Story by Hayley Morrison
The summer sun is beating down on the backstretch as Tanya Waltoo helps her partner Renico ‘Nico’ Lafond prep their horse Wings of Victory for his next race. The dapper looking gelding poses keenly beside Waltoo, who despite working very early and long hours at the track is looking just as fresh and ready for the camera.
If you follow Waltoo on social media, you already know the exercise rider and horse owner operates a company called Cowgirl Up with Green (CGUG).
What you don’t know is that CGUG is much more than a business for this entrepreneur.
“When you wear CGUG and you remember the brand name - it kind of gets you through your day. Say you’re having a bad day, you look at the logo and you’re just like, ‘I got get through it, suck it up buttercup, get over it. Cowgirl up, you’ll be fine.’ And that’s just a healthy way to do it, the green way of doing things,” said Waltoo who seeks infinite inspiration in her brand name.
Before Waltoo stepped into the racing world or developed CGUG she worked in nutrition at several hospitals in Toronto.
In 2007, despite not knowing too much about racing or how to ride she found herself buying a racehorse named V Twelve. The purchase of that thoroughbred led her to discover a whole new world. A world where you could enjoy the company of a four-legged friend while also getting in your exercise and keeping fit as well.
“At the time I was working at Toronto Rehab as a nutrition services supervisor. I was in charge of the nutrition department there. Then I realized ‘hey you get paid to ride horses.’ I decided that I wanted to do whatever I could to ride this horse. So I cowgirled up and found a program out in Alberta at Olds College where you could train to be exercise rider or jockey and tried to enroll myself in it,” said Waltoo who attended the program back in 2008.
After completing the exercise rider program Waltoo moved back to Ontario to work with V Twelve at Fort Erie racetrack. She definitely credits that horse for inspiring her to cowgirl up.
“It was motivation to go out there and get on other horses.”
In 2011 Waltoo and Lafond moved from the Fort to set up shop on Woodbine’s backstretch. Both industrious and ambitious Waltoo continued to work at the hospital while riding horses in the morning at the track.
The racetrack life can be all consuming for most people. Yet, Waltoo still found time to pursue her passion and interest in healthy living and well-being. This interest led her to stumble upon a health company, Green’s Your Colour that carried a skin care line and insulated water bottles. Waltoo started helping part time with the company and then one thing led to another. In late 2015 she stepped out on her own, embracing that cowgirl up notion and started her own health living line.
“I started carrying the insulated water bottles as well as my own skin care and soy candles. People were loving it. Up to this day I have people coming up to me and telling me they still have my products. I have a lot of repeat customers because they see all the things I’ve been growing into over the years.”
Juggling her job at the hospital while riding and developing your own business is no easy feat. Soon enough Waltoo realized one love would overtake another.
“I had to make the decision and I was enjoying what I was doing so much that I transitioned completely and this is how CGUG really expanded. I was like you know what ‘I’m in the horse world and ‘I’m going to come up with things that are versatile for people like me,” said Waltoo who now works full time at Woodbine while operating her own business.
For people like Waltoo, riding racehorses is like going to the gym. However, that cool down period that lends itself to a hot shower and maybe a blow dry in the change room at the gym isn’t always feasible at the track. Time is of the essence when it comes to being a horsemen.
“For example the pony tail hats. After you take off a helmet you have helmet hair. Once I put on my pony tail hat and leave to go to my next destination I look like I tried. Like literally look I tried.”
Waltoo, now a seasoned exercise rider is well aware of the intensity that comes with riding racehorses. The CGUG clothing line has been developed to suit the needs of the hardworking horsemen during those early morning training hours.
Photo by Hayley Morrison
“We have exercise riders wearing them in the morning because they are dry fit and moisture wicking and they stay cool. The first shirt I came up with adapts to your body temperate. You could either wear it in the summer or in the winter and layer it up. It keeps you warm and cool.”
Breathing in that positive energy that Waltoo herself wholeheartedly possess, the CGUG line may also carry some good juju with it too.
“Nick Gonzalez actually told me his CGUG shirt is his lucky shirt. He wore it to saddle a horse and he won.”
Aside from the versa active wear for both men and women Waltoo’s CGUG line also includes natural skin care, soy candles, socks, swim wear, towels and a natural anti-fungal solution for horses.
Four years of hard work, dedication and passion for innovating has seen Waltoo’s venture blossom into a full-fledged business. Various retailers across Ontario as well as Canada carry CGUG. Western University co-brands and retails some of their products too. One of the biggest equine online stores in North America, State Line Tack also carries the CGUG’s Horsin’ Around Versa Towel. Last year CGUG also did the HBPA sweaters.
What sets Waltoo’s company apart from others?
One word, versatility.
“You can come to work and work in your clothing and then you are off to your next gig and you fit in. It’s the versatility of the clothing.”
Waltoo is proud of what CGUG offers her clients at Woodbine and outside the track.
Photo by Miguel Waltoo
Most importantly though she reiterates the ethos that CGUG is all about.
“Cowgirl Up with Green - if you fall off a horse, get back on. Life will throw many obstacles in your way and if you can take something and learn from the “not so pleasant” situations and look at the bright side it will be a lot easier to get to where you want to be or closer to your goal. Taking the good out of a “bad situation” is the green/healthy way of doing things.”
The racing industry is full of highs and lows and embracing the good days is something every horseman can attest to. At the bare minimum they can attest to the fast-paced mornings and the daily grind that come with the job of getting horses fit and ready for race days. No one knows the daily grind better than Waltoo and Lafond.
Lafond has been working in the industry since he was eleven and training horses for almost a decade. Walking Wings of Victory over to the front side, the stakes winning trainer is proudly decked out in his CGUG gear.
“I love the flexibility when it comes to galloping horses. I’m free. I don’t have to be all tight or tense. Sweating wise, when I sweat you can’t really tell and you can’t really feel it. It basically absorbs back into the clothes. In the winter time you stay warm and in the summer time you stay cool. It’s great active wear.”
Active wear aside, Lafond and Waltoo also point out that some of the proceeds from CGUG products are donated to helping LongRun rehome racehorses. Additionally, the couple have trainers approach them about horses looking for homes after their racing careers are over and help to assist in finding homes when they can.
No doubt, Waltoo is kept on her toes with not only innovating for the sport, riding racehorses but also helping horses find homes off the track too.
Yet, with a big smile on her face she continues to be in this game for a single reason, one that resonates with her CGUG lifestyle.
“The love of horses. Horses are majestic creatures. Being around something you love all day is the green.”
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