I know many of my clients have their own business or work for a small business. You have probably also felt the highs and lows of having your name on the sign and being responsible for many families and their dreams.
I always giggle when people think my job is to play with horses and teach someone to gallop through a field of flowers. I sometimes wish that was my reality. But honestly, I would probably get bored if that was my daily life. I’m too competitive and goal-driven.
Owning a business is hard and then add to that the dimension that my “lights” never actually turn off. Horses need attention 24 hours a day. There is no locking the door and returning 12-24 hours later. Also, add that keeping overhead down while never sacrificing your service is a constant balancing act. Hay and grain prices can fluctuate $5-10 per bale/bag. Insurance, equipment, shavings, vet care are just a few other factors that can make or break a horse biz. The last piece of this puzzle that forever affects an equine business is the staff (my employees).
I know many businesses struggle to hire and retain passionate employees. Restaurants, retail stores, nurses for doctors, and yes the agriculture and equine industries...I am blessed to have a small handful of people that have been with me for years.
Michelle has been with me for 6 years. She gets my training horses ready. Runs the farm when I’m traveling. Assists with lessons on a few nights as well. She wishes she could be “more to the biz.” I tell her all the time that finding someone with her compassion, dependability, and grittiness is not common.
Raymond has been with me for 2 years. He cleans stalls and feeds for me 4 days a week. The other three days it is me. When I’m traveling, I have to pull another part-time employee.
Steven does all landscaping, feeds in the afternoons, and assists with puppy-sitting when I’m on the road. I have 4 energetic red heelers.
Ashleigh needs no introduction. She started riding 5 years ago. Her mom sacrificed a lot to give Ash the ability to ride a ton and lease horses. She moved into performance 2 years ago. Today, she is my right hand. She assists with the babies, training, shows, lessons, and anything else horse or barn related. She runs circles around many professionals I know. She has a bright future in this business. The very near future...
When you look at the people I’m thankful for, you notice that they all have their own roles and they are very important to me and the farm. I am missing and have been missing a piece of the puzzle that I have been convinced I have to have (An assistant trainer or instructor)...
I am proud of all of my past assistants and instructors. Some still work in the industry and some do not. I am thankful for their dedication while they were at LF.
At one point, I had 2 trainers, 2 instructors, and 3 caretakers. It was like herding cats at times. The business was giant and I was bleeding money keeping a huge staff that was making top dollar. It was fun and exciting but honestly, I’m glad my business isn’t there anymore. It’s big in a different way. It’s established differently. I don’t want or need to be like any other barn in my area or the southeast.
I am not going to pretend that I’m not tired and frustrated with the revolving door of assistants and instructors I have had over the years. I get attached.
The clients get attached. Then they are gone after 6 months to a year. It takes a toll on you and your farm.
Today, I am very aware this is all a blessing. Instead of getting bigger, I am going to run in the opposite direction and I’m ready to knock it out of the park! I am going to be smaller BUT give a better service and product than ever before. No one teaches or trains my riders (or horses) like I do. Even the most talented and dedicated assistant doesn’t love your farm as you do. There have been some awesome improvements by the riders and the parents have stepped up their commitment level as well. I have a group of riders and drivers that will be unbelievably prepared for next season.
So I’ve come to the reality that I am not going to bring in any more people to have pivotal roles in my business that didn’t grow up in my program. I will hire individuals to be support staff but they will not be on the front lines with me, Michelle or Ashleigh.
The business and farm cannot keep running with the same business plan that I had in the past. There will have to be changes. Some small. Some large. I’m excited about all of this. My attitude is contagious. Our clients ready to roll with a small and close-knit group.
In the past, I have demanded a high commitment to riding lessons (at least 2 lessons a week). 75% of my clientele shows horses/ponies. Most riders own their saddles, lease, or buy horses as well. This will NOT change.
I will only be teaching Monday through Wednesday. I will be sending some students to other riding programs in the area. My reality is that I cannot be everything to everyone. I will be limiting my services significantly to increase the quality of my product and allow my riders and horses to develop quicker.
I have a large training program. I have more young horses than I have ever had. I have established clients taking on new challenges and green-bean clients that are excited and ready to roll.
My current thought process is listed below. The winter will allow me to try some different things to figure out what works for me.
-we will not be taking on new clients UNLESS they have a connection to a current client in the barn (friends and family connection)
-We will not be offering any casual lessons.
-lessons are Monday through Wednesday only (makeups on off days when Kathryn is available.)
-if you stop riding for an extended period, there is no guarantee that I can get you back on the schedule. There may also be a re-enrollment fee. I don’t want riders to take a break for the weather or other sports.
-horse owners/lessee can ride/drive on Thursday, Friday, Sunday with Kathryn