As a young woman trying to make it in the equestrian world, there are a few rules of thumb I’ve learned along the way. As a long-time subscriber to Stable Management, I thought this would be the perfect place to share my thoughts. Some may be obvious, but sometimes we ignore the obvious.
1. Dress and Act Professionally
- Wear jeans, britches, or nice shorts (no short-shorts or jeans with holes), polo shirts, t-shirts, or sleeveless polos (no midriffs or sports bras).
- Wear your hair neatly, or under a hat/baseball cap and always ride in acceptable boots and chaps (no sneakers).
- Be polite, no swearing or yelling.
- No gossiping or talking behind others’ backs.
- Treat others with respect.
2. Get involved with local breed or discipline groups
- For example, I volunteered for the South Carolina Dressage & Combined Training Association before running for, and being elected to, the board. I gained some valuable contacts through this, and promoted the farm. I have now been asked to sit on the board for the Central Piedmont Arabian Horse Association.
- If you don’t have time to commit to a board position, volunteer on a per-day basis at shows and clinics.
- Submit articles for publication in your group’s newsletter.
- If your club offers business membership, join under your farm’s name for extra advertising.
- Offer your services as a clinician—either for free or at a discounted price—for unmounted or mounted lessons and adults or junior/young riders.
3. Get involved with your local 4-H or Pony Club
- Encourage your students to become members.
- Attend meetings, become a leader or offer your services as a clinician or coach.
- Many of my students can’t afford their own horses, so I encouraged them to join our local 4-H. I started going to the meetings and offering our farm for meetings and clinics. I am now a co-leader and I volunteered as a coach at our state show. I’ve gotten a few new students from this, and a lot more entrants for the open shows at our farm. And my student’s are benefiting from the team work and unmounted clinics.
4. Get out and show
- Either compete yourself or go as a coach for your students—local or rated, it doesn’t matter.
- Always be professional and polite. Do not complain about show management, judges or other competitors.
- Leave brochures or business cards in the show office and post them on bulletin boards.
- Wear shirts or jackets with your barn logo on them and encourage your students to do so. (I was at one farm where everyone wore their maroon farm shirts—parents, grooms, riders, etc.—we were very visible and portrayed a look of professionalism that got us a number of new clients.)
- Congratulate people that have won ribbons, compliment them on their horse/test/round.
5. Host open/schooling shows at your barn
- Only do this if you have acceptable facilities. Our barn tried to host a schooling dressage show—except that our grass arena had uneven footing and resulted in tripping horses. Our arena was also inadequate, and kept falling down. We are still fighting the bad reputation we got after that show.
- Be competitor-friendly and try to hire knowledgeable and fair judges.
- Although my beginner students heard about the farm through word of mouth, all of my advanced students came to me after attending our shows or seeing me at horse shows.
6. Network with other barns
- At shows/clinics, introduce yourself to other trainers.
- Show an interest in their farm and their programs and tell them about yours.
- Let them know what your specialty is. I always tell people that I’m an Arabian “convert” and a former event rider—I’ve been amazed at how many people have had some sort of contact with Arabs or are former eventers—it gives us common ground for a conversation.
- Don’t be afraid to send clients or prospective clients to other farms if you don’t feel that your program is suitable for them. There is nothing worse than a trainer that refuses to let go of a client because of pride—it is detrimental to the student, the trainer’s business, and causes bad blood in the community.
7. Take lessons yourself
- Work with a local trainer you respect or bring in a clinician on a regular basis.
- Lessons widen your contact base, especially if you take lessons with a well-known trainer.
8. Keep your prices competitive
- You don’t want to charge way more than your competitor, but be careful about underpricing yourself. Some people associate cheap prices with cheap care and instruction.
9. Keep your horses and barn clean
- Watch your horses’ weight carefully—prospective clients don’t like walking into a barn full of skinny horses.
- Even older barns can be kept neat, safe and orderly.
- Remember, first impressions are incredibly important.
- Treat your staff well.
10. Identify your strong points and be careful not to overextend yourself
- Are you better with kids or adults? Beginners or advanced riders? Which breed/discipline?
- At first you may not be able to support yourself on just one type of clientele, so be open to other possibilities. But as your business grows, don’t be afraid to become more specialized. For example, our farm originally bred Arabian horses. It then opened up for boarding, to any discipline/breed. Now as we are getting back into Arabian showing, we are keeping our original clientele but are being more specific about what horses we take in training and are limiting the number of new students.
11. Keep your existing clients happy
- Don’t complain, especially in front of clients.
- Keep your personal business to yourself. This can be hard, especially when you have clients that are your friends. Remember, for you, the horses are a business, but when clients are at the farm they are there to take a break from their problems, they don’t want to hear about yours.
- Take responsibility for your actions, both positive and negative.
12. Working with service providers
- Get to know your farrier, vet, tack shop and feed store employees.
- Pay your bills on time or make arrangements to pay them off.
- Remain on good terms with professionals even when you’ve stopped using them (annual Christmas cards are a great way to do this).
13. Press releases
- Send press releases about good show results, upcoming events, or any newsworthy piece of information to your club’s newsletter, local equestrian magazines/papers, local newspapers.
- I keep an e-mail list of anyone that has inquired about lessons, training or breeding. Then anytime our stallion WH Bodacious (or any of his get) does well, I’ll type up a brief press release and e-mail it to my list. This helps promote me as a trainer and Bo for breeding. Thanks to this, he’s developed a fan club, and now has his own press release list for events specific to him.
14. Get instructor certification
- Not only does this give you some standing in the equestrian community, it also gives non-horse people a sense of security in your knowledge and helps you network with other instructors.
- I am certified by the Horseman Safety Association, but am looking forward to the United States Dressage Federation’s new low level certification program. I also went to the North Carolina State Judge’s clinic, and am licensed to judge open shows by them (another great networking tool).
15. Prevent burnout
- Have a hobby other than horses.
- Take time off away from the barn (my fiancé has to drag me from the barn, but I’m so much nicer and calmer when I return.) Go see a movie, take a long lunch and get off the property.
- Don’t neglect loved ones—family, spouses, etc. When my fiancé complains, I step back and realize that I’ve been ignoring him so I’ll try to spend some time for just us.
- Plan down time each day—for me, it’s as simple as coming home, taking a shower, then “zoning out” in front of the tv—no paperwork, no horse magazines, just time to let my body relax. Down time can be anything from tv, to reading a good book (non horse related), working out, going for a walk, yoga, or meditating.
16. Read Dave Thomas’s book
OK, it sounds crazy. What does Wendy’s fast food have to do with horses? That’s what I thought when I was hunting for a book in the house I hadn’t read (my main non-horse hobby) and my fiancé, a manager at our local Wendy’s, suggested Dave’s autobiography. The book is entertaining, down to earth, and has a lot of great management tips, such as how to work with staff, etc. It is a definite must for anyone in business who has to deal with the public and employees.