A great number of new hitch exhibitors appear at the shows each year, many of them coming from backgrounds other than the heavy horse industry. Consequently, they are entering a strange new world and, not surprisingly, many of them have questions about how to improve their outfits, how to become more competitive and how those hitches placing at the top do things. Sounds like a wonderful topic for a Horsemen's Round Table, so let's meet our panel of experts:
Mr. Brad Schreiber, Plainview, Minnesota; Brad grew up a farm kid and has been showing horses for over 25 years, including driving gelding 6 and 8-horse hitches, exhibiting halter horses and raising colts. The family operation currently consists of some 30 head of Percherons, and, occasionally, a Belgian. Schreibers participate in up to five parades and 12 shows annually.
Mr. Ross Honsberger, Sagola, Michigan, is the youngest on our panel at 23, but he is not lacking for experience. The son of Larry and Joyce Honsberger, Ross attended his first horse show at just two months of age, and his mother says he hasn't stopped for 23 years. With the family hitting around 20 shows each year, Ross had plenty of opportunities and good teachers in his parents and big brother, Jason. He started driving the family's six-up at age 14, drove his first eight-up at 15 and started shoeing horses at 16.
While attending Ohio State University, Ross spent his summers working for the Lor-Rob Dairy hitch, Hammersmith Belgians and managed the All-Star Farms Percheron mare hitch for two years. He then went to work for Maple Row Dairy and currently works for Wilderness Ridge Farms, Bob and Judy Gunville.
P.S. Ross did receive that college degree and he is engaged to Nicole Dingman (daughter of Doyle and Renee Dingman of Michigan). Ross and Nicole were pictured on the cover of our Autumn 2006 issue.
Mr. Jim Westbrook grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio, complete with a large breeding herd of Percherons and an assortment of other livestock. After marrying Jill, a Belgian gal no less, the couple bred and showed their own Percherons, milked and farmed until 1985, when they went to work managing Soder Farms, Three Lakes, Wisconsin.
From there, they worked briefly for the Southern States Percheron Hitch, Roxboro, North Carolina, before accepting the Clyde manager position(s) at Live Oak Plantation, Ocala, Florida. After nine years there, the Clyde hitch was sold to Highland Farms, Paris, Kentucky, and Jim and Jill took jobs there. In 2000, they went to work at Ames Percheron Farm, Jordan, Minnesota, stayed there as managers for seven years, then took yet another position in 2007. This time, it was to Schulenberg, Texas, home of 2S Clydesdales.
All but the latter job involved fielding a six-horse hitch and Jim has been very successful at it, winning the North American Classic Series twice with the Live Oak Clydes and twice with the greys of Ames Construction.
Brian and Colleen Coleman own and operate Coleman Ranch, a horse training and fitting facility west of Didsbury, Alberta, Canada. They train mostly driving horses including heavy horses, light horses and warmbloods. Here they also keep their Eaglesfield Percherons breeding operation. They have one daughter, Taylor.
Brian grew up farming with Belgians. In 1986, he began showing Percherons for Audrey Turner (Stony Creek Percherons) of Water Valley, Alberta. In 1988, he showed his first 6-horse hitch.
Brian and Colleen have trained, shown, fitted, and shod champion driving and halter horses for themselves and clients all over North America, including Belgians, Percherons, Shires and Clydesdales. They have had up to one eight, three sixes, and one four-horse hitch in training at one time. They have fielded hitches for many stables including: RRJ Belgians, Pattersons Percheron Farm, Black Hollow Percherons, Cedarfarm Percherons, Chula Vista Belgians, Rainbow Lake Percherons, Heart Mt. Shires and Strawberry Lane Percherons.
They enjoy finding the right horse for people–whatever the breed. Also active in the Alberta 4-H program, they have hosted several camps and clinics for youth over the past decade. They teach driving clinics each year for all audiences that emphasize safety, psychology, and form to function.
With that, let's get to it ...
1 - CHECKING UP
Do you use conventional checks or overchecks? Why?
How do you build up to where you want the horse's headset and intend to check it for shows? Why?
How long does it take to reach it? Is there a difference in your time line and/or methods between the two types of checks? Why or why not?
When is it "too much?"
BRAD: I use both conventional and overhead checks–conventional checks on horses that carry their head in the proper way but need to go higher; overchecks on horses that tuck their nose. A horse that tucks his nose too far can cut his wind off. Also, he could tuck his nose back to the collar and you have a hard time turning or stopping him.
I start driving horses with a fairly loose check then start tightening it 1 or 2 inches per week. Checking a horse's head higher is essentially muscle training in the horse's neck. It takes time to train and build muscle.
I like to start checking and working horses at least four months prior to the first show. It’s the same for conventional or overhead checks, because you’re training and building muscle with either option.
You want your horse to have his head up and your check tight, but you also want him to be able to come off the check to be comfortable so he can perform to his potential.
ROSS: Both. In my hitching experiences, I have used and currently use both conventional (side) checks and overchecks. Now when I say both, I do not mean using an overcheck and side check simultaneously. I am a firm believer in using one or the other. If you have a side check and an overcheck on your horse at the same time, one of the checks is not doing a bit of good. You can not keep tension on both checks at the same time. If you looked closely, you would probably find that one check would be tight and one would be loose. I also believe in using a check bit if I am using a side check. Hooking your side checks to your bridle or the driving bit, puts all the pressure on your driving bit, confusing your horse and making them hard to steer. What I mean by this is if the bit is pulled up in your horse's mouth from your check (causing tension), your horse will not be as sensitive to the tension you create while pulling on the lines to make them turn. Using a check bit is causing tension to keep your desired headset, while the driving bit is free in their mouth, ready to respond to tension created by the driver's lines.
If I had to put a percentage on which check I use more, I would say about 75% for overchecks and 25% for side checks. I prefer an overcheck for most horses because I find that it is most consistent at keeping my horses headset where I desire it to be. Overchecks work well for horses that tuck their noses too much, bury their heads, or to just maintain their natural headset. Side checks work well for horses that have a tendency to run with their nose in the air. They help teach a horse to bend better at their pole. They are also preferred by many people that are looking for a neater, cleaner look for their horse's head. By this I mean, if you have a horse that really doesn't even need a check, it is a little more eye-appealing to use a side check rather than an overcheck.
In building a headset up to where I want it to be, I start slow! I usually start by not really checking the horse at all in order to establish where their natural headset is. I then gradually work at getting their headset to where I want it to be by taking it up little by little every couple of days and possibly trying different checks along the way, as well. I also like to have them in shape before I make the final adjustment of where I want my check set. A horse's headset is the best when he is fresh (not tired) and when he is in "show-shape." Generally, the headset you have the first time you hook in the spring is not the headset you will have come show time!
The timeline depends on the horse. All horses are different and take to a check differently. So the timeline depends mostly on how willing your horse is to cooperate.
It is too much when your horse is running with its nose in the air, or shaking their head, or fighting your check. At this point, you need to realize that your horse is not cooperating and it is not part of that horse's natural make-up to have that desired headset. The thing that you have to remember is that some horses are just not meant to have that natural "extreme" headset. You can put all the different types of checks you want on a horse, but sometimes you aren't going to achieve what you want if they are not made to have a headset at all. There is no real magic method of checking a horse to get those extreme headsets; most of them are born with it!
JIM: I always prefer conventional checks for the headsets I desire, versus overchecks. I do use overchecks sometimes as a training aid, or for the odd horse that wants to over-tuck.
Although many hitches show year round, the horses still need downtime. I usually tried to fit at least five to six weeks of downtime in between show seasons. Then it usually takes at least four weeks to return to the level I want for a show check. If you refer to the next section on conditioning, it coincides with my process of checking. The first week I return horses to conditioning will be walking only, with a very light (loose) check. The object is to rebuild those neck muscles, and get “round” in the top of the neck. During week two, the check will be slightly tighter, and so on. To track the checking process, I use a light chain on my work harness that runs from the breeching ring to the back pad to check the horse, with a small snap hung as a marker. The horse leaves the barn with the check four to five chain lengths from the marker snap for warm up and then walks 10-15 minutes. Then I stop and tighten the check to the snap. The last ten minutes of driving, the check will go back down four or five lengths from marker snap for cool down. By the end of four weeks, I have gradually moved the horse up to “show check” level. I find this route to be easy on the horse with less sourness or soreness, and to still allow me to get the headsets where I need them. I use the same plan with overchecks when needed.
Too much check on a horse results in sore backs and mouths, a sour attitude, sulking both in and out of harness, laying on the check, or holding the tail up when checked. By the end of six weeks, if your horse doesn’t have a better headset, you either checked too high, too fast; were using the wrong checking method; your horse has physical issues; or (and this is a least 50% of it) you started with the wrong type of horse for the job.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: An appealing headset is the result of athletic ability, conformation, disposition and training. Shortening a check rein does not always result in a higher or more appealing headset.
To determine where a horse is able to set its head, we like to watch a horse play when he is fresh. We can usually gain about 10% more out of a horse through training and conditioning.
We use both side and overchecks depending on a horse's conformation, way of going and individual preference. We start all our horses in side checks as we feel it is easier to keep the horse freer in the poll.
First, we want to teach the horse to yield to the check bit while moving freely. We do this from day one with all our driving horses. They are given time on their own to "figure out" where they receive release from the check. This is begun with a fairly loose check rein. Over the next few weeks the slack will slowly be taken up. When a horse becomes comfortable at a level, we will move him to the next. The time frame depends on how often the horse is driven and its natural ability. It may take between two to six weeks-or longer. Our goal is to produce an attractive headset that can be maintained over the course of a whole hitch class. Sometimes a horse can have its head up (although not to its max) for three hours from the time you start rolling until its roll is out and its head let down. A horse in a good fitting program will still be enthusiastic about heading to the washrack!
If your horse stops responding as well to the driving bit, that is the surest sign that you have checked him too high too soon. This can include becoming "hard to hold," turning poorly, and not backing up. When we are judging, we look for happy, free-moving horses that are round in the back. Generally, a horse that has been pushed too much is not as eye-appealing and will eliminate itself.
Headset is one of the reasons why selection of a prospective hitch horse is so important. We find that horses that move well behind tend to stay freer in the headset.
2 - CONDITIONING
How do you condition your hitch horses (ex: walk only, trot only, hard work, combination? distance?, etc.) and why?
How long does it take to get them in "show-shape?"
BRAD: I like to work horses on the manure spreader. You get all facets of work then. Spreader full, you get hard pull uphill and hard push downhill, empty spreader–very light pull or push. But when winter and spring are over and the crops are planted–there is nowhere to haul. Then we get small sleds and rubber tired wagons out and we get the same hard or easy load with them, alternating from one day to the next. We try to drive for an hour a day per team, walking on the sled or trotting on the wagon (giving them breathers to catch their breath–which also teaches them to stand).
Depending on the horse, it takes four months to a year to get in show shape.
ROSS: I generally like to stick to a simple routine: hitch for about 10 to 15 minutes, trotting most of the time, but walking as well. Then, finishing up by making them stand for approximately 10 minutes. I like to hitch approximately four to five days a week, or whenever my schedule allows. I prefer hitching to a lightweight wagon and trotting most of the time. My reasoning for this routine is that I feel it is a simulation of what we do in the show ring. While in the show ring we are looking for the very best action and athleticism our horse can produce in a very short period of time. That is why I like to train them as if they were in the show ring. Some people like to work their horses on a sled or mud boat in the spring to build muscle and endurance. However, I believe all you are doing is teaching your horse how to pull and building muscle tone not needed to pick up their feet in the show ring. I like to encourage athleticism and endurance related to sustaining the maximum action and headset my horse can produce.
I feel it takes approximately five-to-seven weeks to have my horses in "show-shape." However, I would say that they are not in true "show-shape" until they have a few shows under their belts. There is no preparation equal to experience in the show ring!
JIM: As with checking, I will condition a horse for four to six weeks to return it to show shape. A very good horseman I have known since the early '70s once told me “all draft horses can trot, but not all horses will walk.” (Keith Woodbury). I will go even farther and say some of the ones that will walk, won’t walk with their bodies straight, will turn their heads in or out, rub their hind legs against the pole, or trip over the outside trace. So when I condition horses, I start with a combination of walking and standing for the first three weeks, an hour to hour-and-a-half each day, six days a week. I prefer to use the Leon training carriage, with a two-section harrow dragging behind at the walk. At week four, I will add some trotting (up to three minutes, no harrow) after walking at least the first half hour. By week six, I will walk the first half hour, trot approximately the same length of time as a typical hitch class, walk another 10-15 minutes, followed by another “class length" trot and stand, and then loosen checks and walk to cool down. For mature, fit, broke horses, driving one hour a day, six days a week, for six weeks, usually attains the proper fitness level I desire.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: The days of taking horses directly out of the pasture and into the show ring are long gone. Today, horses are very well fitted and highly trained. It takes about three months to get a horse in show shape. However, this is contingent on the horse being ready to begin. It must be in good flesh and good health. "Spoiled" horses can take longer due to the extra training time they require. Also, the horse must at least have been in turnout. A horse that is continuously stabled has a below average level of fitness.
We use a system of equine cross training. It is a combination of cardio sessions mixed with weight training. How much of each a horse receives is dependent on their body structure. Some horses tend to be leaner and need heavier work to bulk them up. Easy keepers, however, get more trotting sessions on a wagon or cart. We train all our horses to stand, walk, trot, back and fan when asked.
3 - CHIROPRACTIC THERAPY
Do you utilize the services of an equine chiropractor (or other non-traditional treatment)? Why or why not?
If yes, how often and when?
BRAD: Yes, I use a chiropractor, personally for my neck and back. So yes, I have Jamie Sparrow work on some of my horses. You will usually see improvement right away, but you are moving muscle around with the bones, so you have to train the muscle–this means it might take a few treatments. There are a lot of things a chiropractor can fix and some they cannot. I like to have them look at my horses in the spring and depending on the problems go from there.
ROSS: Yes, I have utilized the services of a chiropractor. I have had some success fixing problems related to horses breaking. I have gotten frustrated at horses for continually breaking from a trot to a canter. After seeing a chiropractor, many times I have had the problem resolved with a simple adjustment to a hip or vertebrae. I do not regularly use a chiropractor, but rather when I see fit to fix a problem.
JIM: I first began using a chiropractor on the horses in the '90s and have seen some very big improvements in many horses as well as a few horses not helped at all. But I still recommend using them on both hitch horses as well as halter and breeding horses. Foaling, surgeries, breeding season, and before starting to break in harness are all good instances of when to use a chiropractor, in addition to maintaining hitch horses for performance. For the hitch horses, I prefer to use a chiropractor a week to ten days prior to the show, but I have also had chiropractors meet me at shows and work on the horses there as well. I would probably average a chiropractor working on the hitch horses shown year round about four times a year.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: We view our horses as athletes. We use any treatment you would see used in human sports. This includes chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, TTEAM (Tellington TTouch) and thermal treatments.
4 - SHOEING
When do you plate (how long before the first show)? Why?
Pads? If yes, on first shoeing? Why?
BRAD: I like to put plates on horses 4 months prior to show season–that gives you time to grow some length to width and change the angle of the foot if needed.
Usually we pad them on the second reset. But if some have poor textured feet, we will pad the first reset with good packing.
ROSS: Generally, 10 to 12 weeks prior to the first show. I like to get in two resets before the first show (five to six weeks between resets). This allows for enough time for hoof growth needed to fill out your desired shoe size.
I do not generally put on pads when I plate my horses. However, occasionally I get impatient and want to see how a horse will move with pads on. So I will find some old pads lying around and throw them on to see what that horse is made of. Also, if I am dealing with a horse that has an extremely broken-up or poor foot, I will use a pad to help fill out the plate to help keep that shoe on. With the feet you are dealing with, in the spring, most of the time you just want to get a shoe on and keep it on. The most important thing is that you have a shoe on to start establishing some foot growth.
JIM: I usually showed hitch geldings year round, so also had to keep them shod year round. But I try to cut them back severely three times a year (after Denver and Loveland shows (January), after Brandon or Hoosier (March/April), and after Lansing or the Royal (October/November)) normally from a 9--10 down to a 7--7-. I prefer flat shod, usually with pads. If you start back driving six weeks before a show, you don’t have two weeks of extra time to chance a bruised frog or stone bruise to the sole.
For halter horses I like to plate in the spring without pads, as there is lots of moisture at that time. Then I like to get in two resets with pads on, before Scotch bottoms go on. I also prefer to use pads when it is hot and dry.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: If a horse is in a regular and correct trimming program, shoeing can be done three months out also. Unless a horse has a particular need (hard surfaces, snow, poor foot, etc.), we usually do not pad until the final reset.
5 - TEETH CARE
Do you float your show horses' teeth? If so, when and why?
BRAD: Yes, I use an equine dentist. Every spring I have Michelle Amor come to the farm and go through the whole bunch (new horses and old). I buy young horses usually 2 to 4 years old, a lot of them need caps pulled off and some need wolf teeth pulled and all of the sharp edges ground off. If you don’t float teeth, the teeth can get sharp and cut the sides of their mouth–making them sore and not wanting to eat or chew and grind up their feed and utilize as much of it. They also take the bit and respond better to it if their mouth and teeth do not hurt.
ROSS: Yes. I prefer getting all my hitch horses floated at the beginning of each show season. I find that it resolves many problems with steering, headsets and the overall attitude a horse has towards driving. Most problems like a horse turning its head or pulling excessively hard are caused by tooth problems. If you cannot afford to have your entire hitch floated yearly, I suggest getting the horse(s) that you are having problems with worked on, leaving the horses that are driving fine, alone. Having teeth worked on can save you a lot of headaches and accidents.
JIM: I like to float the whole herd– everyone two years old and older–at least once a year. All new hitch horses coming into the barn have their teeth checked and floated after arriving. Age-appropriate problems are addressed (wolf teeth, etc.) and treated prior to conditioning. Each horse’s teeth wear in various ways and some will need more attention, more often than others. It can definitely make a big difference in the way a horse drives or utilizes his feed.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: Yearly, unless the horse has a problem that needs more work. In young horses, it is important to keep track of the progress of their caps shedding.
6 - FEED
Do you change your hitch horses' feed as the first show approaches? Why or why not? If so, how?
What about supplements? What do you use and why is it important?
BRAD: During the winter months I feed oats, corn, and mineral. Corn is a good source of energy during cold weather, but when spring comes I back down on corn because they do not need as much energy to stay warm. Then you start driving a lot and they need energy, so I add beet pulp which has good energy but does not cause inflammation in hot weather.
It’s also important to feed a good mineral. The mineral you feed in Minnesota may be different from that fed in Texas because of the difference in soil makeup which grows the feed you feed them. So talk to your local feed man.
ROSS: No, I wouldn't say that I change my hitch horses' feed as the first show approaches, but rather as I start working them in the spring. During the show season, when they are getting worked on a consistent basis, they are fed hard to help put on or maintain weight. During the off season, they are not fed quite as hard for the simple fact that they do not need the extra energy that feeding them hard provides. When I am working my horses consistently, they need the extra vitamins, fats and protein to build muscle and provide energy. I do not change my feeding pattern as the first show approaches because it is hard enough to keep a horse eating while on the road. Changing their diet too close to a show may cause them to become a fidgety eater and enhance the possibility of not eating while on the road. A horse can drop a couple hundred pounds while at a single show if they are not eating like they normally do!
As for supplements, I use Pennwoods Equine Products. I have used their products all my life and have seen great results. The two products that I use on a regular basis are their Bio plus 60 mineral and their Super H2O electrolyte product. The Bio plus 60 mineral is your standard mineral with extra biotin added for enhancing foot quality. All horses need mineral to maintain a healthy life and being part-time blacksmith, I prefer the extra biotin for their feet. Super H2O is like an athlete drinking Gatorade. It helps replenish electrolytes that are lost during excessive training. I think it gives your horse that extra boost of energy needed, especially in the hot summer months when horses sweat the most. Now I am not saying that anyone else's product is not the best product out there. Rather, it is just that I have had success with and hope to continue having success with Pennwoods products. If the product you are using works, continue using it! The important thing is that your horse is provided with the proper vitamins needed to be a healthy horse.
JIM: Feed changes usually have more to do with time of year (hot or cold) versus showing. Horses that have been “pushed,” I’ll back off ten days to two weeks before they go on the road. The old boys used to say, “It is too late to fatten and too late to break ‘em at the shows." I like to continue using the same feed, just less of it. When at the shows, I usually feed a grassier mix of hay, as well as a little more hay than I normally feed at home. I have fed Pennwoods products for years, and continue with those same products at the show. I also add Red Cell oil just prior to the shows to help with anemia from travel stress and long road trips, along with additional electrolytes if needed.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: When horses first arrive, we like to ease them into their new feed program. Once they are eating well we like to keep them very consistent. If anything, we may cut them back slightly at a show only because, usually out of nervousness, they tend to eat less.
We feed a mostly grass hay to keep their gut moving and to keep their mouths occupied. To this we add oats, mineral, and a high-fat product. Hard keepers get extra protein from adding soybean meal.
By show season we like to have our horses "high on life." This is done through a combination of a solid feeding program, a high degree of fitness, and a few days of rest before a show.
7 - LET-DOWN AFTER THE SEASON
Describe how you let your horses down after the last show of the year.
Why do you use this method and why is it important?
BRAD: When we are done showing for the year, I like to pull shoes, trim feet fairly short (this prevents them from busting their feet up and lets them get some frog pressure which helps spread their heels).
At the same time we cut their feed back because we are not driving them and they are not using the energy but they need to stay in good rig for the cold winter.
ROSS: The let-down of my horses depends on if I am planning to hit some winter shows or if the next season doesn't start until the following summer. If I am planning on showing in the winter, I will give the horses some time off to rest and put back on some weight that has been lost on the road. After a few weeks off, I start some light driving again and eventually get back to my regular routine. However, if the show season does not start again until the following summer, I will simply pull the shoes and trim back their feet for the winter.
JIM: Again, showing year-round does not allow me to just “turn them out." During their time-off between the fall and winter, or spring and summer shows, I like to use a mechanical walker for forced exercise. One hour a day, seven days a week, with additional turnout time in small paddocks, weather permitting. Between the spring and summer shows, horses usually go out in small electric fenced grass lots after first being on the walker an hour.
I am a firm believer in using a walker, loose or conventional, as a conditioning tool. It keeps the hitch or halter horse fit, and builds muscle that prevents flab.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: We like to see the horses backed off their feed over the course of a week or so. This gives their system time to get used to a diet lower in energy. It is good to pull shoes and trim feet, if possible, past the nail holes. Although not always practical, it is preferable to let off-season horses have full-time pasture or turnout pens in order to give their minds time-off.
8 - FINAL COMMENTS OR ADVICE
Anything else you do to get your horses ready that you'd advise others to do as well?
BRAD: If your horses are not driving or standing as well as you would like, they probably need more driving every day.
ROSS: The advice I have, is if you are doing something that works, keep doing it! If you are struggling with something, ask someone what their opinion is and how they can help you. Try not to be stuck in your way of doing things. No single person has the right answer for everything and it is never too late to learn something. I am proud to say that I have learned something new every year, and that helps better myself as a horseman. The last piece of advice I would give is to pay attention to the little details (clean, clipped horses, good mane rolling, properly fitting harness, a good overall presentation). I consider a good horseman to be someone that can take an average horse and turn them into a class winner by getting everything from that horse and making it look as good as they possibly can. This can be achieved by paying attention to the most minute details in order to give yourself every advantage possible. It is the little details that separate the hitches that are on top from the ones that are trying to get there! Thank you for reading what I had to say and best of luck to all draft horse enthusiasts!
JIM: I think my final advice is simply start sooner, go slow, be patient and consistent. Teach, but don’t bully, your horses. Work them hard, only when they need it. Be flexible, and stay open-minded to solve problems.
BRIAN & COLLEEN: Colleen’s dad loved to recite an old saying: “Many people have profited through the use of horses but if you abuse the horse you will make no profit.” We strongly believe that a horse in pain or overloaded with stress does not give a stellar performance. In order to win, a hitch must look happy, smooth and comfortable. This means they must be in top physical shape. Pro athletes can’t skip training camp and be ready for the season and neither can our horses. Neither can they ignore soreness or they won’t be ready for the playoffs.
Sorry if some of our comments seem quite general but there is a point when results are based on your own judgment, such as when to raise a horse's check, when to increase the distance it trots or when it needs a day off. Sometimes it seems you have a training issue that turns out to be a health issue. For example, we ask for a stronger trot and the horse is reluctant but we aren’t aware that a horse has slept wrong last night or has an emerging wind problem.
There are a lot of details that go into preparing draft performance horses. Not enough can be said for picking the right prospects. And having great employees never hurts either!