When I first met Monica I was scared to death of her. Even though I had been in the equestrian retail business for several years, most of my experience was sheltered inside the store at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. I had no idea of what it meant to be mobile, or work the horse shows. But Monica did, and she was at the top of her game. She had the reputation of being the “Queen” of vendor row, which meant you do not want to cross her, or threaten her territory. She could be fierce and protective, and was not afraid of confrontation. So when I showed up at the Oaks, with my tiny trailer and tents, I put myself on her radar, and realized I had to tread very carefully if I was going to be allowed to exist on her turf.
The reality of the situation was that Monica and I were cut from the same cloth, or more aptly the same Italian tech fabric. And after a few bumpy starts on vendor row, once she realized that I was on my own path, and was not out to “steal” her brands or her customers, we slowly became friendly competitors, and then just friends. At some point we began sharing war stories during the downtimes at shows. And I use the word “war” because it’s not too far off from the shenanigans at the horse show. I used to joke that being an Equestrian vendor was at times, like being a contestant on Survivor. Without the proper social awareness and savvy, it was only a matter of time before one of us got voted off the row. It’s a freaky dirty business, and Monica and I began to rely on each other when we found ourselves too deep in the trenches. She would call me to “talk her off the cliff,” as she would describe it. And I would call her just before I was getting ready to run someone over in my truck. It was nice to have an ally, and Monica was the best kind of ally a person could ask for.
I remember one Monday morning, getting to a show to set up, and the showgrounds had that faint hum of preparations. And I could hear Monica’s voice before I could even see her. Sometimes our spots would be pretty far away, but I could always hear her. That day she was yelling at some poor bastard on the phone who was no doubt trying to screw her over. And I smiled to myself and thought, “go get ‘em Monica, they don’t’ deserve you.”
And most of these brands didn’t deserve someone like Monica. She was a trailblazer in the Equestrian fashion world. She had great taste, and wasn’t afraid to be all in. She knew how to build a brand, and she knew how to keep her customers loyal. Brands like Alessandro Albanese, Cavalleria Toscana, Kask, Parlanti, Horse Pilot, and Struck, would not be as successful today if it weren’t for Monica. She made those brands relevant on the West Coast. She was those brands. And I truly hope they knew that, and treated her like the Queen she was. She didn’t just waltz into the business and snatch up brands that were already popular, she did the work, she earned that crown.
For me she was more like a great cheerleader than a Queen. Always bouncy and bubbly, smiling and laughing. She had a big laugh, that matched her big personality. Which made her an exceptional sales woman and business owner. And for me she made a great competitor. She kept me on my toes, challenged me, and always sent customers my way when she didn’t have what they needed. I of course reciprocated, and we sort of had an unofficial working relationship at the show. Feeding each other customers back and forth.
I remember catching up with her after that phone call at Thermal, and she told me about the brand that was screwing her over, and a vendor involved of course too. And my advice was, get another brand, why don’t you get Horse Pilot. And she said, oh yeah I already have that in the works. Of course she did! She was always one step ahead even when she felt like she was falling behind. Because that’s how you have to constantly be when you run your own business. Always have that Ace in your pocket. And Monica was smart and savvy enough to have as many Aces as she could find. Because there was no way in hell she was getting voted off the island. She was taking home that million dollars.
As much as I like to think that Monica and I were the same, that we had similar approaches to our business, that we were both leading the way in our industry, I simply never had the kind of stamina, grit, and unflappable determination that she had, both in our business and in life. She was truly a force. A force of hard work, a force of positive energy. She always had the strength to stand up to bullies, and in our industry there are plenty of those. I was honored that she would call me when she was having an issue, a problem to deal with in our world, and wanted my advice. She always made me feel like we were equals, even though I knew that she was in a category of her own making. But I hope that our talks helped her in some way. That she knew I had her back, and would stand up with her, for her, whatever was required.
So I have been up all night, upset, devastated for her family, for her friends, for her employees. And selfishly for myself. Who will I go to now when I am ready to throw in the towel, or when a customer or company or other vendor sends me into the deep end? I just keep thinking about how strong she was through everything. How positive she was, how much energy she always had to spare. And I keep thinking what can I do now? How can I honor her life in our world? What advice would she give me, what would she want me to do? And the only thing that comes to mind is her voice in my head telling me to keep fighting. To keep going. To do my thing, and to not let all the other shit send me off the cliff. And to stand up for myself, to not let the bullies take over the Kingdom she built so many years ago.
So my promise to her now is that. I will keep fighting for her. I won’t let the bullies take over. I will make sure she takes home that million dollars, because she is the only one that truly deserves to win.
Thank you Monica for letting me into your world, for letting me be successful next to you, for being vulnerable and sharing your own challenges and fears with me, for inspiring me to be better, stronger, and to always see the positive. You will always be the Queen, and I won’t let anyone forget that.