For my senior project this year I am writing a thesis paper on the sustainability of an equestrian business in Rhode Island. The foreground for this is that a local historian (Capers Jones) looked into the economy of Rhode Island and made a claim that our state (RI) really has no economy outside of tourism. The young people of our state are moving out because they are afraid there will not be jobs here for them. The never ending influx of tourists into Rhode Island continually gentrify many residential areas, and taxes are going up, driving many residents out of their homes and out of the state. Rhode Island has the fastest decreasing population and was voted least friendly state for small businesses.
So, in a state like this, how can an equestrian business survive? Can an equestrian business survive? See, it's interesting because the obvious answer is no, of course not. An equestrian business is generally a shaky venture at best and is discouraged by nearly everyone in the industry even in the best locations. But, I know that there are farms in Rhode Island that are sustaining. They may be only just sustaining, or barely being profitable, or even just breaking even, but that in itself is a success. That in itself is a better outlook than the facts point you to believe.
I have been hoping to talk to these barn owners and managers personally and do some interviews about the economics and such, but I would love to hear others input on this. What do you think about the sustainability of equine businesses in Rhode Island? Or Rhode Island's sustainability itself? Or the sustainability of an equestrian business itself? What keeps a barn going? I would very much appreciate any input on this. (:
If anyone would like sources on my first paragraph spiel I can give them to you. I am probably going to use this discussion as background knowledge for my research (I do not mean plagiarism in any way) but if anyone would like to be cited please let me know. I posted this also in the hunter/jumper thread, just because my focus is on hunt seat barns and I want as wide a berth of speculation as I can get. Thanks!
Depends on the business, I would think. I've been to Rhode Island once, as a tourist. (And only for the day, passing through on my way to Boston. I want to visit all 50 states and had not yet hit RI.) As part of my day, I went on a trail ride, something I often like to do when traveling. This is a part of the horse industry that can cater to and benefit from the tourists. When looking for a place to book, I did notice that there didn't seem to be very many stables in the state. Perhaps a flat out lesson and training barn would be more successful financially if also offering trail rides, pony rides, hay rides, or something else touristy.
I'm a life-long New Englander (most of that in New Hampshire) and I can tell you it's really hard to make a living with horses up here. I do have an aunt and uncle in Rhode Island, though they are not horsey. He worked various jobs ranging from Meteorologist to substitute teacher to insurance salesman and she worked as an interior designer and taught part time at RISD.
There was a big-time hunter jumper barn in RI but I think he moved, and I'm not sure how long ago he moved, I just remember him being there at one time, and I know he is now in New York. There is a polo operation in Newport, which is a good match, polo is a big tourist draw. Part of the problem with New England in general is the weather. You have to have an indoor if you want to stay in business, and when you combine that need with the rising property taxes - and in Rhode Island - the lack of available land - it becomes very difficult. I agree offering something like trail rides or hay rides would be a good addition as a tourist draw. But the most successful horse businesses up here that I know of run local lessons, with tons of kids, they all have indoors, and they cater to local folks. It's almost like ballet lessons to these people, they are not and will not ever be horse people, they just want their little girl to ride a horse. That's where the sustainable market is. Hope this helps!
I was thinking along these lines that some aspect that caters to tourism would help with revenue. I wasn't thinking about giving riding lessons to young children being a big thing, but I guess it is. I have had five students myself and I haven't advertised teaching.
Land management/use is another place where I run into a lot of limitations. I was hoping that there was some way to get some sort of subsidy for land conservation or doing some sort of farming, and using energy rebates and tax credits for various ways of "being green". Is there anyone out there that owns an equestrian business in Rhode Island?
I guess my other question in this is if there is a way to make a life out of it for yourself. I know that there are plenty of small private farms around Rhode Island that do fairly well, but the owners work in something other than equestrian.
I grew up in MA and lived in RI for a few years after college. Granted, it was a while ago, but my impression is/was that the borders of RI are very vague, in that people go to MA or CT if what they need happens to be there. I lived in Providence and rode in Rehoboth, MA, which was (if I remember correctly) where J&W's riding program was located. So if that's still the case, I would imagine that would be an added challenge to sustaining businesses in state. You'd almost need to decide (for your paper) whether you're talking about a single stable that serves a fairly large area and creates a niche for itself with the kids of people who live in RI, or if you plan to serve the tourist industry. Or are you talking about stables in general throughout the state, smaller businesses that might serve a more specialized interest group? What's the show situation there - if someone's kid gets involved and really loves the sport, do they have to travel out of state for local-level shows? Breed shows and higher level showing require more travel - how much of a barrier is that in a state with a weaker economy? Another question - how many people are buying second homes in RI and traveling there for weekends or summers from places like NYC? is there a niche market for barns that serve that segment of the population - board Dobbin in RI in the good weather months, then send him to Florida? Do you want the income to come from RI "real" residents or do you want the money to come from out of state-ers?
If you live in RI you've probably also experienced the unique reluctance to drive "long" distances. :-) Providence to Newport might as well have been Prov. to NY. We'd go to see a band in Boston and plan to stay overnight... that aversion to driving more than, oh, 20 minutes will have an impact on your business if it is targeted to locals!
I lived in RI for four years in my youth (stationed at NAS Quonset Point). I lived on the economy in Point Judith for a couple of years and then bought a house in Wickford (just in time for Tricky Dick to close everything up ). I've been back three times over the years, the last time about 15 years ago. I looked around for equine operations/businesses, as I usually do in places I visit, and didn't find much.
I took some riding lessons at a park just north of North Kingston (I don't remember the name of the place). It was your Mark I Mod 0 public riding stable. The lessons were basic English. I don't remember any specific discipline being emphasized.
Lots of RI, particularly in the SE, is rather marshy ground. I had friends at University of RI and remember driving through some pretty wet areas. The winters were quite wet along the tidewater and quite snowy not far inland.
The big time toursity areas (Point Judith, Newport, etc.) are also either beach front (expensive and highly restricted) or High Dollar Cottages (mondo expensive and even more highly restricted). I just took a Google Maps tour of where I used to live and what was "open ground" in the '70s is pretty highly developed today. That means very high land prices and very restrictive zoning.
A horse operation is an agricultural enterprise at its foundation. RI never impressed me as a place where "agriculture" would do well. Historically its economic base was fishing, maritime enterprises, and manufacturing. If those are gone and the base is now tourism that does not bode well for the type of business being considered. The "season" up there will be rather short. Making a full year's income in three months is a real challenge.
"Native Rhode Islanders" were not much interested in associating with us "uitlanders." It was not exactly like Norfolk (where it was "DOGS AND SAILORS KEEP OFF THE GRASS") but it not "warm and welcoming" either. After I bought a house I found my "social status" changed rather significantly. Don't know how this might affect the equation (if at all).
There are a lot of challenges here and a start up operation will require a lot of capital to be able to afford the high prices for land and the time it will take to build clientele. Put another way, the person who undertakes this must have deep pockets.
Good luck in the project.
P.S. Is Custy's in North Kingston still in operation? Their "Twin Lobster Special" used to be the best eating deal in the State!!!
A CT resident for 40+ years (recently relocated to NJ), I can't say I have a deep knowledge of the RI horse industry. However, over the years I've had some experience with it. I know of one BNT who opened her doors there briefly and left, a WB breeder who went out of business there, and a boarding barn -- Brookside Equestrian Center -- that seems successful.
Brookside has something that helps a lot: diversity. They offer both dressage and jumping lessons. They run clinics, hold inspections and breed shows, and I don't even know what else. The times that I've been there, I've noticed a variety of breeds among the boarders, some of whom were going out for a trail ride while a show was held. I get the feeling the atmosphere is fairly open and relaxed. Also, they have a CEM quarrantine facility, which adds a unique service to their business. And the facility itself is large, with a big, two-aisle barn, large indoor with large viewing area, an outdoor arena, trails, parking, etc.
So, that's the sort of place that can be successful. The problems I've always noticed with RI, on the other hand, have to do with infrastructure, especially the terrible roads and often poor signage; cross over the border from CT and you instantly know you're in RI because of the bone-jarring bumps in the road.
My cousin and his wife live in Charleston. Both derive income from out of state. Ironically, my cousin works on MA bridges. His wife started an online business and works from home.
You should contact Brookside for your project. I'd be happy to talk to you more as well, so feel free to PM me.
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