It all started as a hobby, making saddle blankets for her husband Don to use in his endurance competitions, but Beryl Sagar’s business BJ Merino NZ Ltd has mushroomed and her saddle blankets are now sold around the world.
The couple has enjoyed considerable success in their chosen sport of endurance and also bred their own horses for competition and the overseas market. Even now, in their 70s, they both work and still actively break in and ride horses.
Don works as a casual labourer around the district where they live at Parakai, near Helensville, doing whatever comes up around him, including running a sheep farm for five years. Up until six months ago Beryl worked cleaning houses, but she’s now able to devote herself to BJ Merino.
When Don competes in endurance Beryl acts as ground crew and straps the horses.
BJ Merino was born when one of Beryl’s employers, who had a business that used merino, gave her some scraps to make saddle blankets for Don.
Don rides in a saddle shaped blanket as he doesn’t like a lot of cover, and it all went from there. “I made a pocket one for somebody, so the pocket blanket came in, and so it goes on,” Beryl says.
“I just did it for friends. I’ve probably been going for about 15 years. I made the saddle blankets for Don and then
another lady I worked for, who was a showjumper, asked me to make some for her. Then through word of mouth it just got bigger and bigger.”
That particular lady encouraged Beryl to attend local shows and Horse of the Year with her wares.
“I love it. I’m a people person and I like meeting people.”
Her most popular products are the saddle blankets she makes for endurance riders. But she also caters for all disciplines, including showjumping, hunting, and dressage.
She puts her success down to the fact she custom makes, if there’s a difficult horse she can get measurements and create the perfect fit. She also has a large range and a huge variety of colours available, from hot pink to gold.
“We’ve got a four bedroom house and two bedrooms are full of saddle blankets.”
Wool has many fantastic qualities, making it an excellent material for saddle blankets. “It’s natural, it breathes, it’s not hot and it takes the sweat away from the horses – in our sport that’s very important. And it’s comfortable for the horses.”
Beryl also offers a choice of three different weights, allowing customers to choose heavier or lighter saddle blankets.
“I’ve never had anybody say they don’t like them. They love the wool and the fact I can make any shape.
“They’re very long lasting. My husband still has his original saddle blanket. If you look after them they last a long time. I’ve got customers who have over 20 blankets. When you do endurance you normally need one for every loop, but mine dry very quickly between loops.”
As well as the saddle blankets, Beryl also sells the colour co-ordinated Zilco range of endurance gear, everything a rider could need. “I take it all with me in the truck and because I’m on the ground all the time riders know to come to my truck if something breaks or they need something new.”
She doesn’t yet have a website, as she has only recently got broadband thanks to the rural broadband initiative. Running a site on cellular wasn’t viable and satellite is expensive.
To date, her sales have come from word of mouth and attending shows. She also sells her products on Equine Trader and Trade Me.
Getting rural broadband has made a big difference to her business and she now gets a huge number of inquiries through her Facebook page.
“The winter months are quieter, when people aren’t riding as much, but it keeps me really busy. I employ a machinist but still do all the designing and cutting here at home.”
For Beryl and Don, they have been able to combine the best of both worlds, their love of equestrian sports and a successful business.