and stare when she was in the ring. Now, we’re good friends and get together for long chats and laughs. She lent me a lot of her treasures, trophies, silver plates and photos to use.
Thank you for reading this interview! Go give Amy a follow on Facebook and Instagram so you can stay up to date with her latest creations. And speaking of Instagram, I’m pleased that Amy has partnered with me on an Instagram giveaway. Head over to the Saddle Seeks Horse account for more details.
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Your Turn: Please comment on what resonated with you about Amy’s story? Or, if you were to create a greeting card for horse lovers, what would it be like? What would it say, what type of fonts would you use and would you feature your own horse?