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Successful equine business plan?

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  • Successful equine business plan?

    I have the desire to start an equine business. Not uncommon, right? But I would like to not lose an arm and a leg, and would be happy to support myself with it, not necessarily make a million dollars (although that would be lovely!). I know the saying in horses is if you want to make a million start with four! Is it possible to be a non-rich single girl and build a business? I'm working on my riding/training skills, and am hoping to get USDF certified up to 4th level instructor. I am an experienced barn manager and have been a groom/working student/barn manager for top barns in the northeast. I am planning on expanding my knowledge of breeding and am comfortable handling stallions and foals/young prospects. So, I guess my question is do you become a jack of all trade, or specialize in something and get REALLY good at it? Is this a pipe dream, or is it really possible? I'm willing to put my heart and soul into it, and work as hard as needed to make it work.
    When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

  • #2
    It sounds like you have enough qualifications as far as skills are concerned, however, the big issue will be start-up capital...... you know, the kind of money that allows you to buy a place with a barn, riding ring, house, fenced in paddocks, etc. etc.

    Unless you can find somebody with the appropriate real estate and buildings who is looking for somebody to run the place for them, it'll be difficult to come up with that kind of money (or qualify for the loan).

    Good luck!
    Siegi Belz
    2007 KWPN-NA Breeder of the Year
    Dutch Warmbloods Made in the U. S. A.


    • #3
      Like any other businesses, there are way more failures than successes but it's certain possible to succeed.

      Unless you are filthy rich and have capital to sustain you for several years, I will say stay away from breeding businesses. In order to make money with breedings, you need to have very nice mares to breed to exceptional stallions, and you need to study the genetic markup of the potential matches, and then the result is still a crab shot. Most likely you will not see a return in the first few years from breedings.

      If your heart is set with some kind of equine businesses, I will say, start with some kind of service type businesses, such as riding instruction or training. You can lease a facility if you don't have one. You are in the process of getting certified, which will be very beneficial for you. Make sure to study your market very carefully and decide what your strength is. Do you want to focus on beginners or show competitors?

      Also, make sure you have enough fund to sustain you for the first year or two. It is very likely you won't get much income when you start out.

      And finally, good luck. You have chosen a very tough, though rewarding career. Make sure you really love it, or you will end up hating it.


      • Original Poster

        Well, my wonderful father has mentioned (more than once) that he's wanting to buy a farm and fix it up. He's got all the skills needed to build a barn from the ground up (although I'd probably go with a prefab or a place with a barn already), as well as put in the ring, do all the fencing. And since he is retired, and my brother is available to help him, all that would be needed is $$$ for materials and he has said he is willing to put some money into it. And if I can flip some horses once the market picks back up, or get some teaching clients, in addition to my vet tech job, I can help with the materials as well. BUT, it won't be a million dollar facility. I'm hoping that by fostering some relationships with area barns to teach out of and using my farm as a place to raise some nice babies, and keep expenses down on my own horses, maybe take in some pasture board or training horses, I can use that as a stepping stone to a bigger place? I am also in school, with goals of getting my Phd so I can teach at a college level as my "backup" plan!!

        Thank you for the feedback! Keep it coming!
        When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.


        • #5
          I'd suggest that before you go about building a facility etc make sure you do proper business plan research.... look into what kind of market is in the local area, how many other boarding/training facilities are out there and are they full or near to full capacity? What will your monthly outlay be vs. what can you reasonably charge in your area without driving away potential customers - and don't forget hidden costs like insurance. Many facilities exist in a very hand to mouth fashion and only just barely break even and cover the cost of their own animals. When a couple of these exist in the same area you can end up with competitors whose rates are almost unbeatable. So, what are your specialist skills or niche ideas that you can use to attract customers in a competetive way? Can you create a market that isn't yet tapped into?

          When I was starting my boarding/training place (which by the way I retired from gleefully because it is backbreaking work and can suck the enjoyment out of horses in a non-escapable 24/7 way ) I attended some business courses offered by the State Ag extension service... so I'd check into that. Contact the Sec of State, or other state/local agencies and see what they have to offer in terms of small business education and assistance services. There are often advisors who will help you set up a business plan and will look for holes in your ideas. It's invaluable advice really.

          Lastly I'd say if you are genuinely passionate about it, go for it... there's nothing worse than getting to a certain age and wondering what might have been. The worst that will happen is it won't work and you'll start over with something else.


          • #6
            Put together a good business plan.

            There are at least two places willing to help for free:
            SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) through the SBA, and a local Small Business Development Center, often through a community college.

            It sounds like your family is willing/able to pitch in to help this work for you, but a good business plan will help you decide if it really will work, how it would work, or whether you'll have a great time for a while before it collapses.


            • #7
              If you are in the Athens area, i keep seeing a nice little farm for sale on craigslist, dont know the price... But seems like a great starting place with established hay fields, some trails, riding arena, stalls, and a decent house, think it had 100 acres or around there.

              I dont know that area, but i would say you can "usually" break even on a boarding facility if in the right location. Location is really key.

              Teaching/training will make money, however, you've got to be spending a butt load of money showing your own horses to promote yourself and your skills. It would take many years of establishing a reputation before you would see actual income there i think. Something that would help you is to have really good schoolmasters, people will pay to ride a well trained horse, but again, you've got to have money to buy that schoolmaster or have something very nice up the ranks that you can use. And i dont mean the piece of junk QH from the auction house that did cattle a few years and you put some buttons on it. That is fine for the beginner people, but if you want to have those higher clientel, you need GOOD horses.

              Breeding can make money, but not for years of establishing a reputation of putting foals on the ground that get up the levels and out there competing to prove it. Your average quality dressage foal will cost you a good 5k (on the low end) to get from conception (stud fees, vet fees for mare, mare's feed till foal is weaned) to 3-4yrs old, which i think is when most of them really sell, and then they need to be lightly backed and possibly have been in the breed ring to prove themselves, so even more $$$... To sell it for 8-10k. Let alone the cost of the broodmare, and please dont pick up a piece of junk OTTB and breed to the recent trendy stallion and think you'll make a fortune, there is a lot of research needed to produce that creme of the crop that will pull in good money. The world doesnt need more junky bred horses, regardless of who daddy is.

              I think 8-10k is probably where your foal/youngster prices will be until you've got 6-10yr olds that you've produced in the show ring proving themselves, and maybe even beyond. Its a brutal world being a breeder.

              So my advice, i would start with a boarding facility, then work into giving lessons/training horses using your extra board income to promote yourself in the show ring. It will be a loooooooong road to success, find a rich spouse...
              Your Horse's Home On The Road!


              • #8
                I've observed several boarding barn owners (and these are the ones that have stayed in business) over the years and it seems pretty thankless. Sounds harsh, but the horse owner only sees a fraction of all of the hard work you do and then for your trouble, borrows your stuff, leaves poop in the isle, or their halter over there, etc.

                They also have told me that you don't make money on the boarding, it's on the lessons.

                If it were me and I had the skills, I would copy the few very successful (and happy) trainers I know-- first person has a lesson program (get those juniors too) and then ONLY boards horses in full-training board. [The only high money earning boarding barn owner I know does something similar but is on the arab circuit--full training board only and you have to show]. I know another trainer who only teaches lessons and does absolutely no boarding and she seems pretty happy. It is nice to take a vacation and leave the back breaking work to someone else.

                The other similar characteristic is they also have clients BUY their riding horses for them to campaign. They don't buy their own horses and the clients foot the bills. They are not in a mega show horse/high net worth area either--just have super people skills and treat their clients fairly. Then clients pay for you to clinic with Olympians on their horses, or the one paid her trainer to take her horse to Germany, California, wherever the really BNT are at that point, etc.

                Breeding quality is WICKED spendy!!! And that can be when the mare still gets in foal that year. I think with skills to train, you are MUCH better off buying a weanling or yearling that is already on the ground. Good broodmares are not cheap and even then they may sit around for a year and produce no foal. Breeders will give you a good break if they know you are going to promote their horses at shows. There is just so much risk in breeding. I know I'm buying my next prospect already on the ground after what I spent last year.
                DIY Journey of Remodeling the Farmette: http://weownblackacre.blogspot.com/


                • #9
                  My advice is to find a mentor to bounce ideas off of and keep you focused. Someone who is able/willing to ask the right questions and be brutally honest if needed (so not a friend!)

                  We built a decent small barn and heated indoor arena without being weathly...helps that bubby is in construction. We built with the idea that we wanted it to be cheap to run, so cheap to heat, and efficient to look after so we don't need staff.

                  I started with the focus being a lesson barn with lesson horses (that can double as investments if you buy smartly, and rotate/sell evey couple years!), but demand has slowly shifted more for training as my reputation got out there.

                  Teaching entry level clinics (theory or riding, with lesson horses available) was likely the best advertising I did.

                  My biggest struggle is having the time/finances for a horse of my own to show....which is likely in part due to the fact that my second biggest struggle is valuing my time/abilities/facility adequately!

                  Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                  • #10
                    Vet tech job, fixing up a place, establishing a new business and in school to pursue a PhD? That seems like an awful lot. Do you realistically feel you can do all this, and do it well? It just feels to me like perhaps you need to focus for success.
                    ...somewhere between the talent and the potato....


                    • Original Poster

                      There are some points I should clarify...Not looking at a big barn, maybe 6-8 stalls, 2-3 of which would be my own. Looking for training clients mostly, so need my own horses to make it attractive to owners, but would be open to teaching lessons on my horse (if rider is capable) or trailer in lessons. The breeding was more about standing a stallion (who would double as my high level prospect, so I'll have to shell out a mint for him anyway), and I have a plan to buy up some of the babies bred by Cornell and Virginia Tech and raise and start them. My big love is teaching, so I'm hoping to do that more than run a BIG boarding place and teach a million up-downers. My father is really interested in helping me run the place, so a lot of the backbreaking stuff would be his deal! Rich hubby is the other back up plan!!

                      Anselcat -- it would be a lot, if it was all at one time. I do have my vet tech job, I do school part time now, so it'll take me years to finish what I'm starting now. Fixing up the farm would be my dad and brother's project, not really involved a lot except in the planning phase and once the details need to be put into play. I'm hoping to use the time when I have my VT job and I am in school to build my reputation, and in doing so, build a business so when the doors actually open, I have clients ready for me. I also need the time to grow a good quality baby, and continue taking lessons on the incredible schoolmaster from the incredible instructor I've found!! So it's more a 5-10 year plan, not really 2-3 year plan. I'm a long distance planner!!

                      Thank you all for your advice. Part of my B.S. will be to create a business plan, so I will be able to put a lot into it, and hopefully get a lot out of it!!
                      When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.


                      • #12
                        I wouldn't bother getting a Ph.D. unless you are truly passionate about what you're studying. Part-time college teaching is notorious for being poorly paid and landing a full-time position at a decent college or university is exceedingly competitive. Good luck with the horse business. My impression is that teaching riding, especially if you are certified or otherwise accomplished, can pay reasonably well.


                        • #13
                          I hope your father knows what he's getting (and you) into. I've seen multiple families end up bringing each other to court due to a few similar situations. I would sit down with him and discuss fiscal responsibilities of both parties, what the phases of development should be, who should be responsible for what.

                          It goes without saying that purchasing the farm is the cheapest part. Building and developing the land is an ongoing money pit. Adding a breeding program, a lesson program, a this or that is an added expense.

                          Standing stallions and breeding operations are even harder. Go to the breeding forum and look at the Torino thread. You get a pretty good idea of what's going with today's market. It's a definite mare owner market.

                          In short, you're very scattered with broad range goals. Narrow your focus.
                          It is rare to see a rider who is truly passionate about the horse and his training, taking a profound interest in dressage with self-abnegation, and making this extraordinarily subtle work one of the dominant motivations of his life.\"


                          • Original Poster

                            The whole point of this thread WAS to narrow my focus, or to see if it's better to be narrowly focused, or be a jack of all trades. My dad is VERY clear with me about what he is willing to pay for, and what he's not. Very clear cut in that department.

                            I understand that there are expenses to be had in the horse world, BELIEVE me, I know! My thought was, if I want to build a nice, safe, clean, working environment anyway, why not use it as a base for business, whatever that ends up being. In the end, if I stay a vet tech until I find a teaching job, I'd be able to pay for my own horses and my living expenses. I'm not looking to dig myself in a hole, or amass so many horses/clients that I can't manage it. Again, think SMALL scale! I'm talking 10 acres, 6-8 stalls. I have worked at the big barns, and I've had a small barn where I couldn't bring in boarders/lesson horses. I want an adult, calm, encouraging environment. Essentially, what I want is a private farm where I take in training horses/clients. Be that they want their horse trained, or themselves trained! I don't think I'm very scattered, I have a very clear picture of what I want. Perhaps I shouldn't have presented it as a business plan, because I don't want to be Hilltop Farm, or Scott Hassler. I want a local (and we are close enough to Atlanta to get some people with funds behind them) clientele that will help me achieve my goals, while I help them achieve theirs.
                            When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by fizzyfuzzybuzzy View Post
                              The whole point of this thread WAS to narrow my focus, or to see if it's better to be narrowly focused, or be a jack of all trades. My dad is VERY clear with me about what he is willing to pay for, and what he's not. Very clear cut in that department.
                              The first step to any good business practice is getting things in writing.

                              That's the point, he's clear now. He won't be so clear five years from now or the gray area expenses. Write a contract with him, sign it and copy it.

                              I understand that there are expenses to be had in the horse world, BELIEVE me, I know! My thought was, if I want to build a nice, safe, clean, working environment anyway, why not use it as a base for business, whatever that ends up being. In the end, if I stay a vet tech until I find a teaching job, I'd be able to pay for my own horses and my living expenses. I'm not looking to dig myself in a hole, or amass so many horses/clients that I can't manage it. Again, think SMALL scale! I'm talking 10 acres, 6-8 stalls.
                              Using the roll eyes icon denotes serious maturity and business-like manner

                              You're all over the board, vet tech, teaching, boarding, breeding, training. Pick. one. thing. Do that well. You cannot nor you do not have time to fit this all into one day's worth of work. If you do, then burnout will occur. Yes, there will be opportunity cost, however, the cost of doing all this is burn out and bankruptcy.

                              It sounds, if anything, you want a small private facility where you can develop your own horses first, and clientele second. With that, it also sounds like because of your area (Atlanta- a larger dressage population) you will be facing stiffer competition.

                              Also realize that, for every personal horse you keep- it will take two to cover the expenses of the one.

                              Perhaps I shouldn't have presented it as a business plan, because I don't want to be Hilltop Farm, or Scott Hassler. I want a local (and we are close enough to Atlanta to get some people with funds behind them) clientele that will help me achieve my goals, while I help them achieve theirs.
                              You don't need to be huge, no one said that. Your business can be as big or as small as you would like.


                              Opening a business isn't as easy as hanging a shingle out and an open sign.

                              Business plans are necessary. Period. The IRS will chew you a new one and you will potentially owe not only legal fees in fighting them, but back taxes if they declare what you are doing a hobby and not an enterprise. They also give vision and purpose to what you're doing. They show intent and how you plan on managing your funds.

                              A plan is nothing more than the company name, it's mission, it's goals (long term and yearly), income projections, marketing strategies and a few other things written in a concise format. It can (and should be) revised.

                              My advice, as someone who is there, first go to your bank and open up a business checking account. File for an EID, and form an LLC. Get insurance if you're going to teach and then head on over to staples to purchase a daily diary, a copy of Quick Books and a file cabinet to organize.
                              It is rare to see a rider who is truly passionate about the horse and his training, taking a profound interest in dressage with self-abnegation, and making this extraordinarily subtle work one of the dominant motivations of his life.\"


                              • Original Poster

                                Tempichange -- you still aren't really understanding what I am saying, and what you are telling me I already know. You seem to not understand what I was looking for in this thread. I am not a newbie, I am an experienced rider, instructor, barn manager, groom, and working student for top level riders. I know what goes into every facet of the business I am proposing, as I've done it for others. I know where and when I'll need help. I am not looking for someone to tell me to do it, or not do it. I know myself and what I am looking to do well enough that I wasn't saying "should I or shouldn't I", it was more the business side of it. I was actually looking for a successful rider/trainer/breeder/BO that HAD a written business plan (is that you?) that might be able to share what they had done with it, how it benefited them. The added details were just to inform those people about what kind of business I was hoping to start. Your response leads me to believe that anything I would "say" would be met with more of the same negativity (not unfounded or unrealistic, but negative just the same) of your previous posts.

                                And I wasn't using the rolling eyes emoticon at you, I was rolling my eyes at the expenses.
                                When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.


                                • #17
                                  I haven't been doing this as long as some people on here, but I've had my training/lesson business for almost 2 years now, and it's (minimally) profitable now! I started small... one school horse, 1 show horse for myself, and a handful of boarders/students. I don't have my own barn, right now I have a great situation where I am allowed to teach/train out of a nice facility where I board my horses. I pay full price for board, and I bring new boarding clients into the barn, and they let me train there and don't charge me an arena fee. I'm sure these situations are a bit tricky to find, but the way it's worked out it benefits me and the barn owners, so it's perfect! I don't have to worry about turn out or ordering hay and grain, and I can focus on the lessons and training. I figured as I grew I'd need a herd of schoolies, but what I've found is I'm better off with people riding their own horses or shareboarding (no cost to me, and they are more committed as riders), the schoolies get people in the door and then as they get better they "graduate" to a shareboard or whatever. I may need to pick up one more school horse as I continue to grow, but I'm not looking at having a barn full of them. Of course, other places exist solely on school horses, and that works too, so decide which direction you are more interested in going.

                                  I still have my original show horse, plus two more of my own in training (one I thought I would show myself, but I've decided to sell both and start over again so I have the money TO show whatever horse lol). I frequently work 12 hours a day during the week, and always 6 often 7 days a week **doing only the lesson/training business** I cannot imagine doing all you mention, atleast at the beginning. Once you have a lesson business established, training grows from that, once that is established, establish yourself in the show ring, then maybe build your breeding program from there. I spend a lot of hours in the barn, but I also spend a lot of time doing the "office work" part, and working on marketing, responding to email inquiries, etc. If I also had to muck stalls, turn out horses, make barn repairs, etc I think it'd be overwhelming.

                                  It sounds like you are on the right track by thinking start small, but I'd suggest starting even smaller than you are. See if you can pick up a few students by training your own horses at a busy boarding barn. People see you ride, they like what they see, and they want help to make their own horses look like yours. Then when you are making enough from those people, invest in a schoolie and build the lesson part. Once you have that established clientele, then build the barn and you will have it full right away. 6-8 stalls may seem like plenty to start with, but I can't imagine making a living on that few horses. Every one of them would have to be in FULL training, and a lot of people want to start small and if they like it they invest in more. You need an established reputation I think to fill a barn with full training horses right away. Figure if you make nothing on boarding (like cover costs, but no profits), and your barn is full of people who do lessons or training on their own horses like 1-2 times a week, how many horses do you need to make "enough"? That's how many stalls (minimum) you need.

                                  As far as also being in school or teaching part time... The extra income would help me a ton right now (who couldn't use extra money???) but, recently I was offered a pt job at a company I used to work at and I turned it down because I realized I need to stay focused to provide the level of quality I want to so I can grow in the direction I want to. This means being available for long conversations with new horses owners about things like bits and supplements. If the vet is coming out and it's a newbie owner, I want to be there to help, answer questions, and make sure I get instructions correctly from the vet. If a horse has a booboo, they want my opinion what to do, and I want to be there for that. This is part of attracting more serious riders and nicer horses. If you have the "eh, he'll live" attitude, you may fill the barn with people who feel the same way about lessons and training. It also shows my clients that I care about them and their horses, not just their money. I have to say, I have the nicest group of riders/owners... every last one of them is an honest to goodness nice person, no barn drama, no petty bickering, no backstabbing, it's just pleasant all around. But I couldn't just be available like I am if I had other significant obligations (like school or other job). The flip side is, because I am willing to help so much (which is "unpaid" in the traditional sense), I'm getting a great reputation and attracting new clients (which is like my payment). And I enjoy doing it, so it works all around. If you don't like doing it, or aren't willing to do it, it's not the business for you. It sounds like you have the experience and enjoy the work, so just make sure you budget your time so you are able to do ALL that is involved with helping people who need a trainer (if they didn't need help, they wouldn't pay you to train them).

                                  Good luck!
                                  Gallant Gesture "Liam" 1995 chestnut ottb gelding
                                  Mr. Painter "Remy" 2006 chestnut ottb gelding
                                  My Training Blog: www.dressagefundamentals.com


                                  • #18
                                    I am by no means a business person and haven't done anywhere near the amount of work you have done in the horse world, but I can give you an idea of what my trainer does.

                                    He does not have any horses or a "home base" farm. He started riding the problem and young horses in the area for owners and got a reputation for being able to get them around. He travels all over the area and gives lessons and is in extremely high demand. He shows quite often on clients horses that can't be ridden by their owners and wins (or places top 5). He orginally had a "real" job as a pharmaceutical sales rep and had some money when he started working strictly in horses. I think have a reputation and being GOOD at one thing is what made him in the demand that he is today. He charges $80 a lesson (sometimes more), and no one has a problem paying it. He hasn't made it to the very top level (we are eventers, so he went intermediate/CCI**) and has solely competed at the low levels in the past 10 years. That is his niche and there is a high demand for being a great lower level trainer.

                                    Hopefully that kind of made sense-- my brain is mush from studying organic chemistry!!

                                    ETA: He makes a pretty penny-- has a nice condo, drives a sports car, wears expensive clothes, etc. But he works 7 days a week, sometimes for 10 hours+ a day


                                    • Original Poster

                                      GallantGesture -- THANK YOU so much for your input! You make valid points, and I think this is what I am leaning toward...my dad and I are going to look at farms next week. He wants to buy a farm and fix it up as HIS project. While he is doing that, I am lessoning at a nearby, VERY busy farm that I am hoping to do some p/t work at in exchange for riding and showing a lovely 4th level schoolmaster. I'm going to try and work it so that work is teaching and training! Since it's such an active, high level barn, I'm hoping I can make some good connections through them. My instructor (who is part owner of the barn) is a WONDERFUL woman who is very encouraging in me making my living in the horse business (so no stepping on toes there!) and getting me to a level to be a useful trainer and instructor. Meanwhile, I will be living rent free with pops on the farm (probably in a barn apartment) and saving my money from the tech job. Maybe a nice baby or two out in the fields while we work on the barn and arena. MAYBE one is kept a colt if the quality is there. I will hopefully be able to grow my business out of my trainer's barn while we are working on the home barn. School will happen while this whole process is ongoing and before I try and make my sole living on instructing/training. It's the only way my dad will be happy with this whole situation, so I'll do it. It's good to have if I decide I can't make it work.

                                      But I definitely get the time/dedication it takes to make a living off of horses. I think I put too much information out there as far as what I was hoping to accomplish, without the caveat of a time frame. I don't want to run out, buy a farm, a bunch of schoolies, 3 stallions, take a full time course load at university, and work full time as a tech! It made sense in my head the progression I would make, but I guess that didn't translate!!

                                      Thank you again for your insight, as a groom/WS/BM I wasn't always privy to what it took to make the BUSINESS end of it work!
                                      When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.


                                      • #20
                                        I started my business 10 years ago. I retired from a well paying job at the age of 40...that job helped me pay for a barn and an indoor before I retired.

                                        Just some suggestions if teaching is what you love (that's how make most of my money)
                                        1)don't get in to the breeding, that should be left to the breeders.
                                        2)if you are going to have a small barn, don't buy a bunch of babies to break and sell, you won't have room for lesson horses. Buy a couple of greenies with potential, of course I did that and kept them for my lesson program
                                        3) Most important! Look around the area you are buying in, if no one has dressage lesson horses then you should train some lower level ones and advertise lessons. No one in my area has lesson horses so I bought and trained a couple for low level dressage and I am always busy yet have never advertised. I also have a few boarders that keep me busy with training rides and lessons.

                                        anyway, do your homework in the market, see what it is that may be lacking. I know in my area people are always looking for lunge lessons!
                                        Humans don’t mind duress, in fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. –Sebastian Junger