It’s A Real Equestrian Affair!

To say that Lara Neill whistles on her way to work might not be over-stretching the point. She’s on a hands-free speaker and Gary Lemke can hear the car’s indicator as they chat…

It’s just after 08h00 and she’s dropped off her two children at school and is on her way through to her tack shop, Equestrian Affair, for a meeting.

The day will still stretch out ahead of her, later she will exercise her horses, she will also help out with her children’s homework and catch up with her husband.

By any standard, she has a busy schedule but her day job, and passion is fuelled by the team of people she has working with her, who help get things done seamlessly. Team work makes the dream work, as they say.

Neill is the Horse Product Manager at Kuda Sport and she takes overall responsibility for the Sports Horse side of things. This includes sales, marketing, and of course the essential integration with both Underwriting and Claims. The appointment fills the vacancy created by Kerry Byerley, and feeds into the Head of Kuda Niche based in Cape Town, Janine Koster.

Originally from KwaZulu-Natal, where her innate love for horses was born – both her parents were involved in equestrian sport – Neill has lived in Johannesburg for nearly 15 years, having spent 20 years in Cape Town, where, in 2009 she launched Equestrian Affair.

It was at the opening, where she was introduced to the CEO of Kuda, Wehann Smith.

The garlanded show jumper has a CV as long as her arm and while we chat, despite the inconvenience of dropped calls – blame that on loadshedding – she makes the time to conduct the interview. A scheduled 10-minute telephonic booking with her stretches to 20-minutes.

She’s a giver, not a taker. It all started with her saying, “I don’t like to talk about myself”. And she doesn’t. She’s modest, but is passionate about what she does, who she is, and most importantly, about her new role at Kuda – which she gushes over as we speak.

“In truth I’ve had a working relationship with Kuda since 2010 and from about 2014 I actively worked as an agent. I can assure you that the core values that Kuda promotes and lives are exactly those that I identify with.”

Her role with Kuda has now evolved and she admits that while she spends at least two hours in the office working through email and necessary admin duties, her role thrives from the fact that she eats, sleeps and breathes horses and spends her days either training her (8) horses or competing at shows.

“I suppose you could say that I’m in the trenches with our clients and more often than not, I have first-hand experience of the claims people ask about or can confidently recommend the correct product to clients asking advice”.

She laughs, “I love it! Almost every weekend I’m at a show jumping event. If I’m not personally competing, I’m watching my kids. So, I’m always out and about, available to our clients and learning more about our sport.”

There’s a change in her voice. I can only assume it’s taken a more serious tone. “I would never work with a company that I didn’t believe in. So, it’s with all sincerity and honesty that I can say that I truly believe and trust in the company. And that is why I work for Kuda.”

“I know, from personal experience, that they are true to their core values, some of which include, ‘Trust is Everything’, ‘Only employing good humans’, ‘Talk with real people’ and promote ‘High performance, with heart’. That is embedded in their DNA and that’s why I’m involved with them.”

Neill also speaks from first-hand experience. “We’ve lost one or two good horses and I’ve also had some of my horses undergo colic surgeries. Kuda has always been helpful with the claims, sympathetic and they have always paid out. That’s not a sales pitch, it’s a reality.”

Insurance is a competitive industry and Neill admits that insuring a prized possession of a sport horse should be as “normal” as insurance on a car, or health, or household.

“As someone who has been involved with horses basically all my life, I’ve experienced the highs and lows. And insurance of a sport horse is paramount. If you had to press me, I’d say that the critical care and life-saving surgery option is an absolute no-brainer option. You simply can’t tell me that if you love your horse – and of course that’s a rhetorical question – then you can’t afford R3300 a year insurance, which works out at R275 per month with Kuda for a critical care and life-saving policy.”

“Their product options are amazing and, what’s most important is that they work. I’m not sure I can say it any better than that.”

And indeed, she doesn’t have to. I can hear the car’s indicator signalling she’s turning again…

Down the road to further success for her and Kuda, no doubt.

Photography courtesy of Denford Studios and Merlynn Trichardt Photography.

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