Tigger Montague and the History of BioStar
“In making medicine, in making something helpful and wholesome and nutritious, you have to be very focused. You’ve got to be putting your intent, love, care and empathy into the product.”
In her Q & A, Biostar founder, formulator and animal-lover Tigger Montague gives us a rare inside peek into her life, riding career, nutrition philosophy, and everything in between. Learn more about the woman behind the BioStar company and the way she’s revolutionizing the world of animal nutrition with carefully crafted supplements, whole food ingredients, and good vibrations.
Q. When did your passion for animals begin and did you always want to merge your passion into your career?
I think I was born with the passion for animals, because when I was really little, I hated dolls. I just liked stuffed animals and I considered them all real. Luckily I had parents who indulged that. They didn’t say, “Well, no, that’s just a teddy bear. What are you talking about?” The Teddy bear was real to me, and each stuffed animal had their own distinct personalities. When I was about five or six, I decided I was going to become a horse. I just started running around jumping. My dad chopped a lot of wood and I took some logs and jumped over them. I whinnied, I galloped up and down the stairs. I was a horse. So I think I was kind of born with a passion for animals. Though I never really thought of a possibility of a career with them, at least through school and college.
It really wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw that there was a possibility to actually make your passion your life’s work. I grew up at a time when the opportunities for women were really limited. It wasn’t like today at all. My father said my only choices were secretary nurse or a teacher.
Q. Did you have an idea as a teenager of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Not one clue. I just knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to be a nurse. I didn’t want to be a secretary. I didn’t want to be a teacher (although I was a teacher for a short period of time). Those weren’t occupations that I was passionate about.
Q. When did you get into dressage and actually start working with horses?
I got into dressage as an adult because I was eventing. I hated dressage. I just couldn’t ride a 20 meter circle to save my life. They were always oblong. I was always getting fours and fives on eventing dressage tests. It was actually a friend of mine who bought an FEI schoolmaster, She invited me over one day to sit on him. First, I did a change and that was kind of cool. Then she said, “try some fours!” I couldn’t count worth a darn. But I got that feeling and I said, “this is a lot cooler than I thought it was!”
I had reached a point as an eventer where I was never going to do the big stuff. Dressage seemed to be at an avenue where you could move up the levels without worrying about having a crash in cross-country. So I moved away from eventing and my intention was to buy a schoolmaster and of course I didn’t, I bought a four-year-old mare. That’s how I started my dressage journey.
Q. What are some of your favorite aspects about the sport of dressage?
The relationship with your horse and the patience that it takes. I think dressage really teaches patience, just the nature of the sport and the art. I loved competing, but I also loved the daily work of dressage. I loved that more than competing. For me, dressage has always been about the partnership.
Q. What have you come to learn are some of your favorite characteristics in a good dressage horse after all the ones that you’ve worked with?
I like a cheeky horse. I like a horse that is an extrovert to some degree. I like a horse that’s a little bit complicated. Now, at my age, if I was going to go back into riding, I would probably not get a complicated horse. I would probably choose that really “Steady Eddie” type, but I have been historically drawn to cheeky and complicated horses. Movement and the ability to sit and carry is really important as well, especially for an FEI horse. But I’ve been drawn to horses with very strong personalities. You’re only riding them for an hour a day and you’re going be around them for 12 hours a day. So you want to be around a horse personality that you like. It is truly important to really like your partner.
Q. What are some of your most memorable moments in helping animals, whether they’re yours or someone else’s?
The first one that comes to mind is Jonathan Miller. He had a grand prix jumping horse named Contino. This horse was really complicated around food. We were working with his diet and he didn’t really like anything that we were offering him. Of course we were mixing everything together. I was stumped by it. He didn’t like dry. He didn’t like wet. Obviously, a horse needs to eat and needs calories. His groom very cleverly figured out that if she put the alfalfa in one ground feeder, the oats in another ground feeder, the barley in another ground feeder, the beet pulp in another ground feeder, and she just laid it out in front of him in the stall, he would take a nibble of this and then he’d go over and take a little bit of that, and then some of this. I was absolutely amazed that that worked for him.
I have used that trick with really difficult horses that just don’t seem to want to dive into their food. If you separate it out a little bit for them, then it’s sort of like a salad bar and they can nosh on what they feel like. So, Contino was a great teacher for me, and I’m forever grateful to his groom for figuring that out. That’s been a tool in my toolbox that I have used with other horses. The other horse that comes to mind as being very complicated is JJ Tate’s mare Summersby. She was hot and metabolic. She had so much talent. She was like an onion: there were layers to peel back and try to get to the bottom of. I actually developed Impulsion and Quantum based on what she taught me about metabolic disease. It was a sneaky kind of disease in her. It wasn’t as overt as it is in some. I really thank Summersby for being complicated in all the right ways. She really taught me to pay attention to the cellular inflammation and to the cellular energy production. She was a great teacher for me.
Q. What are some of your favorite things about Australian shepherds? You’ve worked with them for so many years, what have they taught you the most?
Aussies are, to me, the Thoroughbreds of the dog world. They’re very intelligent. They’re great, they have a little bit of juice in them. An Aussie’s blood probably doesn’t run as high as a Border Collie, but their energy really feeds off their human’s. They really want to work for you. I love that about the Australian shepherd. I mean, when I go into the bathroom, I’ve got eight Aussies following me, “Hey, what are you doing in there?” They make me laugh. They just want to be with you. Having the brains that they have, the intelligence that they have, makes training them easy. It also means they can outwit their humans, which I find incredibly amusing. I don’t find that a con. I find that it keeps me on.
Q. What is it that you hope that Biostar will morph into in years ahead? How do you see it expanding to help even more animals?
That’s a tough question because I have given up expectations in terms of business. What I’ve found is that having an expectation is limiting, because in our humanness, we think, “I think this is possible.” What we don’t realize is that the universe thinks way beyond our small box of what we think is possible. So I’ve given up expectations. I have no expectations for Biostar at all.
I’ve never wanted BioStar to be a big gigantic company. That’s never been my goal or dream. I just want to be innovating and learning and passing on what I’ve learned to horse owners and dog owners. The development of BioStar to me is expanding products that allow you to create a more meaningful relationship with your horse, because you’re cutting through the noise. BioStar is based on relationships that I’ve cultivated through communication, like in that stall with JJ’s horse Summersby. I really had to non-verbally communicate with that mare to figure it out.
Q. What is the Biostar difference?
Communication between horses and dogs and people is abstract sometimes, but you can’t just be peripherally involved in a conversation with an animal. You have to develop a relationship with them. It’s the herd and pack consciousness that is always communicating — sometimes overtly, sometimes quietly.
I have that relationship with our ingredients. I have a relationship, not just with the suppliers, but more with the ingredient itself, what it does, what its vibration is, how it’s grown. That’s really, really important to me. It’s almost impossible for a consumer to read a label from other companies, to know whether it is a quality ingredient or it isn’t, especially when it comes to horse and dog food. There’s a lot of leeway. Chicken “protein” can be chicken feathers, right? So I think it’s a disservice to the consumer not to have much more clear labeling.
I also strongly believe this is something that Biostar does pretty well in that we recognize that when we’re making products, we are making medicine, not drugs. We are making a product that’s the best fit for the horse and the dog. In making medicine, in making something helpful and wholesome and nutritious, you have to be very focused. You’ve got to be putting your intent, love, care and empathy into the product. If the raw material is stressed by the time it gets to our offices, I don’t want to use it.
I don’t want humans making our products to be stressed. In fact, we have a rule that if you come into production and you’re having a bad day or you’re upset about something, you can’t make any product. It makes a huge difference. Horses and dogs are really sensitive to vibrations. Humans work on a different wavelength and even when I’m making dog food or horse feed myself, I’m in the moment, I’m very conscious. I’m not just throwing stuff in a bucket or in a bowl, I’m just not throwing kibble and saying, “here’s your food.” I’m thinking about what I’m adding, the benefit of the dog, health, love, compassion, all that is going into the food I make for the animals.
I don’t do it so well for myself. I have to admit I’m more of a, “oh my gosh, I’m hungry. I’m going to grab something.” But for the animal, I’m way more conscious.
Q. Where is Biostar based, and why were you happy to grow Biostar from that area?
Before I was in Charlottesville VA, I was living in Princeton, New Jersey. I was traveling around the country giving nutritional seminars to consumers and health food stores for a human supplement company. I was traveling 49 straight weeks a year. It was a lot. I was engaged to a helicopter pilot who was also a polo player and we just wanted to get out of New Jersey. We saw an ad for farms in Virginia. I thought, “Virginia’s a pretty nice place, let’s go look.” That’s basically what we did. We went down, and we found the farm. My husband got a job as a private helicopter pilot. That was 36 years ago. I made it my home. I found my pitch.
What I like about this area is it’s got the combination that I really need, which is mountains and wild places. It’s got everything except ocean, that’s the one ingredient that’s missing and I’d have to go to Alaska to get that perfect combination. Ocean and forest. But Virginia is great geographically, you can head north easily, you can head south easily and west easily. And Charlottesville has the University of Virginia. I think it’s a big boon to live in a college town. It keeps things diverse, and open minded and allows for fresh ideas.
Q. What qualities do the BioStar crew possess, and how have you built relationships with your employees?
Obviously, they all have passion: passion for animals. Our production staff is passionate about food. Specific skills depend on their department; in customer service, they’ve got to be good communicators. In production, they’ve got to be very detail-oriented and organized. Biostar employees have passions and interests outside of Biostar and that’s important. Several are artists, some are horticulturists and avid gardeners. Some are travelers, others are focused on human rights issues around the globe, a few are amateur photographers, and at home chefs. This diversity and depth of interest and individuality is an important foundation of Biostar.
With over 30 years experience in the equine and human supplement industry, Tigger Montague knows nutrition from the synthetic side as well as the whole food side. She started BioStar US in 2006 with formulas she created in her kitchen. Before she started the company, she was an avid rider and competitor with eventing and show jumping, until she got hooked on dressage in the late 1980’s. She has competed on horses she’s owned and trained all the way from training level to Grand Prix.