V Is for Value

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Until Julie Richert began boarding her horses seven years ago at Rocking V Equine Center near Topeka, Kansas, she had always kept them at home. But once she had experienced this multi-faceted stable, she found it difficult to leave.

Richert is not unusual among the group of horse owners who either board or have a facility membership at the boarding, riding and diversified equine facility that is owned and operated by Jerry and Ingrid Vandervort. “People who moved out to their own places still like to come here and socialize and ride,” says Jerry.

Keeping Riders Happy

Rocking V Equine Center (rockingv­equinecenter.com) started as a boarding facility, but the Vandervorts have added a number of amenities as well as social events and riding programs to keep clients happy at the facility over the past 11 years. “Our primary business is boarding horses,” says Jerry. “We also host events such as horse shows, clinics, and riding camps, along with social events such as birthday parties and receptions.” There have been more than 25 events in the past year including barn shows, circuit shows and hunter-jumper shows. Nationally-known clinicians are not uncommon. His next endeavor will be installing an outdoor trail course—a type of horse playground—because some of his boarders have become involved in competitive trail racing and requested a place to practice.

Rocking V is known for its well-manicured grounds, with gleaming white rail fence, traditional red buildings and a landscaped park area. The facility boards more than 50 horses, and these clients have access to an indoor arena, outdoor arena and outdoor round pen. Riders can also enjoy 100 acres of cut trails through wooded areas and open fields.

The facility is also known as a family-friendly place, with a shady park with picnic tables, and membership dinners and events sponsored throughout the year. The facility recently started “kids’ nights” for youth 12 and under who board horses at the facility or take lessons there. It stages child and horse costume parades for Halloween and Easter egg hunts in the indoor arena. Rocking V has also organized demonstrations for area 4-Hers, and one of the trainers also offers summer riding camps.

The Beginning

Rocking V is a relatively recent creation. In the early 1990s, Vandervort began looking for the right parcel of ground, and when he found the acreage in southwest Shawnee County, he began Rocking V with the construction of the primary horse barn in 1996. The barn houses 24 12- by 12-foot stalls with individual outdoor runs, along with a 1,000-square-foot apartment where Vandervort and his wife, Ingrid, lived for six years before they built their house at the edge of the property.

In 1998, the Vandervorts added an indoor arena. It is the largest in the area at 115 by 200 feet. The arena building also includes eight 12- by 12-foot stalls, a concession stand, announcer stand and seating area. A tack store followed in 2000; it stocks saddles, halters, grooming and equine health products, blankets and more. The store carries a full line of English, Western and roping supplies.

Customers for the tack store come from a wide area. “We focused on quality instead of quantity, and we wanted it to be a true tack store,” Vandervort says. “We didn’t want to compete with the shirts and jeans and nuts and bolts. We deal with both English and Western riders, so we had to have both English and Western in the tack store.”

The Secrets to Success

Vandervort credits the success of Rocking V to planning, quality horse care (much of the hay fed to horses is baled on the property), quality facilities, good relations with clients, and more than 25 years of experience in stable care and management. Customers agree; Richert says the Vandervorts “take excellent care of the facilities and they take really good care of the horses.”

That’s by design. When Jerry first started planning the facility he had an overall vision, and that helped when he went to get permits from governmental agencies. “I needed permits for everything we wanted to do, which included boarding, events, a conference and reception facility, retail sales, food service, along with a large animal hospital,” he says.

“You’ve got to plan ahead and have good detailed plans, and you also need to know your market,” he says. “We are close to larger markets where breed-specific facilities can do well, but that’s not going to work here. We are diversified in this market, so for our location we serve both English and western, and different types of breeds.”

You also have to invite riders to the stable. He encourages prospective boarders to stop by anytime, without notice. “That is the only way they can see how a place really is,” he says. “I encourage them to visit with the boarders and ask them questions and look at the horses. Do they look healthy and happy? I tell them they should do this with other places as well.”

So the Vandervorts place a high priority on keeping the place looking its best, at all times. “I feel it is very important to have a great first impression. When people come to look over the place, you want it looking its best, with clean, fresh stalls, clean aisles and paddocks, grass mowed and trimmed, clean paint, etc. You also want the place to look safe; no broken boards, nails out or sharp objects. You only get one chance to make a first impression,” Jerry says.

Does this formula succeed? “We have a waiting list on stalls,” he says. “Sometimes people take an outside location first and wait for a stall to open up.”

With success has come an increase in staff. Initially, Vandervort did all the work at the facility in and around his full-time job. Now the ranch has five employees, and Jerry and Ingrid, who both continue to hold full-time jobs, also work at the equine center. Jerry credits the low turnover of clients to his “good employees.” The full-timers have been with him more than five years, and some of the part time workers for more than three years.

A Dragon at the Ranch

Vandervort, who has taught horse management and has been a consultant for others building equine facilities, often develops his own solutions to needs that arise at the ranch. One such project is the unique round pen that he designed and welded and is now used to warm up or train horses. He also designed an arena implement that he now manufactures and sells across the country, the Arena Dragon (www.arenadragon.com).

“It was originally designed for our ranch. I’m a welding teacher and at the time I couldn’t find anything that would work for me in the price range I wanted,” Vandervort says. He built his first Arena Dragon nine years ago and it is still in use at a local saddle club. People started asking if he could build them one and so he did. They are now used in major arenas and shows as well.

Vandervort recently developed an Arena Dragon Jr., a version that is smaller and can be pulled by an ATV or a utility vehicle.

With that sort of ingenuity and interest in people, it’s no wonder that Rocking V tops the charts.