Innovative Thinkers

Coming Full Circle
For Theresa Hook Barton, a passion for agriculture is in the blood. 
“My grandmother always had horses when I was growing up,” recalls Barton. “In my family, there is a woman from every generation who gets the ‘horse gene.’ First my grandmother, then my aunt and now me.” 
After her mother’s passing when she was a young girl, Barton was raised by her grandmother Mary Downs Hook on their Cass County, Mo. farm. Today, Barton’s own stable pays homage to her grandmother through its name, “Merry Downs.” 
Barton’s role as creator and co-founder of TNT Forage, Inc., a local company focused on manufacturing hay-based food for the nutrition and benefit of animals, is very likely a result of a background that was sprinkled with agricultural seeds from the very beginning. 
Barton, who currently lives in Mission Hills, Kan., is a product of a long line of agricultural workers, beginning with her grandparents who worked as tenant farmers. 
“My father and his 14 brothers and sisters learned early on how to farm the land and generate a healthy, viable crop,” Barton says. 
But Barton’s father wanted more for his daughter. Just as he and his brothers sought to improve their socioeconomic status by joining the military and thus becoming part of America’s middle class, Barton also thirsted for life beyond the farm. 
“My father said to me, ‘I improved my lot in life, and I expect you to take it to another level,'” Barton recalls. “As a result, I moved to the city, went to college, got into law school and started my profession as a lawyer. But the truth was, I was homesick.”
That’s when things started to come full circle for Barton. 
One day as Barton was tending to her horses held at a stable in Tonganoxie, Kan., she came across what she believed to be a malnourished mare. After approaching the owners, who seemed oblivious to the problem, Barton offered to purchase the mare from them and take her home with the hopes of rehabilitating her health. Much to Barton’s dismay she also discovered that the mare was not only facing a dire health situation, but she was also blind. The recommendation of her vet was to put the mare down, as she was severely malnourished and did not even have the teeth necessary to eat. But Barton was not so quickly discouraged. 
“I asked the vet to give me two weeks,” she says. “I just couldn’t let her go without trying.” 
So Barton, with the help of her friend and horse trainer Terry Corrie, set out on a mission to stimulate the mare’s appetite and nurse her back to health. The pair created a concoction of finely chopped alfalfa hay laden with calorie-rich molasses, which in turn stimulated the mare’s appetite and allowed her to chew the food with the few teeth she still had. 
After two weeks, there was vast improvement in the mare’s health. Not only did the mare go on to recover completely, but, after eight months, she gave birth to a healthy, show-quality filly. 
In the meantime, Barton continued feeding her concoction, which is more commonly known as “chops” due to its choppy consistency, to all 14 of her horses. 
“I was taking the chops to the barns where I stabled my horses, and other people started commenting on the wonderful smell,” says Barton. “It does smell really good–like perfume almost. People started to show interest quickly and wanted me to make some extra for them to purchase, and I began to think, ‘I really have something here that’s pretty valuable.'” 
As word spread about the chops, Barton and then-business partner Corrie began receiving calls from all over the country requesting the product. That’s when Barton decided to give up her law career permanently and return to her agricultural roots. And thus, TNT Forage, Inc. was born in October 2002. 
Founded on good faith, a bit of chance and a whole lot of ingenuity, TNT Forage, Inc. is located in Archie, Mo., and today is solely owned by Barton. 
The company’s focus is to provide quality nutrition for the purpose of bettering the life of animals. To this end, TNT Forage, Inc., blends chopped top-grade alfalfa, orchard grass and/or Timothy hay shipped in from North and South Dakota with rich molasses for a product that is not only palatable for healthy animals, but for aging and ailing animals as well. 
TNT Forage does not only provide nourishment for the equine world. TNT has recently discovered that its products also appeal to the small animal industry. As a result, TNT’s full line of products includes alfalfa chops, Timothy-alfalfa chops and fortified chops (which are enriched with a vitamin and mineral supplement to the hay-molasses blend) as well as rabbit delight sprinkles and fortified rabbit sprinkles. TNT products are currently being shipped to various locations throughout the United States.
Even the St. Louis Zoo has been turned on to TNT Forage, Inc., as it has begun to use the product to improve the nutrition of an ailing rare black rhinoceros. 
And while Barton says she’s thrilled with the direction her business is heading, she’s even more excited about the fulfillment TNT has brought to her personally and the ways the company has been able to touch the lives of others around her. 
“There was an older couple that came in to learn about the product,” Barton recalls. “They had had their horse for more than 40 years, and while the horse’s health had taken a spiral, they were not ready to let go quite yet. So as a last-ditch effort, they opted to try our product. When they came back in, they said the horse was not only recovered, but had a new life about it and was out kicking and bucking in the field. The man said to me, ‘If it makes my horse feel that good, I’m seriously considering eating it myself!’ It’s stories like that that just make all your efforts worthwhile.” 
But more than that, Barton says she’s proud to carry on her family’s agricultural heritage. 
“I’m not farming, but at least I’m doing the next best thing,” she says. “I’m getting premium hay products to the consumer and enriching the lives of animals every day. I love what I do.”
words: Kalsey McCall
photo: Victor Ricigliano