Hi everyone! I’m SO excited to share this interview I got to do with Winderen Equestrian’s founder & CEO, Michał Krzemień with you. I’m especially thrilled because it’s a rare and unique opportunity to interview someone who is in a different country and who doesn’t speak the same language – this entire interview was translated to Polish for Michał, then translated back to English. I loved getting to learn more about the brand, about Poland, and about Michał himself – PLUS he gives us a sneak peek at Winderen’s next product!!! This was truly one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve gotten to do and hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. I’m still loving my Winderen pad (can’t recommend it enough), and can’t wait to try out more of their products!
Hi Michał! So nice to “meet” you. Can you tell me a little bit about who you are and what your background is?
Oh, the first question is already quite difficult. Believe it or not, but I’ve never really talked about myself or written a resume, but I’ll give it a try now.
I come from the Polish city of Cracow. Cracow is indeed a historical city, with a rich tradition, culture and a lot of stories to tell. At the same time, Cracow is a very strong academic, artistic, creative, and industrial center. I refer to Cracow because, as a matter of fact, I am a bit like this city. On the one hand, I am already a bit aged, being 48 years old, and on the other hand, I certainly have a strong artistic and scientific bent, which means that I like to do research on different topics, to come up with new things, and then produce something. Long story short, I need to be in touch with various disciplines so I can produce what I invent.
What made you want to start Winderen?
To answer this, I think I have to go way back to the beginning of my riding journey. I started riding at the age of 11 at the local riding school, where I could learn the basics of how to ride and take care of horses in general. As a 13-year-old I was noticed by the trainer of a local equestrian club, and this is how I started to train and compete regularly. I had some good results in youth categories, but later, in Poland, there was a period of great political and economic changes, which also influenced the equestrian industry so that the state-owned clubs changed into private ones. It was a challenging moment for me too, and for certain reasons I stepped away from horses for a while, focusing more on work and business development.
However, once horses are in your life, they are there forever, so about 10 years ago, as a grown-up guy, I came back to them again. Step by step, and finally I decided to buy my own horses. I started to train regularly again, did some national and international shows with quite good results for a 40-year-old amateur rider. I spent a lot of time in the barns and at shows, with horses, professional riders and lots of different people. And I still do it today.
It’s a bit of my nature to always look for solutions – to observe and think. In the beginning, I started to look for solutions to my own riding problems and the problems of my horses. I started to use the knowledge that I had acquired over the years in other industries – technological, creative, technical – in order to create simple solutions for my own needs, and the needs of my horses. There were a lot of ideas, but the breakthrough moment was the development of the half pad now known as the Back Protect Solution.
Initially, this project was created for my mare, who had major back problems for which I could not find a solution. I used quite advanced technological materials, hoping that it would help her. The results exceeded my expectations. My friends started to borrow the half pad, coming back with positive feedback. So I decided that if it really works, and it works for other horses and riders then I should start designing such solutions. In the meantime, more ideas appeared, and this is how Winderen was born.
The equestrian culture and sport are much more accessible and widespread in Poland – how has that influenced you and your brand?
When I was a junior rider, equestrian sport in Poland was much smaller – it was just a small group of people meaning that all the riders knew each other. Years passed, and when I came back to the equestrian world, it turned out that many of those people were still there – they would train, show or breed horses. I quickly renewed those contacts and also met a huge number of new, great people from different disciplines. Why is it important? Because when designing solutions, you cannot rely only on your own feelings and experiences, you need to strongly consult and discuss everything with other experienced people.
The equestrian sport in Poland has developed a lot, and the number of horses, shows and barns have increased. It matters because in seeking and designing solutions, you have to look at riders at different levels and disciplines. You can’t design equipment based only on professionals’ needs, you have to take into account amateur riders as well.
What was the first product you made and why did you choose that as your first?
As I already mentioned before, the first product was the Back Protect Solution half pad. I had a lot of problems with my mare – with her back, looseness, the fit of the saddle. It is never easy with mares, but this one has always been specific and exceptionally sensitive.
The search for a solution has led me to realize that no horse was born with a saddle on its back. It is our responsibility as riders to adjust equipment so that it causes as little discomfort to the horse as possible. I got further confirmation of this during a conversation with a friend of mine, a PhD in biomechanics, who clearly stated that compressed muscles develop much worse and the best thing for muscle development would be to take the saddle off completely. He has not been specializing in horses, so his suggestion was not quite a solution, but he led me to the very important question – how do we get the saddle, that we have to ride in, off the horse?
The answer was to create a mix of various materials that would allow us to put the saddle on at the same time reducing the forces acting on the horse’s back muscles. That would increase comfort and freedom of muscle work and development, while retaining the ability to transmit all the necessary signals, impulses, and body balance needed to communicate with the horse.
Can you tell me about the role technology plays in your products?
It plays a huge role for sure. However, first, you have to ask yourself what technology really is.
We often show that we use advanced technologies – materials developed for NASA, the military, aviation and many other specialist industries. However, it is important to realize that design starts with a problem. If there’s a problem, you look for a solution, and that’s where the fun with technology begins. Occasionally, it goes the other way around, where we come across an interesting technology and adapt it to the needs of the equestrian world. However, we mainly design from the problem to the solution, and along the way, we look for technology that will help us fix the issue.
When we say technology, people usually think about something incredible invented literally half a year ago. Indeed, we look for, test and use such materials, but a good example of explaining my further point would be our Anatomic Top Line saddle pads. When we were looking for a solution to the problem of thermoregulation and horse’s comfort under the saddle pad, we had a lot of approaches with super modern materials, but these attempts came to naught. The effect was not satisfactory enough for us, so we returned to a solution known for years – felt. Now the question is: is felt a super technological invention? I will say yes, considering its properties and how superbly felt-made saddle pads work. So, even though this material has been known for years, the technology is still amazing.
What was your favorite Winderen product to create?
I may sound like a typical inventor-creator, but I mostly enjoy working on projects that I am just beginning to create. The truth is that the biggest excitement and fascination is seeing whether or not they work, and if they do, even a little bit, I start to look for improvements so that they can work even better. When the product is finished, tested and approved for production, it doesn’t mean that I’m no longer interested in it, but the work has already been done. The unknown future is always more fascinating and consumes our minds more than what is already known. Of course, every product no matter if it’s finished, in the design process or will be released soon fascinates me. If it hadn’t consumed me, it would never have been developed.
If I really had to pick one of the products we currently have in our offer, though, I’d say that my favorite product to create was the Gel Bits System, as it was the biggest design challenge and took the longest time before I achieved the desired result.
What’s your favorite Winderen product to use?
I use almost all of our products, but if I had to name just one I would say the Back Protect Solution half pad. It is a product that you can use blind on any horse in any situation (of course properly fitted to the saddle). Using the pad, you always know that it will make your horse feel better.
I’d love to know about the process that led to creating your top 3 products: the half pad, gel bits, and stirrup irons.
It would really take a lot of time to describe the whole process. I have already mentioned a little bit about how we design – it starts when we notice a problem, then we evaluate if it’s an individual matter or if it occurs frequently. If we come to the conclusion that the problem is common, then we think about it further.
For half pads, the original problem was the saddle fitting and back sensitivity of my mare.
For the bits, the initial basis was the problem that a large number of horses did not accept metal bits, while the second part of this project was a system of interchangeable cheek pieces. The idea was actually brought to me by one of the best Polish riders, Olympian Grzegorz Kubiak. I noticed him standing in the barn with two different bits in his hand and thoughtfully saying: “If I had a bit with cheek pieces of this one and a mouthpiece of the other one, it would fit my horse perfectly”. So I thought, why not make it possible?
For the stirrups, the idea came not from my own problems, but from riders around me. I realized that many of them suffer from pain in their knees and ankles, and struggle with keeping their legs stable. So I came up with the idea of creating stirrups that would really relieve the pressure on the joints. During the design process, it turned out that they also solved the problem of stability and overloading of legs, which generally translates into the overall balance of the rider in the saddle.
Are there any upcoming products or technologies you’re particularly excited about?
Of course, we are working on many projects now. From the top of my head, we have 15 projects running at the same time. They are at different stages of development – some of them are already finished and will probably be introduced this year, some are planned for the next year, others will take much longer. However, my philosophy is that we do not announce releases until we are sure that the product is ready.
Does the word “Winderen” mean anything or have a special meaning to you?
I have a strong fondness for Scandinavian approach to functional design. I once came across the Danish word “vinderen” with a ‘V’, which means “winner”. Coursing around this word, I realized that it’s not only a rider who is the winner, but a horse-rider pair. From that kind of thinking the V became a double V, which is W, and that’s how the name Winderen was created.
What can we expect next from Winderen?
As I mentioned a moment ago, we do not announce releases, but our next project is almost at the finish line so I can make an exception. We are now finishing preparations for the launch of innovative girths, which were made according to a philosophy similar to the Back Protect Solution half pads. These girths are meant to reduce pressure in a measurable way to provide the horses with as much freedom as possible. I think if everything goes well, we should be able to introduce this product by the end of this summer.