Most people would be content with making a mark in one industry. But footwear legend Sam Edelman, with his wife, Libby, has turned his childhood passion for horse riding into a successful business.
He estimates that over the course of five decades, the family has owned roughly 350 horses, starting with a Shetland pony that his father bought when Edelman was around 10 years old and that they kept tied to a tree in their Connecticut backyard. It was followed by an Arabian horse called Flame. “That little horse led us to being exposed to the whole equestrian world,” recalled Edelman.
While just pre-teens, he and his sister picked up training tricks by spying on professionals at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, and with his innate entrepreneurial talent, Edelman identified an opportunity.
“We started buying horses that were too slow to race, for $500 or $700, and teaching them to jump,” he said. “Then we’d sell them to young women around Connecticut.”
Trading horses has helped support Edelman at various points in his adult life, from his college years to the launch of his Sam & Libby brand, which he funded by selling off his stable.
Edelman’s riding hobby also has had a tremendous influence on his design work. Not only was it the basis of his first venture — Horseshoes, launched in 1975 with his father — but it continues to feed the aesthetic of his current Sam Edelman brand.
Libby Edelman explained, “The two work together, interestingly. If you think about our product, we always say it [comes from] our equestrian background, from the saddle stitching to some of the aspirational heritage brands that we look to.”
Similarly, Emily Smith of Ashland Farms in Lexington, Ky., noted that Edelman’s designer’s eye for detail has impacted his work with horses: “He is meticulous, and that’s important in this world, that everything is always professional. From his farms that are spectacular to his attire for his horses, it all carries over.”
Trainer Ralph Caristo of Glenview Stables in Saugerties, N.Y.. noted that Edelman’s ability to spot a winner — which has produced many hit shoes — is also evident in his equestrian business. “He understands horses and has a great eye, and takes his time with them,” said Caristo. “And he’s smart enough to fit the right rider with the right horse.”
Both he and Smith agreed that the Edelmans’ generosity is as renowned in the equestrian community as it is in footwear. “Sam has a great heart and is an important mentor, whether it’s a business or life question. He’s always there for you,” said Smith.
Today, at the Edelmans’ stables in Sherman, Conn., the couple has just three residents.
“I have two 22-year-old horses that I ride on the weekend with my friends,” said Edelman. “They’re about the same age as I am if you compare horse years to human years.” The third is 9-year-old jumper named Rocky. “Hopefully, he’ll be very famous someday. He’s at the beginning of what could be the high point of his career.”
He added that during the Sam & Libby days, the Edelmans were a thoroughly equestrian family. “Everybody rode: I rode, Libby rode, the kids rode,” said Edelman. Today, however, he’s the only one still involved — though his 18-month-old granddaughter is already showing a keen interest. “She’ll say, ‘neigh, neigh,’ and I know the only way to make her happy is to take her to the horses.”