—Carina Roselli

All horses, even champions of the racetrack and the show ring, are only one unlucky sale away from abuse, neglect, and slaughter. Tens of thousands of horses become “at-risk” each year. In 2018 alone, over 81,000 horses were shipped across our borders to be slaughtered. Most were young, healthy, and had untapped potential. These horses need our help in whatever way we can give it. For Joe Der of Der Dau boot fame, that meant developing a line of stylish, functional, durable, and completely vegan riding boots with a generous portion of proceeds going to the EQUUS Foundation.

The EQUUS Foundation (EQUUS) is the only national animal welfare charity in the United States that’s 100% dedicated to protecting America’s horses and strengthening the human-equine bond. At the core of their mission is that all horses engaged in human activities—as athletes, companions, teachers, and healers—are safe, protected, and treated as partners with dignity.

As a 501(c)3 public charity, they are strong proponents for increasing opportunities for all people to engage with horses in innovative ways that will help ensure horses naturally transition from one chapter of their life to the next without risk of abuse, neglect, or slaughter.

EQUUS believes that an updated human-equine model—one based on collaborative relationships—offers boundless opportunities for horses to contribute positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being of all people.

EQUUS focuses their efforts on:

•Increasing adoptions of at-risk and transitioning horses, and providing a safe haven for aged horses;

•Vetting and investing in equine charities that undergo a comprehensive and unique verification process to ensure donor confidence in the organizations receiving EQUUS Foundation financial support;

•Inspiring horse lovers to become “horse protectors” by stimulating advocacy and volunteerism; and 

•Educating the public on the positive impact horses have on our lives by sharing stories of their amazing achievements and contributions.

HOW DID THE EQUUS FOUNDATION COME TO BE?

Horse Adoption Day 2018 (Left to Right Lynn Coakley, Georgina Bloomberg, and Valerie Angeli (Photo by Kiley Bates)

When EQUUS Foundation founder Lynn Coakley’s youngest daughter headed off to college, it came time for her daughter’s competitive hunter/jumper career to come to end (or at least a hiatus). That also meant it had come time for her beloved horses to transition to their next chapters.

While Lynn was fortunate to provide her daughter’s horses with a comfortable and safe environment to enjoy the remainder of their lives, the process of exploring options taught her that many horses in transition find themselves at risk of abuse and neglect when their owners can no longer care for them. 

This eye-opening experience inspired Lynn to establish the EQUUS Foundation in 2002 to provide financial support to a handful of equine charities in Connecticut and New York. The program expanded from there.

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR VEGAN BOOTS COME FROM?

Many years ago, Valerie Angeli (EQUUS Foundation Vice President of Engagement and Special Projects) started ruminating on the idea of developing vegan boots. As a long-time equestrian and horse owner, and a lifelong vegetarian by her own choice at age five, Val struggled with all the leather tack and gear required for a life riding horses. She wished there was an alternative.

But, when leather alternatives first appeared on the market, they didn’t seem to have the look or functionality that a discriminating equestrian would require to even consider buying. Attractive, functional, and high-performance non-leather materials still weren’t available.

In the past few years, however, the rise of both faux meat and faux leather alternatives of much higher quality have sprang onto what is now a much more demanding and trendy market of discerning millennials. Caring about the environment all and creatures great and small has now become mainstream. Designers and entrepreneurs are now busy creating more environmentally conscious and ethical products, some that even give back to great causes—enter the idea for the new #RideForHorses EQUUS Foundation vegan boot line by Der Dau!

To say that I am proud of them–what they look like, what they represent, and what they will do to give back to horses in the United States through the EQUUS Foundation—is an understatement. I am completely over the moon to have helped create these gorgeous boots with Der Dau, Georgina, and Clementine!  It’s a personal and professional dream come true.

—Valerie Angeli

OK, SO HOW DID THESE BOOTS ACTUALLY COME TO MARKET?

Joe developing a vegan masterpiece at his shop in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo courtesy of Joe Der)

Valerie had seen Der Dau boots at horse shows for many years and was impressed by their beautiful tailoring and stunning styles. She had long admired #EQUUStar Georgina Bloomberg’s taste, and her choice of Der Dau custom tall boots was quite an endorsement. Val kept wondering what those boots would look like in faux leather. So last winter, at the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival—after rescuing a cow (and unbeknownst to them, a calf) from slaughter together—Val asked for Georgina’s thoughts on high-style Der Dau boots made of faux leather that would also benefit horse welfare through the EQUUS Foundation.

Georgina loved the idea, but she was understandably doubtful that functional and durable boots could be made to her taste level out of non-leather materials. Val’s rebuttal was that she’d already spoken with Joseph Der about this very idea, and he was intrigued and up for the challenge. He had a few R&D requirements though. First, he had to find the right materials. Second, Georgina and other #EQUUStars would help him design them to their exact specifications. And third, as elite riders, the #EQUUStars had to test them. Once the plan was in place, Val’s idea was off to the races.

Joe and Val exchanged information about vegan and faux leather materials for months. #EQUUStar Clementine Goutal, who also has a discriminating taste in equestrian style, jumped in to help with the aesthetic decisions and testing. She expressed her desire for the boots’ materials to be gentler on the environment than real leather. Adding this extra challenge for Joe, he reworked the boots with fabrics made of paper-thin panels of recycled rubber and other more environmentally conscious fabrics.

Master Craftsmen at work. (Photo courtesy of Joe Der)

Joe then made a prototype that was “mind-blowingly beautiful,” but the sizing needed to be tweaked a bit. With that feedback, Joe found the perfect combo of materials that make the boots look and fit like their painted on. They have all of Der Dau’s signature high styling, are completely functional, and wear well—even for full-time competition riders—#EQUUStar approved!

WHAT’S AN #EQUUSTAR?

#EQUUStar Clementine Goutal modeling her new vegan boots. (Photo by Geoff Tischman)

The EQUUS Foundation has several #EQUUStars who serve as inspirational icons and role models for horse lovers and equestrians. They are top riders who aren’t just impressive in the show ring, but who “walk the talk” when it comes to horse welfare—like #EQUUStars Georgina Bloomberg and Clementine Goutal—and understand the importance of taking action. They are compassionate people who help EQUUS promote horse welfare projects and serve as “influencers” of kindness toward horses.

WHY DER DAU?

Der Dau craftsmen hard at work. (Photo courtesy of Joe Der)

To put it simply, “… to make sure that it’s the best, most comfortable boot someone has ever had.” But, for a company that once said, “We only work with the finest leather,” this vegan boot represents one of those big, innovative steps toward animal welfare that EQUUS promotes and the #EQUUStars love. 

Der Dau boots are a Cuban family tradition that was “Made in America.” After his uncle taught him the trade in Cuba, José Der (Joe’s grandfather) came to the US at age 26, started Der Dau boots in Flatbush, New York, and the rest is literally 50 years of history. The company built its exceptional reputation by offering exceptional customer service and using master leather artisans’ traditional techniques. 

Now, Joe is a third-generation boot maker (if you only count the American generations), and even with the advent of robot-craftsmanship, Der Dau remains passionately dedicated to its legacy of hand building  the finest riding boots to the exact specifications of each customer, and there’s no asterisk for vegan boots.

WHERE AND WHEN CAN PEOPLE GET THESE AWESOME BOOTS?

The new “#RideForHorses EQUUS Foundation Vegan Tall Boot by Der Dau” is set to officially unveil during the annual Hampton Classic Animal Adoption Day on Monday, August 26,at 12:00 PM. Der Dau will be taking boot orders and measuring for custom sizing at their beautiful Hampton Classic boutique.

At the conclusion of the Hampton Classic, Der Dau will take orders at their Brooklyn store (1885 McDonald Avenue) and at their pop-up shops at horse shows across the country.

Der Dau will give 20% of the purchase price of each boot to the EQUUS Foundation to help at-risk and transitioning horses find hope across the United States.

If you’d like to support the EQUUS Foundation and their mission, you can make tax-deductible donations by phone at (203) 259-1550 or by email at mail@equusfoundation.org. If donating money isn’t your thing, consider volunteering at a horse welfare organization, adopt a horse, or join EQUUS at their events. To learn more, visit www.equusfoundation.org and follow them on social media @EQUUSFoundation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

PS: The “Dau” in the company name “Der Dau” comes from the Spanish tradition of incorporating their grandmother’s maiden name as part of their last name. If you’re like me, you were wondering.