A formula for success

We profile the South Cantabrian woman behind the well-known equine body building supplement, the Hanley Formula


Philippa Hanley with rescue pony Oscar and mastiff Duke  (image: Annie Studholme)

Philippa Hanley started out producing her Hanley Formula in a concrete mixer from her garage, one bucket at a time, but she has come a long way since then. Her business Hanley Supplements, based near the small South Canterbury town of Geraldine, has grown from a hobby to a fulltime venture, with her equine products and new range of dog rolls finding favour with animal lovers around the country.

After leaving school, Philippa set off to Massey University with ambitions of becoming a vet, but she soon realised that it wasn’t anatomy she was passionate about – it was nutrition. So she changed paths, and worked for dairy science company Livestock Improvement, and then for Fonterra in product development, while studying equine nutrition part-time.

It was during this time that Philippa realised there was a gap in the market for a protein-based body building supplement specifically for horses.

“Fonterra had some fantastic products. Basically, I just got really excited about the potential for our horse athletes. The foundations were all there – it was just a matter of changing it for horses, so I started playing around with it. It was a very slow process, and expensive, with every batch sample sent through to Massey for testing and then I had to wait for the results,” explains Philippa.

Finally, after two years in development and countless samples later, the recipe was perfected and Hanley Formula – made from all natural local ingredients – was born. In much the same way protein powders are an important part of many human body builders’ and athletes’ diet regimes, the Hanley Formula contains the 10 essential amino acids that are the building blocks for protein in the horse, at levels not previously available in an equine supplement. These amino acids are vital for promoting and maintaining growth and repair of muscle, skin, hair, hooves, bones, tendons and cartilage, as well as playing an important role in the functioning of internal organs – they are critical to a horse’s health.

Philippa developed her Hanley Formula recipe over two years  (image: Annie Studholme)

Philippa tried it on her own horses to start with, and says she was blown away by the results. “I knew it was going to be good for them, but I didn’t think we would notice a difference in just five days. It’s been a huge learning curve to see how many malnourished horses there were out there, including my own. So many horses are on grass that’s not suitable – it’s too high in sugar, so it’s basically like feeding them junk food. They need high quality protein.”

But at first, getting other horse owners to try it wasn’t easy. A firm opponent of the hard sell, Philippa took a softly, softly approach from the outset, letting the product do the talking, and relying on word-of-mouth marketing. “I couldn’t get people to take it at the start – I had to give it away, and even then people were dubious, but once they could see the difference they were hooked. We are so lucky that the results are so visible. They are in your face.”

Sales were slow to start with, with Philippa continuing to produce each bag by hand in her concrete mixer as the orders dribbled in. “We celebrated every bag we actually sold!”

But driven by her passion for the product, Philippa refused to quit. Luckily, she was still working full-time at Fonterra’s Clandyeboye plant during the day, while making Hanley Formula before and after hours. Deep down, she knew it was only a matter of time before the product caught on. “It wasn’t always easy, but it was my passion. I just loved it and the feedback from people using it was amazing. The customers kept me going,” she says.

Hanley Formula’s big break came when top thoroughbred breeder Sir Patrick Hogan of Cambridge Stud started using and endorsing it. Almost overnight, sales picked up, and now business is booming. “It kind of blew me away just how it’s taken off. You have to be careful what you wish for,” Philippa laughs.

Inevitably, she had to hand in her notice at Fonterra to focus full time on Hanley Supplements. And while she is still hands-on in all facets of the business, she has more recently stepped back to focus on product development, with a new gut repair health product and dry dog biscuit in the pipeline.

As a result, her husband Marshall Head (they met at Fonterra and married in February 2016), has come on board full-time to oversee the day-to-day logistics, distribution and manufacturing sides of the business.

Philippa and her husband Marshall are now both working fulltime in the business (image: Annie Studholme)

Geraldine might not seem an ideal place to run a manufacturing and distribution business from a logistical point of view, but Philippa says it’s perfectly placed to capitalise on all the wonderful natural ingredients in Mid and South Canterbury. “We are very lucky to be in this area, as everything we need is right here.”

The Hanley Formula now sold around New Zealand as well as being exported to customers in the US, Ireland, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam.

The equine connection

Despite moving around a lot of as a child, ponies were never far behind. Philippa did pony club and took in rescue ponies, before working in a racing stable riding trackwork as a teen. While she loved the riding aspect, feeding up was her favourite time of the day, especially in the winter with the smell of hot molasses and bran mash wafting through the barn.

Added to that, while she was growing up her father always had a share in a few racehorses, so a connection with racing was instilled early and it’s stayed with her. While she no longer rides, Philippa now enjoys racing and breeding standardbreds.

She never really set out to become a breeder, but when the horses belonging to a syndicate she was in retired from racing and needed homes, she was the only one to put her hand up. “They are just average mares, and I breed them across the best stallions I can afford.”  To date she hasn’t done too badly at all, with her mare Cool Sandy’s first foal, Betterbecool, winning 17 races in Australia. She currently has three horses in work with a yearling to come.

For Philippa, it’s important that all her standardbreds are be broken-in to saddle before they start racing, so they can easily slip into life afterwards as ridden hacks. “I think it’s really important that people think about what they might be doing when they stop racing, and it’s much easier if you put that work into them at the beginning.”

She’s also had standardbreds broken-in for the Riding for the Disabled in Timaru. On top of that Philippa is a great supporter of horse rescue. The business also sponsors two Kaimanawa horses, and is a generous supporter at events up and down the country. “It’s a really important way for us to give back,” she says.

Doggy delight

With her nutritional background, it’s hardly surprising that Philippa next turned her sights to creating a highly nutritious, balanced dog food for her four-legged friends.

Philippa’s most recent venture is a natural, preservative-free dog roll  (image: Annie Studholme)

Devoted dog lovers, Philippa and Marshall have mastiffs Duke and Cake, retired greyhound CC, and French bulldog Mags. Not content with the standard dog rolls she could find, with the help of her local butcher Philippa set out to create a canine feed that would meet all the dog’s dietary needs using the Hanley Formula base ingredients, and minus the preservatives and fillers.

“I knew dogs needed to have a steady diet of fresh meat, and I wanted something that used only the best ingredients that was completely traceable from farm to dog bowl with no preservatives, no chemicals and no fillers. Having a ‘wet’ food that contains a lot of water was also important, as it’s best for their digestion and good health.”

Once she started feeding it, the changes were profound. Even Duke’s skin allergies, that had plagued him for most of his life, cleared up within days.

Originally Philippa made it for her own use, but given most horsey people are also dog owners, more and more of her clients who had witnessed fantastic results with the Hanley Formula started asking her for a product that would do the same for their pooches.

Essentials dog roll was the outcome, and Philippa is now working on developing a dog biscuit using natural ingredients.

  • This article was first published in the January 2017 issue of NZ Horse & Pony