This time last year (October 2018) I had a completely different barn, I primarily had boarders and while I had a few lesson students I was primarily focused on my boarders. I started looking at renting stalls at a facility with an indoor because we did have boarders and we did have people interested in going to an indoor. Then, all of that changed. My business has been “live” for about two and a half years. During those two and a half years I believe it has gone through six or seven versions/ designs/ layouts. It is still growing and changing, like a living breathing thing. I sometimes wonder how it can change so fast and then I realize it is because of me!
The Farm as it was: Phase 1
How did the farm come to be? It all started with the desire to teach a few lessons and a certain fluffy palomino pony. I figured I could teach a few lessons, offer quality board at a competitive rate and build a community that would enjoy their horses. I hoped to find people who were willing to work hard to help build a better home for our horses. Those were my ideals, simple enough right? It turns out that, simple sometimes doesn’t exist. My idea for the above came to reality in February of 2017 with a real “start date” of April 2017.
First and foremost though, I had to bring in some boarders. Since I’ve played the find a barn game several times I knew the places to post to. Within a few weeks I had three new boarders and by April 2017 I was certain I would be able to run the barn and pay the monthly lease fee. In less than three months I went from thinking I could do this to managing multiple boarders and horses while working full time and trying to manage my own horses and build up a lesson program. The town I am in has several horse farms, but my farm was the only one that focused on classical dressage and on all around horse care. I had my niche and it was time to build upon it. During this first phase I had to navigate old self care boarders who resented that I was leasing the full facility. In their mind I came in and overturned the apple cart. I felt their frustration with me but I also had to make the choice to do what was best for my budding business. One of the new boarders had a stud colt that went into full blown stallion mode because all of the mares were cycling since it was spring. We managed him but I told his owner that she needed to make other arrangements. From April 2017-August 2017 I saw multiple boarders leave and a shift in the facility. By September 2017 the farm was my responsibility and I had four boarders. I still worked full time and taught a few lessons but for the most part I was running the farm to try and offset the costs of two horses and a pony.
One of the boarders was my informal barn manager. She was expected to get the day to day things done. I worked it out that she received reduced board for her work. Which worked for everyone for a time. However, as with all things, change was coming and I had to navigate between accepting my farm as a place where I boarded a few horses or a facility that was set up to bring in a profit. I struggled (and still struggle) with looking at my business as something that needs to generate a profit. From September 2017 to November 2017 I vacillated between ideas and purposes for the farm. I made several decisions to reduce my personal expenses so that I could self fund my business since every place I tried to apply for funding gave me a firm no. Their reasoning went along the lines of: “Too much debt to income ratio” “No tangible assets”, “Horses are costly and don’t have a good ROI”, “Market is too saturated with that type of business”. Since, I don’t come from money I was left pinching pennies and learning (I’m still learning) to budget. My horses health and well being was (still is) my primary concern, and I worked hard to put the pieces together. It always seemed I was almost at the cusp of being profitable before something happened and I was back at square one. Perhaps I pushed too much. Perhaps I believed people and believed the best in people too much. By the end of Phase one I was questioning why I was doing what I was doing and yet I kept forging ahead hoping that I would be able to find a profit that would cover the expenses that hung in the background.
I will write about phase two in a little bit.