A Healthy Snack

03/01/2023 02:24 AM By Lisa Anderson
The Chews Letter
Renee Genther
Renee Genther
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

A Healthy Snack

Nurse Practitioner’s Unique Formula Benefits Horses

Renee Genther never expected to be an entrepreneur. A life-long equestrian, who works full time as an Oncology Nurse Practitioner, she didn’t have starting her own business on her mind in 2020.

 “I’m just another COVID entrepreneur,” she admits. “With COVID, you actually had time to focus on something and make it come to fruition.”

 When most of the world was locked down, horse owners were, of course, still in the barn, tending to their equine charges, which is how Renee and her adult daughter Emily put their heads together and came up with Funky Unicorn Treats: “horse treats with a purpose.”

Horse-Crazy Childhood

 With a father in the Air Force and a husband in the Coast Guard, Renee was always on the move. “No matter where we lived, I found a horse or pony to ride; I wasn’t picky,” says Renee. “Being a military kid, I rode whatever was at the nearest barn: Western, reining, foxhunting, whatever. If I could get on a horse, I did it.”

 While living in Minnesota, 13-year-old Renee bought a $50 Shetland pony named Star with her chore money. From that first pony, it was onward and upward for Renee, who moved into riding hunter/jumper, eventing, and dressage.

 In 2001, Renee, her husband Doug, and their children Kyle and Emily moved to Ocala from Michigan. “Doug had just retired from the Coast Guard, and both our parents were retired in Florida. Plus, I was a horse person, so the compromise was I’ll move to Florida, if we go to Ocala,” says Renee.

 Once in Ocala, she focused solely on dressage and rides regularly in Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) competitions. Her current horse is a Lusitano gelding named Hector Interagro. They’re currently working towards showing at the Grand Prix level. “Hector is like a big Golden Retriever,” says Renee.

Creating a Business

Like many riders, Renee and her daughter used sugar cubes to reward their horses for a job well done. Sugar cubes aren’t made in the U.S. When the pandemic hit, they became impossible to find on store shelves, so Renee and Emily experimented with making their own.

When some of their horses weren’t drinking readily during cold weather, a friend at the barn suggested putting electrolytes in the treats.

After much experimentation, the mother-daughter team came up with a recipe that combined sugar and electrolytes. They shared sample treats with other riders at a local horse show.

They also worked with an FEI veterinarian Courtney Varney, DVM and an equine nutritionist to make sure the formula would be “show safe” for horses in competition. Dr. Varney so believed in the product’s value for horses that she joined the company, as well.

“We did a lot of testing and came up with three flavors: apple, mint, and banana,” says Renee. The treats serve a purpose by providing some sodium and electrolytes that help horses recover after exercise and encourage water consumption.

Horse treats are a popular item in the equestrian world, but Renee’s research revealed that there were no electrolyte treats on the market. Whenever she and Emily shared the treats, enthusiastic horse owners asked if they had a website to sell them. Thus, Funky Unicorn Treats was born in the winter of 2021.

Made in the USA

For over a year, Renee and Emily made the treats in their own kitchens. As demand grew, they sought a manufacturer to produce them, which proved tougher than they expected.

“I wanted everything to be made in the U.S. to control quality. I almost gave up finding a way to manufacture our treats but finally did a ‘hail Mary’ and called a company that makes cold-compressed dextrose products. The research scientist, a fellow horse person and former eventer, worked for Per Os Biosciences in Maryland. She loved the product idea and said, ‘We can do this!’” says Renee.

“The final product is better than I could have hoped for,” she adds. “Being produced in a pharmaceutical/candy company, every single cube has the exact ingredients in them.”

The whole process was a learning curve for Renee, who was inspired to keep at it, when owners kept telling her how it helped their horses and donkeys stay hydrated.

Now, the goal is to create another product to join the line of “Horse treats with a purpose.”

“If you’d told me two years ago I’d be doing this, I’d have laughed at you,” Renee says. “But it’s a good alternative from my normal work, which isn’t always the happiest of days, and I do like helping people.”
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