Thinking of taking on some boarders, or launching an equine marketing firm, or becoming a show groom? Well, you’ve got a lot to learn.
Horse people are incredibly resourceful in finding ways to become financially responsible adults pay for their addiction. Often, that means striking out for yourself with your own equine business—but as with anything horse-related, it can take a lot of trial and error until you see the results you want.
Several equine entrepreneurs, some just out of the starting gate, and others in full stride, were kind enough to share their business experiences—from lessons learned the hard way to the keys to their success.
Remember it’s not called “horse crazy” for nothing. On one hand, there is nothing greater than spending time with people who are passionate about what they do—they are inspiring to be around and can make getting up to get work done a lot easier. But on the other hand, passion means lots of emotion and sometimes less-than-optimal business decisions as a result. And someone else’s less-than-perfect business decision often has ripple effects upon your own business (think of how spending $10,000 on colic surgery for your favorite horse affects not just your pocket book, but that of your feed man, your farrier and maybe even your mortgage holder!) –Heather Benson, Back Forty Media and Marketing
Have a business plan. It is so common in the horse business to ignore business plans and common legal practice like contracts. If you want to create a professional reputation, treat your business as a profession.—Leah Hinnefeld, Personal Trainer, The Athletic Rider
Even in the horse business, you need people skills. I think one of the most important pieces of advice I ever got was to be nice! You may or may not be the most talented rider in the world, but if you are friendly and genuinely nice, people will follow you and support you!– Lila Gendal, Tamarack Hill Farm
I’ve seen barns run by people who seem to be surviving by the grace of God in terms of their horses, but they are gifted in working with people and that is what allows them to thrive as a business. –Kristen Kovatch, Horseback Writer
Create a system. I started selling saddles fairly casually and on a small scale. Then the volume started coming in, and I realized quickly I had to get organized about my business income and expenses to keep things running smoothly. –Rachel Schaeffer, I Sell Tack
I’m all about my process. I’ve gotten it to where I can do a lot of things simultaneously, because I have every step of the laundry process timed out to handle a huge amount of volume.—Yvonne Mulgrew, Equine TLC
Understand your financials from the start. I was eager to get my grooming business off the ground, so I created an LLC using an online legal service, but in hindsight I wish I had hired an accountant first. The first year of taxes and unexpected startup costs were definitely a challenge.–Erika Jenkins, Zoom Groom
Charge what you’re worth. Before Horse Nation I was managing my own boarding barn and running a lesson program, and I was the worst about underselling myself. I was forever cutting my students and boarders deals. As a result I kept finding myself in the hole, month after month. If you’re working hard and you’re good at what you do, don’t be afraid to ask to be fairly compensated for it!—Leslie Wylie, Horse Nation
Network, network, network! You have to meet people any way you can, whether it’s at the feed store, or through volunteering, or meeting new people at shows. I have even donated free services to top-level riders to get my name out there.–Erika Jenkins, Zoom Groom
Don’t be a goon on social media. There is a difference between using your social media to document your life and oversharing or appearing unprofessional. If you plan to become someone that people recognize or know, then clean up your social media or start a “professional” page and keep your personal one hidden from the public. You want to project the image that you want others to call up when they think of you in every facet of your life, from your Twitter page to how you treat others in public. And always be accurate when you’re reporting things or when you’re giving out information.—Sally Spickard, Eventing Nation
Learn about search engine optimization. I redesigned my website to be much more user-friendly, but in the process lost the high Google ranking I had worked for years to achieve. Mistake #1 was suffering with a bad website for too long!— Rachel Schaeffer, I Sell Tack
Learn from the competition. I spent a lot of time researching the other blanket services local to me, and I was seeing problems with their waterproofing services. I contacted manufacturers and even developed a relationship with an engineer who has developed a liquid waterproofing wax and taught me a lot about chemicals. Now I know my waterproofing is the best you can get in the area, and for the lowest price.—Yvonne Mulgrew, Equine TLC
Don’t forget to make time for friends and family. It seems like common sense but I often find myself running around like crazy trying to get things done for work at the expense of spending time with the people I care about. I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who understands my horse crazy but even he can get a little cranky when we haven’t seen each other for a month.—Morgane Schmidt Gabriel, The Idea of Order
Whatever you do, make sure you love it. Because either way it’s going to become your life.—John Thier, Eventing Nation
And of course…Go Riding.