Making it Work

Equine feed firm races ahead with plans to break into American market

FenuHealth, founded by sisters Kate and Annie Madden, already sells into 15 countries and counts five royal families among its customers

Annie Madden, co-founder of FenuHealth and winner of Enterprise Ireland’s 2022 Student Entrepreneur of the Year award, with Percy (left) and Summer: ‘We’re constantly trying to grow the number of countries we export to.’ Picture: Barry Cronin

FenuHealth, the Irish equine feed business founded by sisters Kate and Annie Madden, is on a mission to break into the lucrative US market in the coming months.

The company, which provides a range of supplements to help horses with stomach and digestive issues, already sells into 15 countries and counts five royal families among its customers. But the sisters, who founded the business when in their early teens, have no intention of slowing down, according to Annie Madden.

“We’re constantly trying to grow the number of countries we export to,” she said. “Kate is going out to Kentucky this summer to try and break into the American market, because that’s something that’s really important to us over the next few years.”

Madden, 20, was speaking a week after winning Enterprise Ireland’s student entrepreneur of the year award for 2022. The award was the latest in a long list of prizes won by the University College Cork student, who initially had the idea for FenuHealth with her sister after they participated in the BT Young Scientist competition as teenagers.

While humans only produce acid when they eat, horses’ stomachs produce acid all the time. In the wild, horses have up to 60,000 chews a day whereas in a stable they don’t need to work for their food and often eat food that requires far fewer chews.

When stabled horses have eaten their feed, it passes through the stomach, leaving the acid produced by the animals to attack the stomach itself. Some 90 per cent of race horses will encounter stomach issues at some point in their lives, and 70 per cent of sports horses will have similar problems, Madden explained.

The supplements developed by FenuHealth offer a reliable and organic solution which did not previously exist for horse trainers.

“A lot of the other products out there, you can feed them to horses and it might solve their stomach problems, but you’ve to wean race horses and sports horses off them five or six days before an event, because they show up on a dope test,” Madden said.

“Because our products are natural, you don’t have to do that. You can literally give it to them going out for a race, which is part of the reason we gathered quite a bit of interest.”

Today, FenuHealth employs nine people and has the backing of Enterprise Ireland. The majority of its clients are racehorse trainers, Madden said, but the company has plans to start selling more into the sport horse industry – horses that compete in dressage, eventing or show jumping.

As part of their growth plans, the Maddens intend to keep adding new staff to their roster in a bid to keep evolving. “We want to really start recruiting people with real innovation, who can come up with new ideas all the time,” Annie said.

“The American market is one that we’d love to crack, and there’s other countries as well. We’re in 15 countries at the moment, but I see no reason why, in a couple of years, we can’t be in 150.”