Heather Zielinski, former member of Canby FFA in Oregon, always knew she would pursue a career in agriculture. After all, she grew up on a farm with horses, cattle and a wide variety of crops, and she was heavily involved with both FFA and 4-H in her youth. But after getting injured, her path took an unexpected turn.
Zielinski, who competed in barrel–racing events and helped facilitate equine therapy in high school, began buying, redesigning and selling horse tack at age 18 after a horseback riding accident left her temporarily unable to do physical labor. A self-taught tack designer, she fell in love with the process of turning ordinary-looking tack into something a bit more special. She continued to focus on her designs after she healed from her accident. As a result, Running Roan Tack was born in 2002.
“I started Running Roan Tack because I couldn’t find what I was looking for when I was purchasing tack for my own horses,” Zielinski says. “I decided the best way to get what I wanted was to create it, and I’ve never looked back.”
According to Zielinski, her involvement with FFA served her as she found her niche in agriculture as a tack designer and retail business operator. As an FFA member, she completed a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project in agribusiness sales and service, which she says piqued her interest in retail operations and helped her when it came to growing her business.
“The agribusiness sales and service SAE opened my eyes to a side of agriculture I had never thought about before and hadn’t been exposed to,” Zielinski says. “That experience was valuable and led to me working at local farm stores for a short while after high school. I’m not sure I would have done that if not for my SAE, because I previously thought I only wanted to work in production agriculture or with livestock in a hands-on way. Plus, the things FFA taught me about advertising, marketing and selling commodities and interacting with customers are still with me today.”
In 2013, Zielinski relocated Running Roan Tack from Oregon to Stephenville, Texas. Today, the thriving business offers handcrafted leather merchandise including uniquely adorned headstalls, breast collars, halters, spur straps, neck/wither straps and saddlebags, along with fashion accessories such as handbags, wallets, checkbook covers, cosmetics bags and keychains.
“I’m thankful for my time in FFA because I truly think it helped me get to where I am today,” Zielinski says. “I’d encourage any young person to get involved; you never know what you’re going to discover and how it may impact your life in the future.”