This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.
No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.
Starting a business in general is an exciting, daunting, and stressful experience. It’s thrilling to take risks and follow your passion, but you may get anxiety about whether you have what it takes to make a business successful.
This is especially true of equestrian businesses. Many owners get into the horse business for love of horses and the sport, forgetting that they need to run a business properly to succeed. Find out everything you need to know to start your equestrian business off right.
There’s no strict definition for an equestrian business. An equestrian is a person who rides a horse. As an adjective, equestrian can refer to anything related to horseback riding.
A business is an activity or enterprise entered into for profit. Put those together and you get an equestrian business.
Equestrian businesses can be anything that focuses on horses or horseback riding, including businesses that house or train horses, care for horses, show horses, or breed horses. It may also include the businesses responsible for managing facilities, pasture, waste removal, and more.
In the US, there are roughly 158,000 equestrian businesses and no major companies.
Each business represents a small portion of market share (<5%), While a third of US households have a horse enthusiast, only 1.3 percent own a horse. The remainder participate in horse activities or enjoy horse events.
The equestrian industry is worth $122 billion and created 1.7 million jobs in the US. There’s not only direct contribution with economic activity that occurs in the horse industry itself, but also the positive ripple effect into other economic activity outside of the horse industry.
A ranch is a large farm used for raising animals, such as cattle, sheep, or horses. A horse ranch focuses specifically on horses.
Generally, a stable can refer to a building that houses horses or an establishment where horses are kept and trained.
An equestrian facility is a facility designed to accommodate, train, or compete with horses. Based on their use, an equestrian facility may be referred to as an equestrian center, stables, riding hall, barn, livery yard, boarding stable, or ranch.
A stud farm is a term used in animal husbandry to indicate a facility for selective breeding. While stud comes from Old English and means a “herd of horses or place where horses are kept for breeding,” the modern use of the term refers to a stallion that’s currently used for breeding. Stud farms may be full breeding operations or purely stud service.
Also known as a livery yard or livery stable, a boarding stable is a facility that houses and cares for other people’s horses for a fee.
A riding stable is a facility that houses horses for equestrian activities. Though separate from a boarding stable, the two may be combined. A riding school or academy may also be called a riding stable.
Barn is a colloquial term for a stable or equestrian facility. Barns are located on farms and hold equipment, grain, and sometimes horses or cows, but they’re distinct from a stable.
Farm is a catch-all term for activities related to agriculture. Though technology is reserved for food production, “farms” may include feedlots, orchards, and ranches. Properties with horses aren’t typically referred to as a horse farm (with the exception of a stud farm). The purpose and use of the facility determine which term is preferred.
Let’s take a look at several equestrian business ideas that can help you turn your passion into profit.
For many horse owners or enthusiasts, keeping a horse at home isn’t an option. They still want to ride, however, so they look into a boarding or livery facility.
Generally, a boarding stable charges a monthly fee to house a horse and provide for its needs. Boarding stables offer different options for board, and the monthly charge depends on factors like pasture or turnout, location, amenities, on-site trainers and instructors, tack storage, and more.
Typically, boarding stables offer the following fee options:
This includes all the necessities for the horse, plus a stall with full turnout. Full board is the most time- and work-intensive, since owners leave all the work to the facility – they clean the stalls, feed the horse multiple times a day, and take it in and out to pasture. For a busy adult equestrian or the overwhelmed parents of a child rider, this is an ideal option.
Some boarding facilities also offer additional services for a fee, such as lessons with a qualified instructor, access to indoor or outdoor riding arenas, trails, or equipment use. Owners may have to pay for specialized feeds and supplements, grooming, blanketing, and similar services.
Typically, veterinary care and farrier care are the financial responsibility of the owner. Some facilities will maintain the same veterinarian and farrier for the entire facility, while others will allow owners to bring in their preferred professionals. For a new horse owner, having vetted and qualified professionals offers peace of mind, but an experienced equestrian may prefer their own veterinarian and farrier.
Partial boarding is essentially a timeshare with a horse. In this situation, the owner shares the use of their horse with another person in exchange for cheaper boarding fees. This arrangement may be used for owners with horses that are docile enough to be “school” horses, or lesson horses, but it may also be beneficial for a busy adult with a horse that’s suitable for another rider.
In this arrangement, both parties split the boarding costs. For example, if board is typically $500 per month, but the horse is used for lessons, the owner will only pay $250. This does involve a contract agreement to ensure that everyone is protected, which may outline how often the horse may be ridden, whether the rider can bring their own equipment, and who is responsible for farrier and veterinarian services.
Pasture board can be an economical option for an owner and convenient for you. If you have land, you permit the horse to live outdoors year-round with feed, water, and a simple run-in shelter. The work and maintenance is minimal compared to a full boarding facility while giving you income from your land.
Depending on the climate, pasture board may offer additional services like blanketing in cold weather, either included or for a fee. Pasture board also requires you – or your staff – monitor the horses outside to ensure they’re cared for properly.
Pasture board is appealing for its low fees, though horses get less attentive care in this arrangement. This is ideal for occasional riders, retired older horses, horses that prefer to roam, and horses with medical conditions like recurrent airway disease (heaves).
In addition, someone with well-bred show horses or breeding horses typically want minimal turnout alone to avoid potential injuries or blemishes that affect the horse’s appearance, such as bite marks or cuts.
Self-care board is basically renting out only the facility and amenities but leaving the actual care to the owner. The horse gets a stall and access to turnout, but the owner must provide their own feed and bedding, muck out the stall, feed and water the horse, and bring it in and out from the pasture. They also handle their own arrangements for veterinary and farrier services.
For people who live near the stable, self-care board is a convenient and economical solution. They get to take a hands-on approach to their own horse’s needs, even if they don’t have land. Sometimes, groups of riding friends will take a self-care board arrangement and handle the care of each other’s horses in shifts to make chores more practical and convenient.
The downside of a self-care board is that owners don’t have schedule freedom or flexibility. They are responsible for their own horse’s care at all times and have to make arrangements for vacations or other obligations. As the facility owner, you can offer care for an extra fee when the owners are unavailable to care for their own horses.
If you have a facility with extra space, short-term boarding provides accommodation for horses if owners are traveling or moving. Short-term and overnight boarders can add income to an existing boarding facility and make up for empty stalls.
Many boarding facilities offer multiple types of short-term boarding with different fees, such as one-day, one-week, or one-month boarding. The traveler may supply the feed and buckets, but the facility handles the stall, bedding, turnout, and care.
Short-term boarding can be beneficial in many ways and boosts the exposure of a stable, but it’s important to have the right setup. Traveling horses can present a disease or injury risk to the other boarders, which is why owners need to supply buckets. There should be stalls and turnout that are separate from the long-term boarding clients.
In many ways, retirement boarding is similar to a nursing home for elderly humans. Owners who no longer compete or ride – or ride only occasionally – can enjoy the benefits of boarding in a quieter facility than a competition stable. In addition to older horses, these facilities may board horses that have been put out of commission due to injury.
Retirement boarding may be structured as a full-service, partial, or self-care boarding arrangement. All the horse’s needs are cared for, including veterinary and farrier services, but in a low-key environment.
When it comes to boarding, just about any arrangement you can imagine has been done. Some stables may work out reduced rates for owners who are willing to take on some chores, such as mucking out their own stalls. Some may offer work-exchange or working-student arrangements, which is when equestrian students do barn chores in exchange for reduced board or free lessons or training.
If you choose to offer these kinds of flexible arrangements for boarders, it’s important that all the responsibilities of both parties are outlined in the boarding contract. Those who don’t hold up their end of the arrangement will have to pay full board – or whatever the penalty is according to the contract.
Often combined with boarding facilities, training and instruction is another option for an equestrian business. Many equestrians will choose a boarding facility based on the option of an on-site instructor or horse trainer.
There are numerous paths to becoming a professional horse trainer or riding instructor. You don’t need a degree or certifications, in most cases, but you do need something to establish yourself as an authority. Typically, horse trainers and instructors have a track record of success in prominent horse show circuits or reputation for training champion horses.
If you don’t want to train or instruct yourself, you can hire an on-site trainer and instructor for your boarding clients. Ideally, the trainer and instructor should be specialized in a discipline, such as hunter/jumper or cutting.
Another option is subcontracting. In this arrangement, you may or may not provide an on-site trainer, but if you get a rider who prefers to work with their own trainer, they can pay for the use of the amenities like the indoor or outdoor arena.
In addition to on-site staff and subcontractors, many boarding facilities will bring in big-name trainers for clinics. The trainer has run of the facility for the time they’re scheduled, and students can book appointments for lessons. This is helpful for the riders, since the trainer comes to them, and they can work in the environment in which they and their horses are most comfortable.
Breeding horses is a diverse facet of equestrian business. Not for beginners to the horse world, breeding takes a lot of time, passion, and a gift for selecting solid breeding stock. Like breeding other animals, care must be taken to ensure that the foal crop is free of genetic illness and that the most desirable traits are passed through the generations.
Horse breeders are not “backyard breeders” bringing together their two mutts to sell the puppies. While that may happen, horse breeders usually focus on one pure breed and specialize in specific purposes like barrel racing, flat racing, or show jumping. They know the pedigrees of the stock inside and out, as well as what makes a horse a champion in their respective discipline.
In addition, breeding requires skill and comfort around horses. Both stallions and mares in heat can be difficult to handle, and a lot goes into the care or the breeding stock and bringing up the foals.
There are a few ways to approach a breeding operation, from boutique breeders to studding services to full-scale breeding operations. Many breeders get started by realizing an opportunity with their winning stallion or mare, or simply having a good eye for superior horses.
A breeding operation may be full-scale with on-site stallions, mares, and foals, as well as the necessary breeding areas and equipment. This is a big undertaking, since you’re providing land and stalls for your breeding stock and the foal crop.
One of the advantages to a full-scale breeding operation is that you can start small, however. Just a stallion and a few mares with a stable and some land can grow over the years to become dozens of horses on hundreds of acres.
Most full-scale breeding operations have their own breeding stock that’s either already owned or purchased (the latter is more expensive!). Owners may hold back some foals for future breeding, meaning they’re not offered for sale, while the others are sold for profit. These operations may also bring in new mares or stallions to diversify the crop over the years.
Usually, a full-scale breeding operation will use hand-mating and artificial insemination for their own breeding stock. They may offer stud services for artificial insemination, or they may bring an outside mare for studding.
One main difference between a breeding facility and other types of horse facilities is that it’s set up for breeding. There’s plenty of land and space for not only the current horses but the future ones as well. These facilities also have areas for hand-mating and insemination, veterinary equipment, studding, and separate pastures for individual stallions, mares, and weanlings or yearlings.
With purebred horses, there may be an additional registration process with the breed registry. The process can vary, but horses may be eligible for registration and branding that allows them to compete in breed-specific competitions and increases their value.
Some owners maximize profits by studding out their champion stallion, giving them income without running a full breeding operation. When a champion racehorse or show horse finishes its career on a high note, the owner can use that notoriety to offer the horse’s semen for a fee.
They simply offer the material to impregnate the mare, and the mare’s owner is responsible for the rest. Because the work involved in studding is less intensive than a full breeding operation, people may keep and stud a stallion at a riding or boarding facility instead of a dedicated breeding ranch.
Some studs can command fees of thousands of dollars for semen, and a male horse produces enough to pair with over 100 mares. Of course, if the stud produces a bunch of duds, the fee can plummet – it’s a gamble.
Mares have long gestation periods – typically 11 months – which is a long period to be out of commission. Pregnancy also carries risk that can lead to loss of life or loss of use. Some owners who want to breed their mare prefer to avoid this risk by using a surrogate mare, or recipient mare.
The time period in which a mare can carry a foal safely and successfully is also limited. If the mare can’t take time off of showing for breeding, surrogacy allows for multiple pregnancies from different mares in a given year while she continues to show. It also allows the mare’s owner to breed her to multiple stallions at the same time to produce a range of foals.
Reproduction is done through artificial insemination with an embryo transfer, sperm injection, and semen freezing, shipping, and storage. It’s a long process, but comparatively shorter than having a mare out of the show circuit.
The mare’s owner is responsible for the stud fee and associated costs, the cost of artificial insemination, and the veterinary care for the mare.
Also, like a stud, the surrogate mare may be part of a larger breeding facility or simply kept at a boarding or riding stable. For owners of mares that aren’t suitable for breeding or showing at a high level, surrogacy is a way to make use of their optimal breeding years.
Riding clinics are intensive training sessions that take place with a qualified equestrian instructor or trainer. Typically, these clinicians have an accomplished equestrian career in a specific discipline that qualifies them to command a high fee for training sessions.
If you’re a trainer or instructor yourself, you can provide clinics on a travel tour. Students would book appointments in advance to ensure that your time, travel, and expenses are worthwhile. In fact, some of the biggest-name trainers often have waiting lists, applications, and cut-off dates to book lessons.
With this arrangement, you would pay for use of the facility and its amenities for your clinic. Often, the students who attend will be from the same facility, but they may also travel to attend. For accomplished equestrians, this can be lucrative.
Conversely, if you own a riding stable or boarding facility, you can offer clinics. It will not only make your facility more appealing to clients, but it gives you an extra source of income. The catch is that you would need to seek and find the right opportunities.
When you bring in clinicians, it’s important that they teach the discipline that appeals to most of your clients. There is some overlap, such as a show jumper participating in a dressage clinic, bringing a clinician in English equitation won’t be appealing to a stable full of barrel racers.
Tourist ranches, also known as dude ranches or guest ranches, are a type of vacation property that has horses for guest use. These are all-inclusive experiences that combine hospitality and horsemanship.
Dude ranches have been around since the 19th century. Tourists enjoy the pioneer experience and nostalgia without risking their health and welfare. Many began in the West and offered activities to indulge in the “cowboy” life, but now, they come in a wide variety.
Ranches run the gamut from romantic Wild-West cattle ranches to luxurious resorts with top-notch amenities like tennis courts and heated swimming pools and spas. The beauty of them is that you can make the ranch what works best for you and the location.
For example, some ranches offer adventure experiences like hiking, whitewater rafting, cattle herding, target shooting, and fishing. Others operate similarly to a luxurious resort, but include horses and horse-related activities like trail rides. In either case, they include cabins or other accommodation for guests on the property, as well as services like dining and housekeeping.
These destinations are particularly appealing to families with kids. Often, activities are designed to keep the kids entertained, such as campfire sing-alongs and petting zoos. Many ranches have themes that inform the whole experience, such as ranches that allow guests to participate in antiquated activities like churning butter or milking goats.
The different types of guest ranches may include:
These types of ranches are working cattle or sheep operations. Horseback riding excursions may be reserved for those with experience with cowhorses, though some ranches may offer different excursions based on skills and experience.
This is the most authentic of the ranch experiences. Visitors expect – and want – hard work and hands-on activities. Assisting in herding cattle, grooming horses, and mucking stalls may be part of the experience.
A basic dude ranch of guest ranch caters to visitors looking for horseback riding. These are the more romanticized Wild-West ranches that teach guests the “cowboy” life and allow them to take part in iconic experiences like lassoing, driving cattle, and camping out with horses under the stars.
Generally, visitors are looking more for activities directly related to cowboy culture and fantasy, not necessarily general ranch chores or menial labor. They want to ride and rodeo, not muck stalls.
Resort ranches are the luxury ranches that offer upscale accommodations and amenities. The overall style may be frontier or working ranch, but the rooms, amenities, food, and entertainment are more like a luxury resort or cruise.
Typically, resort ranches offer a more diverse array of activities and facilities. Along with the expected ranch amenities, they may have a pool, fitness center, spa, childcare facility, fine dining, a bar, and an entertainment venue. This is more of a “glamping” ranch experience than a true frontier west experience.
Though less common, areas with desirable game may have hunting ranches. They operate similarly to a working ranch or dude ranch, but they include hunting in the activities separate from the horseback riding.
Depending on the location, the hunting may include elk, moose, bears, or deer. Some ranches may offer captive-bred exotic game for trophy hunters, such as antelope. The high tag fee and hunting guides support the care and proliferation of a rare or threatened species.
These are the basic types of ranches, but they may combine elements of each other or offer something unique. Ultimately, the common thread is horseback riding. Whether it’s an organized trail ride, lessons, or a cattle drive, guest ranches center the experience around the horses.
There’s a lot to consider when starting a guest ranch, however. Depending on the location, it may only be able to operate seasonally. You also have to simultaneously run a hospitality business and an equestrian business.
Wellness or nature retreats are popular among adults. Whether focused on meditation, yoga, getting in touch with nature, women-only, or any other type of theme, these adult retreats may include equestrian activities.
The retreat may be reserved for experienced riders or beginners, but they have a theme that informs all of the activities. Journaling, meditation, life-coaching training, group therapy, nature walks, creating vision boards, and beach yoga are among the types of activities that retreats offer.
As far as the equestrian activities, it depends on the experience level of the participants. A retreat may teach basic horsemanship for beginners to horse yoga to advanced activities like team penning and barrel racing.
Like running a dude ranch, starting an equine retreat for adults means balancing the demands of a horse business and a tourist experience.
A horse rescue is a non-profit organization that cares for abused, starving, or abandoned horses. Like other rescues, horse rescues are often no-kill, volunteer-based organizations that provide a safe environment for horses, care for their basic needs, and educate the public about their welfare.
Running a horse rescue or shelter may be born of passion, but it needs to be approached like a business. Horses are expensive to care for, especially in a rehabilitation environment, and the IRS has specific requirements for non-profit status and donations.
Another aspect to consider is that rescues are run as non-profits, so the profitability isn’t widely known. Generally, these are not lucrative businesses.
Horse lovers may dream of having a horse of their own, but it’s not an option for every equestrian. For riders who are just starting out or lack the ability to buy a horse of their own, leasing a horse is an excellent alternative.
If you own a horse suitable for another rider, leasing gives you income for the privilege of allowing your horse to be ridden. You maintain ownership, care, and financial responsibility for the horse, but you’re giving a rider a chance to learn and prepare for eventual horse ownership.
For the rider, they essentially “rent” the horse and take on fewer financial responsibilities – think of it like renting an apartment vs. buying a home. If they decide they no longer want to ride or they move, they’re free of the responsibility of selling or relocating the horse.
This is an ideal arrangement for beginner riders. If they bought a horse, they may outgrow it or lose interest in the sport. Leasing acts as a “stepping-stone” in their riding career.
There are numerous types of horse lease arrangements:
A partial lease, or half lease, provides the privilege of riding a horse on certain days of the week. The owner still has riding privileges, so both parties are basically “sharing” the horse. With this arrangement, the horse typically remains on the premises instead of being moved to another facility.
Most partial leases offer the ability to ride three or four days a week for a fixed monthly fee. The expenses for veterinary care or farrier services may be split, or they may fall on one party. These arrangements typically run month-to-month, rather than a long-term contract.
With a full lease, only one rider has the privilege of riding the horse. This is the closest to horse ownership for the rider, since they can choose when and how often they can ride without working around another’s schedule.
Some full lease arrangements permit the rider to move the horse to a different facility, while others require the horse stay on the owner’s premises. Full leases also come with more responsibilities and costs, such as veterinary or farrier fees and horse insurance. Still, when it comes to making decisions about care, the owner is in control.
Like boarding, leasing can take on many forms. Facilities may work with lesson leases to use horses for students instead of a partial board arrangement. Quarter leases are also an option for casual riders who only want to ride a few times a week and don’t want to pay for unused riding time.
No matter the arrangement, it’s vital that all aspects of the lease are in writing. A lease is similar to other types of rentals, so the arrangement should include the terms to protect both parties.
If you already have a breeding, riding, boarding, or training facility, merchandising is a great way to bring in extra income and boost brand exposure.
Stable merchandise is branded gear with the stable’s logo and brand colors. Prominent equestrian facilities often sell branded merchandise like zip-ups, custom dress shirts, hats, tote bags, notebooks, tank tops, socks, saddle pads, and travel mugs. These products are relevant and practical for the client and promote the facility for minimal cost.
A professional equestrian is an elite career. The competition can be fierce, but a rider with the skill, talent, and qualifications can make a solid income. You can work from your own facility, or your business could be your personal brand.
Professional equestrians are paid to ride and show other people’s horses. If you’ve ever watched a competition, you may notice that some riders compete multiple times or in multiple events with different mounts. That’s because they’re paid to show an owner’s horse.
Owners want the best riders for their horses. They want the horses to get noticed and develop a name for themselves, which comes into play when they try to sell or breed them. Sometimes, older owners no longer ride, but they want their horse to compete and pay a professional to showcase them.
Professional equestrians also train and teach. Usually, a professional equestrian does a combination of all three, but within the same discipline or related disciplines. Professionals also have experience in other aspects of horse care and management.
The biggest challenge with becoming a professional equestrian is building your personal brand. You have to compete at high levels and win to make a name for yourself and cultivate a demand for your riding and training skills.
Investing in a horse trailer, and a truck to pull it, and learning the ins and outs of driving the outfit is overwhelming to many horse owners. Offering horse transport services can be a lucrative business.
Horse owners may need transportation to shows, but you also have the option of offering long-distance hauls for owners who are moving or showing on the national level. Owners may need transportation to university veterinary hospitals or when they’re transferring to a different facility as well.
Keep in mind that the requirements to transport a horse a few hours away are vastly different from the requirements to transport them across multiple states over long periods. For example, horses on long-distance trips need a trailer with a box stall and frequent stops for water and stretching. You may also need to develop a network of short-term boarding facilities for overnight stops.
Transporting horses doesn’t take as much horse knowledge as some other types of horse businesses. The start-up costs can be significant, however, especially if you’re trying to get multiple outfits. You’ll also need liability insurance and written policies about how horses will be handled, what happens in the case of injury, and how clients will be notified about transportation status.
Local laws and regulations apply to horse transport in a state, city, and county, however. It’s important to speak with an attorney to ensure you’re doing everything by the book.
If you own a riding stable or boarding facility, you can invest in trucks and trailers to transport your clients to shows or veterinary appointments. This is usually an additional fee that can provide extra income during the show season, and you could offer your services to other horse owners in the area.
Horses need impeccable grooming for horse shows, and that’s where professional grooms come in. Children and busy adults may lack the time or knowledge to groom their own horses properly and pay for professional grooming services.
Professional grooming may include specific tasks like braiding the mane and tail for shows, but some grooms perform the entire process of bathing, brushing, picking out hooves, and tacking up, only to hand the horse off to the rider. Then, when the ride is complete, the rider hands the horse back to the groom to be walked, untacked, and rinsed off before being put away.
Grooms may also have the responsibility of cleaning tack, packing supplies for a horse show, and assisting riders with barn chores at the showgrounds.
Being a professional groom has many avenues. You can be a dedicated groom for one rider and their horse – or horses – or you can work with clients within the same facility. Owners of riding stables can offer grooming services, either themselves or from hired support staff.
Finally, there’s the option to run your own grooming business. You may begin by grooming on your own, but you can scale your business by taking on more grooms to handle clients and adopting a more managerial role.
The chores can add up in a facility with multiple horses. Not all boarding facility owners want to handle all the chores themselves, so they hire horse stable cleaning services.
Horse stable cleaning services may include a variety of tasks, such as mucking stalls, power-washing walls, sweeping or power-washing aisleways, racking arenas, spreading manure, scrubbing feed and water buckets, and tidying up the feed room or tack room.
Similar to grooming, you can take on work for specific clients in one facility or offer your services to multiple facilities. As you grow, you can take on more clients by hiring employees and operating a full cleaning service.
Horse turnout and the grounds of a stable need maintenance like anything else. If you enjoy handiwork and landscaping, pasture and facility care is an in-demand service.
Busy stable owners are inclined to pay for professionals to maintain their outdoor areas. Some of the tasks may include inspecting and fixing turnout fences, removing weeds, dragging pasture, removing rocks, and filling holes.
Within the facility, this service may include identifying and repairing plumbing problems, fixing damaged stalls or doors, replacing worn fittings, and fixing cracked or damaged concrete. You may also be asked to update or install features or amenities.
Stable maintenance workers may stay at one facility or they may offer services to multiple facilities in the area. As with grooming and stable chores, you can expand by hiring more people to serve more clients.
Facilities that have neither the land nor equipment to spread manure may hire a manure removal service to take care of waste. This is out of the purview of most local waste management services.
Manure can pile up quickly, so manure removal services are a must for both residential and commercial horse facilities. You can provide regular pickup or on-call pickup to haul manure away.
Along with the business requirements, waste removal may require additional state and local licensing or permits.
A tack shop can be a viable business on its own or a valuable revenue stream for a boarding or riding stable. This is essentially a retail store, so you have plenty of options for how to approach it.
Ultimately, it depends on your clientele. Boutique tack shops with high-end products and branded merchandise can do very well with brand loyalty, while a large and diverse tack shop offers a range of products to suit everyone.
You could also offer used or consignment pieces, such as used saddles and pre-owned show jackets or boots, to help clients save on products and give their old stuff new life.
In addition, you can travel to nearby shows with just a few limited necessities. It’s inevitable that a rider will forget a ratcatcher, hoof pick, or hair ribbon, causing a panic for their parents. Having these basic essentials in stock at the showgrounds almost guarantees sales and builds your brand over time.
Like any business, starting an equestrian business is a big undertaking. There’s a lot to consider before you make the leap. You have to act like a business owner, not a horse enthusiast.
Small business owners work 50 or 60 hours a week. You may be excited at the idea of spending your day around horses, but remember that a lot of the work involved in running an equestrian business won’t actually be spent on the horses.
An equestrian business is still a business. Much of your time will be spent handling work that’s more or less the same with every business – accounting, marketing, etc. Unless you hire or outsource that work, it falls on you.
Then you also have to take on the actual horse stuff. If you open a boarding facility, that means mucking stalls, feeding horses multiple times a day, and filling water buckets. If you open a big facility with 50 horses and minimal staff, that’s a lot of hours and balancing your workload and personal life.
Equestrian businesses need multiple contracts to operate legally. Without them, you and your business may not be protected.
Operating agreements: LLCs need to have operating agreements that determine how distributions and losses are shared, how the business is managed and taxed, and more.
Equestrian businesses may need additional contracts, including:
Cities and counties plan to shape the character of communities with zoning and regulations. There’s no requirement for local governments to have similar land use ordinances or planning processes, even in the same county, so it’s important for you to contact the local offices to determine the laws and ordinances that apply to a commercial equestrian property.
Local zoning ordinances and codes can apply to everything from boarding and riding horses to providing lessons and designing and building stables and buildings. Avoid headaches in the future by doing your due diligence before you get the ball rolling on your business.
Once you’ve mapped out the ideas, starting your business is much simpler. The specifics will depend on the type of business you choose, but here are general steps to starting your own equestrian business.
It’s not enough to just love horses to start an equestrian business. You have to know who your clients are. Without that, you could approach everything the wrong way for the people you’re trying to attract, and you’re dead in the water.
Marketing research is crucial before starting a business. Before you begin with a business plan, marketing strategy, or shopping for horse property, do some research. Check out comparable businesses in the area and see how they operate and what their clients expect, so you can plan accordingly.
Often, people get into horse businesses because they’re pursuing a passion. While that’s not entirely wrong, it’s vital to pursue a business for its profit motive. If you want to “do what you love” without concern for money, you’re talking about a hobby, not a business.
A profit motive is the desire for financial gain and maximized profits. This is motivation to innovate and take risks for economic gain.
Worse yet, if you can’t find a realistic way that you can make money with your equestrian business, you may be viewed by the IRS as a tax shelter. You could be subject to an audit, and if you can’t show how you’ll earn a profit, then it’s a hobby and things can get messy with penalties and interest. Always find a profit motive and you can avoid this hassle.
Many business owners venture into business without a solid business plan. The business plan may be the most important step, since this can show you if your business is destined to succeed or fail.
The business plan doesn’t need to be overly formal or designed like a presentation with fancy graphics and statistics – unless you’re looking for a significant loan or investor. It’s essentially for you to analyze your business idea, costs, and revenue to see if you can create a profitable business.
Do your research and include information like:
With these numbers, you can forecast how much money your business can make against your expenses each week, month, and year.
All businesses need a well-formed business plan that includes market analysis and evaluation of income potential and likely expenses. Is there a need for your business in the current market? Will you have potential clients? Can you make your business profitable?
The more research and effort you put into this in the beginning, the more stability and security you’ll have moving forward.
You also need to determine what business structure is the best for your needs and protects your personal interests from liability. Whether you choose a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation will also determine the record-keeping and tax requirements.
Whether it’s required in your state or not, insurance is a key component of an equestrian business. Horses and equestrian activities are inherently dangerous, and you may need multiple types of insurance to make sure you’re covered.
General liability insurance, or small business liability insurance, provides coverage for claims that result from normal business activities. You may also need commercial property insurance, which protects your business’s physical assets, such as a stable, from fire, burst pipes, storms, vandalism, theft, and explosions.
In addition, you may need liability release waivers. These agreements outline the risk the rider is taking when they ride your horse or ride in your facility. Depending on the type of business you have, these liability waivers may be general or specific to the activity.
At the end of the day, businesses need to be profitable to succeed. Being profitable means you’ve covered all your expenses and you have money left over to pay yourself and continue putting money into the business.
To start, list all the expenses your business will have. This may be trickier than you think, especially when you consider fixed costs and variable costs.
Fixed costs will remain the same regardless of how much you produce. These include your rental or mortgage payments and insurance. Variable costs are costs that change based on the amount of output you produce. So, if you have a boarding facility and bring in more horses, the expenses you’d see change would include labor costs and feed, hay, and water costs.
A lot of businesses fail because they can’t differentiate themselves from their competitors enough to get a foothold in the market. Whatever your business idea is, you have to find a way to be different.
With an equestrian facility, that can be more challenging. You could be surrounded by competitors, so think about what you have to offer that’s different. Maybe your stable caters to a different discipline, or you offer a more down-to-earth alternative to the snobbier, upscale facilities nearby.
Come up with reasons that your company is different from everyone else and why a client should give you their business. Once you have this, it can inform the rest of your marketing strategy.
Marketing is a must in the modern business world. No matter how great your equestrian business is, without marketing, no one will know about it.
Marketing strategy starts with a goal. Sure, your overarching goal is to make money, but focus on goals for your campaigns like boosting brand awareness, getting more prospects, or increasing your audience on social media pages.
Then, consider your audience. Think about who they are and what appeals to them. If your audience is diverse, you can segment it and deliver more targeted campaigns. For example, you might take a different approach to attract kids for riding lessons compared to their parents. Creating segments ensures that you’re keeping your message tailored to the audience.
From there, develop ideas for your campaigns that reflect your brand. Start small with just a few marketing channels, such as email, social media, and paid search ads. Test and tweak your campaigns regularly to determine what’s working and find areas for improvement. Once you get the hang of it, you can scale your campaigns to more channels and broader audiences.
Also, consider marketing more than just your business. If you have a riding stable, think about marketing your instructor or trainer as well as the facility. If you’re breeding, you’ll need marketing campaigns for your studs, mares, and foals.
Once you have your business up and running, raking in clients, you can think about how you can grow your business to become more profitable.
Content is a very useful and versatile tool in the equestrian industry. Horse owners and riders are always looking for information, and there’s so much to choose from.
You can promote content about your business, your background, and your employees. Some equestrian businesses are successful with highlighting professional riders or trainers in features, sharing stories about horses throughout history, or writing humorous articles about success and failure in the competition ring.
For niche businesses, the content can be a little narrower. For example, a professional grooming business could write content with tips and tricks for braiding, the new trends for horse show style, and guides for how to properly body clip a horse.
It’s important to be creative and understand what your audience is looking for. If you deal with beginner riders, it’s best to keep the content introductory and basic to support learning. If you’re working with high-level professionals, avoid simple topics like “how to tack up a horse.”
The way content promotes a business is by putting it in front of the audience in a less intrusive way than an ad. When a client searches for information in Google, such as “things to look for in a professional horse trainer,” they will see your content. If what they read offers value, they may seek out more content from you or look into your site and what you have to offer.
Over time, prospective clients come to view you as an authority. Then, when they need similar services, your business is top of mind.
Virtually all consumers expect brands to be on social media, even an equestrian brand. Building an online following takes time and dedication, but it can have a significant impact on your sales and exposure.
Start by creating business accounts on the social media platforms that contain most of your audience. Share content regularly that’s appropriate for the platform, such as short video clips for TikTok and industry-focused articles on LinkedIn.
As people like or comment, be sure to interact with them and answer any questions they may have. You’ll increase the engagement of your followers, encouraging more shares and exposure to a larger audience.
Content not only benefits you with more authority and exposure, but it’s a wealth of opportunity for affiliate marketing. This type of marketing is performance-based and rewards businesses for traffic or leads they generate.
For an equestrian business, you have numerous products that you can review and promote in your content. For example, talking about a new hoof oil in a blog post about hoof care encourages visitors to click on the link, driving them to the affiliate site and earning you money in the process.
Despite the rise of other marketing techniques, email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to get your message out there. People subscribe to an email list, so you have the benefit of an audience you already know is interested in what you have to share.
Your email campaigns can include promoted content or helpful tips and tricks for your clients, product recommendations, event reminders, updates, and more – it all depends on your business model.
To gain subscribers, create gated content for your site. This is high-value, downloadable content that subscribers can access by providing their name and email. It has to be something they can’t get elsewhere, however, such as an in-depth interview or case study.
Referral programs work a lot like word-of-mouth recommendations. You set up a program that incentivizes your clients or non-competing businesses to refer people from their network to your business. In exchange, one of both clients get a free gift, discount, or special perk.
While the incentive doesn’t have to be expensive, it must be worthwhile. Branded merchandise, a discount on services for the referrer and the referred, or gift cards are all good incentives to recommend your business to other people.
Equestrian businesses are subject to the state of the economy. As a luxury, horses, riding lessons, or extra services may be among the first to leave out of the budget for many people in tight times.
Diversifying or expanding your services creates more opportunities for income streams and gives you some cushion for lean periods. Boarding facilities have a wealth of options to diversify, including offering short-term boarding, renting the facility for parties or events, offering transport for shows, or adding grooming or training services to the offer.
You can get creative when coming up with new income streams. Selling equestrian products, creating your own branded merchandise, affiliate marketing, leasing horses, and horse photography are all options to inspire you.
At some point, your business will grow past the point where you have time to handle everything on your own. You may want that control, but that’s a fast track to burnout and making mistakes that can harm your reputation in the long run.
If things seem overwhelming, consider hiring to support your business’s growth. You can start with stable hands or other support staff, or keep those hands-on activities yourself and outsource your boring business tasks like accounting and marketing.
With businesses like professional grooming or facility maintenance, you can grow easily and accommodate more clients by hiring employees to take on your overflow work. The biggest aspect of this is maintaining your standards across the board. You spent a lot of time building your reputation and client loyalty, so make sure your employees are up to those same standards.
Some equestrian businesses are scalable and others are not. The idea of scalability is that whether your fixed costs are high or low, if you can add a significant number of customers without increasing your costs proportionally, the business is scalable and becomes more profitable as it grows.
Boarding, training, instruction, and breeding are not the most scalable businesses. As you take on more clients, your costs for food, water, etc. will generally increase proportionally. Conversely, a boarding facility can offset these costs by having more paying tenants, which cover more of the cost of the rent or mortgage on the facility itself.
Consider if your business is scalable, and if it isn’t, how can you diversify what you offer to gain more growth potential?
With the right planning and research, any business can be profitable. It’s less about horses than it is about being prepared and educated to develop the most successful business plan.
Real estate listings and websites often provide both hobby and commercial equestrian properties. You can search anywhere you’re looking to go and compare the information about the land size, existing structures, zoning, taxes, and more.
The United Kingdom has Equestrian Business Awards to recognize small equestrian businesses and their care for animals and contributions to the economy. These awards include veterinarians, farriers, equine dentists, instructors, riding schools, grooms, and any other equine professional.
Few types of property or businesses require as much knowledge as those related to horses. Before you buy an equestrian business, be sure to thoroughly evaluate the property and land to ensure it’s efficient and safe for horses to avoid future headaches.
There are plenty of apps designed to help equestrian business owners succeed. Apps like CRIO help facility owners and managers track boarding, training, and breeding, while the Horse Report System offers performance tracking for equine athletes to monitor body condition, training, and health. Stable Secretary is a helpful tool for barn management and tracks horse health sheets, breeding records, and payments.
An equestrian business is a broad term that includes businesses that focus on horses, horsemanship, horse care, and equestrian sports or leisure activities.
Starting and running a business is no small feat. When you’re starting an equestrian business, you have the added legalities, care, and challenges of horses added to the mix. This may all seem overwhelming, but as long as you have the passion, you can make your equestrian business a reality!
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