Horse & Rider Q&A: Shane Johnston on Barrel Racing and Western Boots

Riding, barrel racing and designing Western is always busy for talented horsewoman Shane Johnston.

Shane Johnston has never met a breed of horse or type of riding she didn’t like. On ponies, Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and Quarter Horses, she’s competed in Western pleasure, saddle-seat equitation, hunter/jumper, and reined cow horse events. To name but a few.

When she’s not creating and marketing boots for Ariat, Shane Johnston is involved in her current passion–barrel racing.

Most recently, the native Californian-who’s been showing since she was 4-has moved into barrel racing. In her maiden year as a pro in Women’s Professional Rodeo Association competition, she was the 2007 California Circuit Permit Champion.

She rides most weekdays after work, competing on weekends up and down the state from her home base in Menlo Park.

But riding and competing aren’t all that keep this able 27-year-old busy. Her day job is director of Western footwear for Ariat International, Inc., the equestrian-apparel giant headquartered in the Bay Area’s Union City.

We talked to Shane to find out what it’s like to balance this level of competition with what she describes as “a dream job.”

H&R: What makes this job so appealing to you?
Shane: We have two seasons a year, and for each we create 80 to 100 new boots in the Western division alone. I oversee the entire process, coming up with ideas and managing the entire life cycle of a new boot-working with the leather people, figuring out pricing, testing the new product.

We focus on what’s innovative and technologically advanced, and what the consumer wants. Seeing the new boots in the stores, seeing people wearing and enjoying them, knowing I’ve been involved right from the inception-that’s my favorite part of the job.

H&R: Does your work involve travel?
Shane: Yes. I go to New York and Europe regularly, looking for footwear trends. I also attend a lot of horse shows and rodeos-apart from the ones I compete in-to scope out trends. I ask competitors specifically what they like and what they need.

H&R: Well, that does sound like fun. How did you get to where you are today?
Shane: I grew up on a cattle ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley of California. My parents bred Arabians and Quarter Horses, and I competed a lot as a youth. I was even featured with three other teens on H&R’s ‘Horsepeople’ page in the August 2001 issue, for success at showing Arabians. I’ve also won championships in reined cow horse and hunter/jumper competition.

H&R: So you were a horsewoman born and bred. Did your education also help point you in the direction of your current job?
Shane: Yes. In college I knew I wanted to be in the marketing end of the business world. I graduated from CalPoly State University at San Luis Obispo with a BA in agribusiness and an emphasis in marketing, plus a minor in equine science. I came to Ariat? directly out of college, starting as a marketing coordinator. I’ve been with them now for five years.

The busy horsewoman has also appeared in some of Ariat’s ‘lifestyle’ ads.

H&R: What drew you to barrel racing?
Shane: It’s such an adrenaline rush! Right now I’m hooked on it. I compete on the California barrel racing circuit, plus branch out to Oregon, Washington, and Nevada, too.

H&R: Please tell us about your horse.
Shane: My best horse recently had to be put down because of a tendon injury. That was Save The Last Dance For Me, a mare from Oklahoma. She was great! Right now I’m borrowing others’ horses and searching for a new one of my own. I look for racehorse breeding, and I need a finished horse-I don’t have the time to be starting a 3-year-old. I need one I can go and compete on, now.

H&R: So, after all the types of riding you’ve done, barrel racing is it for you?
Shane: Well, for now. My next adventure will be cutting!

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