Horse lover makes hay of hobby Equestrian gift shop is thriving NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

December 09, 1992|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Three years ago, Charles Cole couldn't have objected if you said his Hampstead business was a pig sty.

It was.

His store, Charlie Horse, opened in 1989 in a refurbishe16-by-30-foot pigpen on a farm near Hampstead. At first, it opened only during the holiday season.

The shop has since evolved into a year-round gift shop and international mail-order business. It outgrew the pigpen and moved to a store on Main Street in Hampstead.

Recently, the business expanded and moved into new digs in the North Carroll Shopping Plaza.

Mr. Cole said that if it's related to horses, he can get it for you.

Need a hard-to-find saddle? A custom-built jump? An artist to paint a portrait of your own horse?

"I will do my extreme best" to find it, Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Cole also commissions artworks from artists around the county and around the nation. On display currently, for example, are jewelry from Texas and a carved wooden bench from Arizona.

Shop prices range from 50 cents for a fancy pencil to more than $4,000 for a gold bracelet.

Charlie Horse even sells a device called "Horsey, Horsey," the ultimate in bouncing-knee horse rides for small children. An adult straps the horse-shaped pad to one knee, places the child on it, and jiggles.

If the child squeezes one of the horse's ears, it emits the sound TTC of galloping hoofbeats. Squeeze the other ear, and loud neighing erupts.

Mr. Cole, a dyed-in-the-wool horse person, has worked around the animals since the age of 15.

His dream was to have his own farm, his own horses.

However, Mr. Cole said, he realized he would never put together enough money to make that dream come true -- as long as he was working for someone else.

So, in 1979, Mr. Cole and a partner, Tim Hurley, started a janitorial maintenance business. It was very successful, Mr. Cole said, but the horsey life still called.

"I realized that I was miserable, that I wasn't really where I wanted to be," he said. He decided he would go back to horses, "even if I had to eat beans."

Before opening Charlie Horse, Mr. Cole became a sales representative, selling a line of cards and bookmarks aimed at the equestrian set.

"I enjoyed the product line, so I was good at it," he said.

He now uses the contacts he made through his years in the

horse industry to market his own goods.

Mr. Cole travels to major horse shows around the country selling his products. He hauls a 16-foot trailer that serves as a mobile store.

Since he started selling at the shows about a year and a half ago, he said, his name has become known in the industry, and the difference in sales has been "incredible."

"Since I'm catering to the horse industry, I have to put myself under their nose," Mr. Cole said.

The shop's new location will allow him to travel even more in the future, Mr. Cole said, because the business shares its space and staff with the janitorial service in which Mr. Cole used to be a partner.

The janitorial service's offices are in the back, and the gift shop occupies the storefront. That keeps overhead low, he said. And when he has to go on the road, the maintenance service staff answers his phone and tends to his customers.

Charlie Horse items are available by mail order. Mr. Cole said he just sent an order to Austria, and has shipped to about 15 countries.

Mr. Cole once sold 12 place settings of stoneware (featuring an English horse-head motif) to hockey player Phil Esposito and his wife, Donna. And singer Lynn Anderson once dropped by his mobile shop to shop and chat.

Prominent in the shop are the works of some local artists, such as Hampstead woodcarver Howard German. Charlie Horse displays an intricately carved wall hanging and plates, as well as functional pieces such as signs and planters.

Mr. German handcrafted a cedar chest for sale in the shop. Its exterior is decorated with paintings by Mount Airy artist Debbie Barton.

In between commissioning artworks and traveling to horse shows, Mr. Cole is making his dreams come true. On his 12-acre farm on Cape Horn Road, he has an assortment of horses, ponies, goats, dogs and cats.

However, there isn't much time to spend on the farm.

"My first devotion is to my business," said Mr. Cole, who is single. "I plan on being in it for the long run."

He has just sold one of his horses, a big gray mare, to someone with the time to work with the horse properly. But he said he's not going to sell his pride and joy, a buckskin quarter horse mare named Buffalo Moon Woof, who has been bred to a paint stallion and is expecting a foal in March.

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