Showing Style on the horse show circuit has been Valerie Heydinger's specialty for 10 years.
She creates clothing people wear during competitions.
Although many local people aren't aware Showing Style by Valerie exists between Melmore and Bloomville, people on the circuit know her custom designs well.
PHOTO BY VICKI JOHNSON
Valerie Heydinger works on a pair of chaps for a customer in Arizona.
PHOTO BY VICKI JOHNSON
An example of a design sold by Showing Style by Valerie design.
"I've had customers from all over the country," she said. "I would say a majority of them are in Ohio.
"These chaps," she said, pointing to pieces of black leather on her work table, "are being shipped to a customer in Arizona.
"I've got chaps and men's shirts all over the country," she said. Even the "Gerber baby," who now shows horses in adulthood, wears clothing designed by her.
For more information call (419) 937-2476, visit Showingstylebyvalerie.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heydinger mainly travels with the quarter horse circuit, but also attends shows for Arabians, paints, buckskins, appaloosas and open shows.
"A lot of my customers are from the same circuit," she said. "We usually take a popup tent and then I decorate that with displays and clothes."
The work is similar to custom dress making.
"I do all my own designs," she said. "I probably take more measurements than a regular dress maker because show clothes have to fit very well. You don't want anything loose and hanging. It's fitted to each person's body."
Heydinger said it takes her about a week to make an outfit - from cutting out the pieces and sewing to making a design template and gluing.
"Then you stitch it," she said. "Sometimes you have two to three layers, so sometimes you topstitch a couple different times.
"When it's all done, you add the glitz and glitter," she said. "You add the rhinestones and stuff."
The business has grown considerably grown in 10 year's time, Heydinger said, and she doesn't plan to stop.
Today, prices for a Showing Style by Valerie creation range from $800-$3,000.
"People think I make a killing," she said. "But I really don't. The materials that go into these clothes are expensive."
She makes showmanship and horsemanship clothing.
"In showmanship, you are leading the horse. You're on the ground presenting your horse," she said.
"Horsemanship is the same thing, only you're riding the horse, showing your ability to do a pattern - with poise."
Heydinger makes 75-100 outfits a year, depending on complexity. Most are custom orders, but she usually has a few off-the-rack items to sell.
"I sell a lot to the horsemanship students at the University of Findlay and Tiffin University," she said. "But a lot to regular people too."
She sees people at her shop by appointment only and works long hours six or seven days a week.
"When you love what you do, you don't count your hours. I have no idea how much I work," she said. "It's a deadline business. You're always shooting for somebody's show date."
Despite her work schedule, Heydinger said she saves two hours every day to ride her horse, Deal Me a Poker Chip.
In addition to making clothing for other people, she shows her horse on the American Quarter Horse Association circuit.
"We just had our annual banquet and I just got all kinds of prizes," she said.
One example was an all-around award.
"In order to do that you have to show in a bunch of different classes," she said, such as horsemanship, showmanship, equitation, Western pleasure and trail.
"(Trail) is my favorite," she said.
Heydinger has been showing horses since she was 10 years old, except for a 20-year "mommy break" from ages 25-45.
"We still showed, but my kids were showing so I was the groom," she said.
Her children are Wes, now 33, and Lindsey, now 30.
After they grew up, she decided to get back into showing about 10 years ago.
"I was following my daughter all over creation and she got a new horse and her other horse was there available for me to show, so I showed him," she said. "I never quit wanting to. I just couldn't juggle both."
Now at age 57, she said has no plans to end her career anytime soon.
"It's a true passion," she said. "My goal is to be riding when I'm 100, so I have a long way to go. Hopefully, I make it."
It was during her years following her children that the business idea developed.
"I always did office work and I always hated it," she said. "But that's what I went to school for, so that's what I did."
At first, she taught herself to sew because she wanted to make her children's show clothing.
She said didn't know much about sewing when she started.
"In eighth grade I made an apron. Does that count? And I hated it," she said. "I got a sewing machine for a wedding gift and said. 'What the heck am I going to do with this?'"
She made a few baby clothes with it when her children were small.
But when they got old enough to start showing horses, Heydinger said she started taking clothes apart to see how they were made.
"My mother was very fashion-design conscious," she said. "She modeled when she was young and she always had nice clothes. I would take those good clothes apart and taught myself that way."
She also read books and did a lot of experimenting.
"It just came natural to me," she said.
When she started making clothes for her daughter, people started taking notice.
"I started making some chaps for other people," she said.
"It took a while," she said. "It took me until I was 48 to decide what I wanted to do with my life."
When she decided to get serious about the business, her husband and son turned a four-car garage into her office and workshop.
"My husband, Ben, can do just about anything - and he did," Heydinger said. "My son's a brick mason and he laid my ceramic tile for me."
Her shop has an industrial sewing machine, which she uses mainly for making show signs and banners.
"People use them when they set up," she said.
The banners are a new aspect to the business.
"The lady that used to do it retired," she said. "I bought my machine from her and she kind of helped me get going in it.
"Upstairs, we have three Bermina sewing machines and two sergers," she said. The sergers are used for making clothing professionally finished edges.
She has more ideas for the future.
"At some point, my dream is to have a boutique," she said. "There's nobody around here who offers one."
Heydinger said the store would offer horse-related clothing and accessories.
"You can go to Texas and find that kind of stuff, but you can't find it around here," she said.