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FASHION : Well, If This Stuff Is Good Enough for Mr. Ed . . .


When Lisa Motz rings up a bottle of Mane 'N Tail at Dominion Saddlery at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, she can't resist asking:

"For you or your horse?"

Detouring to a tack store for shampoo has become a quirky trend, practiced even by those who don't know a knee from a hock (hind knee). While there, some also pick up Hoof-Alive conditioner, saying it does wonders for cuticles and nails.

About eight of 10 customers buy horse grooming products for themselves, says Motz, who uses Mane 'N Tail on her own shiny, dark blond tresses.

Now, by popular demand, equine beauty products are showing up in drug, discount and grocery stores. Manufacturers are repackaging, relabeling and relaunching their goods for a mass market.

Straight Arrow Products, the Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of Mane 'N Tail, has sold horse-grooming aids since 1971. About three years ago, its market research revealed that customers were using the products on themselves, says Gene Carter, executive vice president of sales and marketing. So the company repackaged some items and added to the line--which includes shampoos, hair spray, styling mousse, perm enhancer and other options--for sale in drug and discount stores.

Old Western Thoroughbred shampoo and conditioner were meant strictly for horse hair. But about six months ago, retailers began requesting the products, says Steven Estrin, national retail sales manager for General Therapeutics in Hempstead, N.Y. Now, the products are in 1,500 retail stores, he says.

Conair Corp. of Stamford, Conn., skipped the horse track altogether and launched its Magical Mane shampoo and conditioner directly to drug, discount and grocery stores in March. To develop the formula, the company evaluated horse-grooming products, marketing manager Neil Guller says.

Sales of equine beauty products for human use are expected to top $80 million this year, industry sources say. Prices are comparable to other drugstore offerings. Old Western Thoroughbred shampoo, for instance, is about $4.99 for 16 ounces; Magical Mane, $4.99 for 32 ounces; Mane 'N Tail's Conceived by Nature shampoo, $4.99 for 16 ounces.

What's the draw? Results, pure and simple, manufacturers say. Anything that works on coarse horse hair, the logic goes, is bound to work wonders on even the worst of human hair. Still, the horse and conventional shampoos share some primary ingredients. Both often include the moisturizer panthenol and sodium lauryl sulfate, a foaming cleansing agent.

Before switching from a horse market to a human one, manufacturers must vouch for their products' safety, says Brad Stone, spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration. That is generally done by testing or by using ingredients that are established as safe, he says.

"We have had a handful of complaints" about the horse-grooming products, Stone says, citing scalp irritations or rashes. Most likely, says Janine Loosley, an FDA chemist, those side effects are the result of the higher concentration of cleansing agents often found in horse-grooming products.

Some say the fad of borrowing from the animal world will be short-lived. But Conair is investigating whether dog- and cat-grooming aids might be adapted for human use, Guller says.

Don Gregory, who sells his Hoof-Alive dressing in large tins to tack stores, is planning to launch a repackaged version to drug and discount stores later this summer. ("The Cadillac of hoof conditioners," he boasts.) To please his two-legged customers, he's already introduced a three-quarter-ounce, purse-size Hoof-Alive.

Just in case those hoofs, er nails , need oiling.

* For information on availability, call Old Western Thoroughbred, (800) 645-3752; Straight Arrow, (800) 251-7875; Hoof-Alive, (800) 526-2999; Conair Corp., (800) 726-6247.

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