If there’s one thing Lauren Smith enjoys more than riding a horse, it might be baking cookies—but not just any cookies. Lauren, 16, loves mixing, baking and decorating custom cookie treats for horses so much that she decided to start the Crunchy Cookie Company when she was just 14.
With guidance from her mom, a professional cake baker, and a little help from YouTube tutorials, Lauren has learned to concoct her own show-safe recipes, whip up creative and colorful icing designs, craft custom packaging, market her products, and run her own online store and social media channels, all in the name of pursuing her own equine-focused business.
While she primarily makes custom horse treats designed to please even the pickiest pony, Lauren also makes cookies for humans. But whether her cookies are destined for equine or human consumption, each one is a work of art. Her cookie designs and decorations range from the whimsical—bowls of spaghetti, smiling cactuses, quizzical polar bears—to items instantly recognized by any equestrian, such as horseshoes, carrots, blue ribbons and unicorns.
“I bake all the cookies at home in my kitchen, and then I spread butcher paper over the table and the desk in my room,” Lauren says. “I frost them and package them there. When I’m not using my cookie cutters, I keep them in bins in my closet. I’ve got tons!”
It all started when Lauren, who’s from Ardmore, Okla., volunteered to make prizes for a show at Johnson Performance Horses during the summer of 2020.
“I was riding there at the time with a friend of mine, and we needed prizes for a show that was coming up,” says Lauren. “I learned to bake in middle school, so I decided I’d make horse treats. Once I’d made them, my friend told me they were so cute that I needed to start selling them. Since it was summer [break], I had a lot of extra time, so I just started making cookies and learning all the tricks and techniques I needed to know.”
First, Lauren perfected her cookie recipe. All her custom horse treats are show-safe because they’re flaxseed- and cinnamon-free. To ensure the cookies would also be horse-approved, she conducted taste tests with her two Welsh ponies, Rollingwoods Doo Lolly and Gayfields The Macho Man, as well as her friends’ horses.
“There was a lot of trial and error involved,” Lauren says. “Many of the horses were picky, so I tried a lot of different tweaks until I came up with something that was simple to make, didn’t take too long, and that all the horses loved. And that’s the best part. I love watching the horses eat the cookies and look so happy afterward.”
Next, Lauren watched YouTube tutorials and scrolled Pinterest so she could learn new icing techniques and designs for her cookies. She also figured out how to package her cookies so that they’d last; the horse cookies can be stored for up to six months.
“I have a heat-sealer device that I use to seal the cookie bags, and it looks really professional,” Lauren says. “I also print my own stickers. I designed them on a website and can print them on my home printer.”
Once word got out about her cookies, Lauren’s business started to grow.
“I got a lot of support from my friends at the barn,” she says. “They all bought treats from me, and it was great. Then I started reaching more people, and then once I started selling to them, they’d post about my cookies on Instagram and that helped. And then it just grew and grew, and I started getting overwhelmed! There’s a lot I have to do these days, but it’s fun.”
Lauren says one of the hardest parts of owning a business is developing a work-life balance.
“I’m taking advanced placement classes at school, I have my business, and then I’m at the barn every day to ride and keep my two ponies fit for show season,” Lauren says. “I [use] a planner to keep up with my orders and set due dates for myself. That’s been my method. Then I just find a way to squeeze them into my schedule! It has helped me to understand how stressful it can be to run a small business.”
Lauren sells her cookies primarily via her online store and hopes to start selling them in a local tack store soon. Regardless of how she gets her cookies to her target customers, she says her favorite part is seeing people post about her products.
“All the support I get through my Instagram is awesome,” she says. “I love seeing people buy my cookies and post about them after I’ve mailed them off.”
Follow Lauren’s Crunchy Cookie Company account on Instagram to see more of her cool cookie designs @thecrunchycookieco.