For one local entrepreneur, a love of horses led to a successful business. Fred Hensler, CEO of Sapphire Blue Investment Partners, Inc. in Fenton, can’t wait to go to work every day. “I’m one of the lucky people who loves life, loves my family, my career and the people I’ve met along the way,” he says. He takes every opportunity to light up a room full of strangers, and walk out with a room of friends.
As a child, Hensler discovered the world of horses. “My family vacationed at Higgins Lake every year, and I would spend the entire vacation at the riding stables on the north end of the lake,” he remembers. His passion for the horse world grew, and he perfected his riding skills over the years. While growing up, he competed at many local shows, but it was the horse industry itself that he found fascinating. Hensler attended Michigan State University and had dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. “I got a business degree instead,” he says with a smile. “One thing I recognized was that horse people not only have a special bond with these magnificent four-legged creatures, but the people who own them share a common bond, as well.”
A natural entrepreneur, Hensler developed a string of successful businesses and career moves. In 1990, he liquidated his last venture to pursue the world of financial management. Sapphire Blue Investment Partners, Inc. now has operations in Michigan and Kentucky, with a parent office in Boca Raton, FL. New divisions were created including Physicians Wealth Management Services, Ltd.; Hensler Aviation (a private aircraft leasing and sales venture); and Horizon Saddlebreds, LLC, a horse-breeding operation.
While he and his daughters Meagan and Lindsey enjoyed showing horses together for many years, Hensler saw an opportunity to pursue his passion as a business venture by breeding, raising and training the animals. “A top American Saddlebred can sell for $500,000,” he explains, “and while it is rare, there have been sales at the $2 million-plus level.”
Breeding horses for show can be frustrating, expensive and at times, filled with disappointment. The first foal the Henslers raised at Horizon Saddlebreds died in a tragic accident at just two weeks old. “But that did not stop us,” says Hensler. “We recognized that you must first acquire quality breeding stock.” A mare’s gestation period is approximately 11 months, and a foal can typically start training for competition at three years old. Often, a foal is not ready to compete until they are four or five years old. And sometimes, the best foals fall short of being top show horses, while others that were not expected to do well end up flourishing. “You just never know,” says Hensler. “But when you get a great one, it can be exhilarating and very profitable.”
Horizon Saddlebreds, LLC has been breeding and raising horses for just over five years. The first group of foals will be ready for the show ring this year. Hensler’s oldest daughter, Meagan, is the operations manager, in charge of breeding and delivering the foals. The foals remain under her care until they are ready to begin training; they are then worked with at the company’s Kentucky facility by some of the state’s finest trainers.
As Sapphire Blue Investment Partners continued to grow, a fascinating convergence of companies occurred. The slogan of the parent company is, Where millionaires come for investment advice. “Through the horse industry, we have made the acquaintance of numerous people who were a perfect fit for the investment management business,” Hensler adds. “Not only have those people become my friends, but they have become clients, as well. We would never have met or engaged with them had it not been through the horse business.”
Today, Horizon Saddlebreds maintains a breeding facility and a secondary training facility located just outside of Louisville, KY. Kentucky is known to be the American Saddlebred horse capital. Horizon Saddlebreds currently has 21 horses with three foals planned for this year. “I have been very blessed in my life,” says Hensler. “Many people never find a career path that they enjoy, much less love, and I’m fortunate to have created and developed several. In all of my business ventures, we are happy for the opportunities to positively impact people’s lives.”
“Horse people not only have special bonds with these magnificent, four-legged creatures; they share a common bond with each other, as well.”
Photos provided by Fred Hensler