November 2015 - Horse People: Jim & Diane Carter
Written by Kim F. Miller
Sunday, 01 November 2015 05:14

American Horse Products owners serve equestrians and promote their interests in mainstream San Juan Capistrano life.

by Kim F. Miller

There is no hitching post in front of American Horse Products tack and feed store in San Juan Capistrano. Yet the friendly vibe and outgoing attitude of its owners, Jim and Diane Carter, suggests there should be. Located next to paint and hardware outlets in a busy shopping complex, American Horse Products is a gathering spot for equine enthusiasts in the heart of San Juan Capistrano.

 

Gear and gifts for horses and owners of all breeds and riding styles are stacked to the ceiling. A large back warehouse is filled with feed products and supplements.

 

But it’s not the stuff that stands out, it’s the staff.

“For people thinking about starting to ride, I suggest they visit the store,” says Lori Savit, founder of the Laguna Beach Horse Lovers group. “I find people can be intimidated by some aspects of the horse community and American Horse is a great entry door for new participants. Newcomers get the sense they’ve made new friends after just a visit or two.”

A warm welcome and a lot of horsekeeping savvy greet customers and have made AHP a stomping grounds for riders within and well beyond Orange County.

The store and the Carters are also ambassadors of sorts, helping promote and maintain a place for horses amidst development and the fast pace of modern life.

The Carters started American Horse Products in 1999 as a catalog business. Jim had experience in mail-order and Diane had the equivalent expertise in horse ownership. They sold a business, EduCalc, then the world’s largest Hewlett Packard calculator distributor. “Diane came over to my desk and asked, ‘What do you want to do now?” Jim recalls. Diane proposed something with horses, and they both stewed on that for a few months. “Then Jim asked me for a list of products.

“Do you really want to do this?” Diane recalls asking Jim. The answer was yes.
American Horse Products’ first catalog turned out to be its only catalog. It was quickly evident that competing with longtime equine suppliers with grandfathered product discounts was not going to work, but their mission was established – offering reliable products backed by the knowledge and experience of objective horse owners.

Jim Carter, owner of American Horse Products in San Juan Capistrano, along with his wife Diane.

The 40-page production was as much magazine as catalog, including care and training articles by local experts and product reviews by real people.

“It was also a lot of fun,” Jim relays. Chili recipes and quaint touches made it an instant hit among the area’s horse owners and it didn’t take long for those people to find out where American Horse Products was located.

They started in a “jam packed little store” in Laguna Niguel. Shelves were stacked high with fly sprays, grooming implements and other shippable equine products, ready for picking, packing and mailing. As customers found them, the Carters staffed up to meet the considerable needs of a retail outlet compared to the modest needs of a mail-order endeavor.

Participating in the Swallow’s Day Parade.

Same Modus Operandi

In 2007, American Horse Products moved to its current location in San Juan Capistrano. The store is much larger and the inventory is four times what the catalog contained, but the modus operandi is the same. “Our initial idea was to do articles on each product and give the user’s point of view on what they actually did, instead of the manufacturer’s blurb,” Jim explains. “It may not have been very politically correct, but we’re still doing that.” Today, most items have been tested by a team member or customer before they’re carried in the store.

“When companies approach us about carrying their products, we try to find some of our own customers who have the problem the product is supposed to address,” Diane explains. “We ask them to try it and fill out a form, confirming that they’ve followed the manufacturer’s instructions and giving their feedback and recommendations.”

Statue out front of the store signals visitors that they’ve found their horsey oasis in the middle of downtown San Juan Capistrano.

Every horse responds to products a little differently, but in most cases, “We can let our customers know that something really works and they find that refreshing.”

In requiring first-hand knowledge of their team, Jim and Diane set the standard as active horse owners. So does their oldest daughter, Brooke. When not working in the store, she is an accomplished team roper. She’s also a longtime volunteer at the Mustard Seed Ranch, where foster kids develop lasting relationships with horses. The Carters’ younger daughter Brittany also rode, and is now a school teacher.

The Carters own two Miniature horses and four Quarter Horses. Jim is a member of Las Tortugans trail riders and Diane cowgirls with Las Vaqueras.    

Broad Fan Base

The store’s fan base extends beyond horse owners. American Horse Products was honored by the City of San Juan Capistrano as business leader of the year in 2012. The Chamber of Commerce named it business of the year this year. Among several committees, the couple serves on the Chamber’s Equestrian Council and the Fiesta Association, which sponsors the annual Swallows Day Parade and surrounding activities every March.

Family ride on Mother’s Day. Brittney on Ace, Diane on Wyatt, Brooke on Lacie and Jim on Pat.

“We like to get out and be part of the city and doing so has been instrumental to our success,” Jim says. Interacting with other business owners and community leaders and being active in the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition has contributed to the city’s embrace of horses and the horsey lifestyle.

American Horse Products sponsors equestrian events and opportunities throughout Orange County. Jim is particularly pleased about supporting the equestrian staging area at Reata Park, near the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. It features corrals and an arena and access to many miles of trails, with an eventual goal of connecting to more trails in the Caspers Wilderness Park.

Already, riders can saddle up and stroll down the creek bed to the San Juan Hills Country Club golf course. “There’s a corral there for your horse, and if you take your bridle into the golf club bar, you’ll get a happy hour discount,” Jim shares. “I’m proud to say that project has a ‘donated by American Horse Products’ plaque on it and it’s a really nice ride.”

Their newest cause to support is Wild Horses of San Juan Capistrano, a public art project designed to raise awareness and funds for horses in general and for Return To Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary specifically.

Hitching post or not, the Carters’ store is a valued outpost of equestrian interests and pursuits in Southern California.