Old World Work Ethic
By Nick Pernokas
In the rolling hills of Northern Indiana, just outside of Middlebury, is a harness shop that epitomizes the work ethic of the Amish craftsman. In an area long known for fine woodworking, leatherworking and many other old world skills, M.D.Y. Horseshoeing and Harness Shop is making its mark on the equine world.
In 2006, former wood worker Mahlon Yoder had a big year. He got married to Lora, and also hung out his shingle as a horse trainer and horseshoer. His family had built some nice furniture for retail but Mahlon really liked horses, so he decided to go in that direction.
His clientele included not only other Amish like himself, who used teams to get around, but people who rode for pleasure. Mahlon also started some Standardbred racehorses for the cart.
In 2008 he got his first Consew sewing machine, so he could do some light halter work. He moved it into his basement and, armed with the machine’s manual, he began to learn about it. Mahlon started to make halters. He continued to shoe horses, and work at an RV factory, to support his young family.
“I didn’t know heads or tails about sewing machines,” laughs Mahlon, “but after that winter I sure did.”
Mahlon had moved from one facet of the equine industry to another, which he loved.
“I always say there’s only one thing that I think about when I’m working during the day…and it’s horses,” says Mahlon.
In 2007, a neighboring harness shop sold out and Mahlon was able to purchase some of their equipment. This allowed him to make more products, as well as ropes. Mahlon’s M.D.Y. Harness shop was now in a 40 by 80-square-foot shop.
By 2010, he’d acquired another harness shop and M.D.Y. was growing; he now had one employee. The next year, Mahlon was able to quit the RV factory. His shop made general harness for both driving and harness racing. By 2014, the shop had three employees.
Mahlon feels the foundation of his company is that he enjoys the challenge of making high-quality products from scratch, and making sure that a high quality of production goes into the products he doesn’t make.
“My thing is, don’t sell a product unless you know the reason you’re selling it.”
Mahlon is a firm believer in “lean manufacturing,” which is a one-piece-flow type of production. Even if Mahlon has a batch of 20 pieces of the same item in an order, he only builds one at a time. The quality is improved because you can catch anything that doesn’t work, or needs adjustment, on the first piece, instead of having to do it on 20 pieces. In Mahlon’s opinion the process is a little quicker as well.
“Every time you pick something up and then lay it down, you’re going to lose time. So why lay it down at all?”
Lean manufacturing lets Mahlon use less shop area and the employees don’t have to move as far to complete a piece. M.D.Y.’s manufacturing area has actually grown smaller as the company itself has grown larger. An employee can make a piece of harness without walking more than five feet, and he can work with two other employees without getting in their way.
Today, M.D.Y. Horseshoeing and Harness has five employees and two manufacturing and retailing locations. The second location is West Edge Harness in Goshen, Indiana. Their staple products are still driving, show and race harness. The company uses leather, nylon and BioThane® for their products, depending on what the customer needs. M.D.Y. still builds some riding tack as well. Mahlon welcomes custom work and different ideas. All of their products are available as wholesale items as well as retail.
For a while, M.D.Y. was expanding so rapidly that they had growth pains from offering so many product lines. Today, they are trying to consolidate their products to make the manufacturing a little easier.
“The startup was 10 times easier than the growing pains.”
Mahlon says that you can evaluate harness quality by looking at the quality of the stitch. The BioThane® products must be assembled so that they conform to the horse perfectly, but the leather harness is more forgiving and will break in to conform to the horse. Mahlon likes the idea of leather harness against a horse’s skin, but the BioThane® is popular for the ease of cleaning it, as well as its more economical price. BioThane® harness is M.D.Y.’s biggest seller.
Mahlon and Lora have six children and look forward to continuing to build a family business. In Mahlon’s spare time, he writes some Christian-based poetry.
In spite of his shop’s success, Mahlon, 34, still shoes 20 horses a week.
“That’s something I can’t let go. I take it as a stress reliever.”
To find out more about M.D.Y. Harness, or to order a catalog, call 574-825-8161.
M.D.Y. Horseshoeing and Harness
1455 South, 1100 West
Middlebury, Indiana 46540