Quick Business Tips for the Equine Entrepreneur
Do you ever wish you could spend more time with your own horses and less time working? Or what about the opportunity just work with horses more with in your job? Last Summer I was interviewed on how I pursued a career in the equine industry and below are a few of the golden nuggets I shared. If you are looking to grow into doing more of what you love, this post offers up some great advice.
This post originally appeared for an interview I did with the Equine Entrepreneurs Network. Below is a collection of questions Sophie had for me.
EEN: Kathleen, could you begin by telling us about what you do and how you started.
What do I do?
Generally, what I do is influence people to be better around horses. I teach relationship building between horse and human by developing an intimate understanding of horse psychology and physiology; through progressive horse-keeping.
Specifically, I apply this to the western performance industry in a rodeo event called Barrel Racing. The Psychology part comes into play with the horse’s education/training level. And the Physiology part comes into play with the horse’s soundness and state of being.
My business is procured from integrating equine psychology and physiology together, believing they can’t work separate from one and other.
From Ballet to Barrel Racing
I’ll spare you the long winded journey of how I began – but I’ll offer my background story to illustrate the context of just HOW and WHY (2 factors you MUST identify as an entrepreneur) I decided to get into the horse industry.
My 4-H/FFA youth agriculture days didn’t begin for me until I was well into high school! My family was not descendent from a ranching heritage, so ‘my first pony’ was purchased from my baby sitting money at 15 years old.
The tale gets more bizarre in that my first taste of horses was from my neighbors who practiced Natural Horsemanship but also held world titles in multiple rodeo events. Not two disciplines you see paired often! I didn’t know any other way to be around horses; besides dignifying their nature but yet still embracing the wild.
As I reached my peak height at 16 yrs old of 5 ft 10 inches I opted to quit my classical ballet training and learn to trim horses instead. Strange but true – I befriended a lady who was decorated in the show pen but was a professional hoof care practitioner. Still being young to the world I didn’t realize the ‘Wild Hoof Care Model’, ‘ Professional Rodeo’, and ‘Natural Horsemanship’ was an odd mix of interests.
A few years into my formal education from a hoof care school, half way into my training at the ‘Harvard of Horsemanship’ and a few hundred miles hauled down the rodeo trail I realized something! That my 3 topics of interest did not play well together – oil and water! This was surprising to me as I was prone to think more in alignment of what horses benefited from versus what made sense traditionally to humans.
I launched my business at 21 years old to help bridge the education gap between traditional horse people and more progressive horse people . I observed a loss of communication and a lack of understanding between horse practitioners, horsemanship trainers, and performance people! They needed someone to remind them they were on the same team; fighting for the horse!
I have since transitioned my business from full time hoof care consultant, horse trainer, and equine bodyworker. Now I write about these topics as well as coach high-performers on obtaining winning characteristics. This allows me to pursue my job as a family woman and a professional barrel racer with my own horses.
ENN: Can you tell us more about natural horsemanship; for example, the pros, how different equine business owners can apply it to their work and how they might benefit from practicing it?
Why I hate natural horsemanship! (the term anyway…)
Depending on where you hail from, your perception of natural horsemanship my look like a demented form of lunging with a colorful whip and an unruly horse. Or it might shadow a hippy wearing loose clothing sitting cross legged in the field of a horse lives in, smoking the grass he eats. Rarely do mainstream equestrians or sports cross paths with ‘Natural Horsemanship’!
Natural can be a relative term. But essentially Natural Horsemanship is just being in a stable state of mind when going through the process of educating a horse using his dignity as the guiding principle. So much of what horses learn is residual of our laziness or lack of understanding.
There are many pros and only a few cons to learning ‘Natural Horsemanship’.
Any practitioner or professional that is in the equine industry can benefit from learning what it takes to cause a horse to use the ‘thinking’ (non prey animal) side of his brain.
Some examples of professionals understanding horse psychology:
An equine photographer equipped with the knowledge of where the drive and draw line lies in a horse may be able to influence the horse’s ears and body posture into a more aesthetically pleasing pose. Or they could help a rider quickly gain the confidence of his horse to cooperate with ‘scary’ photography equipment clicking and flashing by using tactics of approach and retreat.
An equine vet that honors both the biology and psychology of the horse would be considered the best in his field. Spending a few moments getting the horse to accept something like a needle prick or standing in stocks for treatment means far less chance of injury to human or horse. If a horse has the education to stand quietly and respectfully and the vet has a bed side manner that honors the horse, administering risky and expensive sedation wouldn’t be a habit it would be a last resort.
An equine illustrator may benefit from understanding the way a horse thinks and feels by creating new works. Less satirical jabs at a horse’s skeptical nature, more informative pictures of the way horses behave naturally.
A farrier (barefoot or blacksmith) would, without a doubt, gain business and earn customers to keep if he could observe the way a horse tends to be in a confident frame of mind. Cross ties, sedation, twitching, abuse with the rasp, and extra handlers would not be necessary if a farrier was trust worthy in handling the horses’ hooves with respect. They could also give the horse owners advice on how to teach a horse to stand politely on 3 legs instead of fighting and bracing to give one leg up.
A professional horseman pursuing equine sports has limitless gain when he is able to apply skills that build up a horse with dignity. Less brushes with equine welfare laws in regards to tack/bit offences and drugs to disguise weakness or pain would be a thing of the past. It has been said and proven ‘horses will run faster and jump higher out of heart and desire’.
The list is endless. In short if anyone is involved in the equine industry in some form or function; they have room to learn about training techniques and ways of being that HONOR the horse with RESPECT and DIGNITY. Safety with horses around humans doesn’t have to be compromised by the approach of training, but rather risks are minimized if a human can foretell the way a horse will feel, think, act and play.
NN: What are your top tips for running a successful equine business?
‘Successful Equine Business’ and other oxymorons.
- Before you start…STOP
A wise business man once advised me: Find the problem, fix the problem, take the money. I’ve observed many people try and fail to break into the equine business. Many were trying to fix a problem that wasn’t there, or that had too much completion within a certain space. Some could only find problems and had no solutions other than telling people that what they were doing with their horse was wrong. And other people just straight thieved the money and got run out of business for being dishonest.
My biggest tip into breaking into or just starting out in the equine biz? STOP and think BEFORE you START. For instance; a cute essential oil business that offers ‘aromatic therapy’ to horses, or making handmade bead tassels that will dangle off a bridle is does not provide enough power within itself to pay the feed bill.
Authentically knowing you can solve someone’s troubles will not only keep you motivated to stay in business but it will financially allow you to as well.
Also, figure out how to FIND, FIX, and TAKE from the best that teach those things. For instance, it’s not hard to find a problem in the horse world but make sure the institution providing the education is reputable. After you’ve been thoroughly education on said problems, grant yourself some time to experience truly fixing the problem you learned about. In business you shouldn’t still be ‘practicing’ on other people’s horses. Learning how to fix something is an edge on your competition. To continue to be an edge on your competition and loyal to your customers learn to ‘take’ money in the best possible way. Don’t be another feed store flyer that says ‘Horse training clinic this Saturday from a professional’. Discovering ways to share your value as it should be perceived is critical. Never offer an unfair representation about what your business can do.
- It’s NOT about the horse
Most people think they are in the horse business for… well; the horse. But really the horse is kind of like the gatekeeper to the paycheck.
You might be doing good for the horse as a practitioner, but not be as great as communicating the benefits the horse IS actually experiencing to the owner. You might actually be selling an amazing product (say tack or feed). But if the horse owner can discern the value you or your services provide they won’t be coming back as a paying client – despite how much you may actually be benefiting the horse.
It’s not about the horse, as it is communicating the needs of the horse to the owner that YOU can solve. It’s about communicating also a mutual appreciation you have for serving both the horse and the owner separately. You want to get the point across that you aren’t after the pocketbook so much as the loyalty in being a component in getting to help them solve a problem so they can enjoy their horse more!
A lot of equine practitioners (not so much product sales) go very very wrong in condemning horse owners that their horse is in bad shape. That they the practitioner have all the solutions, any alternative tools are wrong, and that they are the only answer and henceforth spill out a jumble of mismatched facts. This approach (all the while you might actually be good at your job) is quite off-putting in that it gives the appearance you are a ‘know-it-all’ with no intentions of listening to the horse owners concerns. Consider once you didn’t know the skills of your position, and that it would be in everyone’s best interest to communicate on a basic level how you are helping them reach their goals.
- It’s ALL about the horse
It’s been said “There are horse lovers, and the ‘other’ kind”. People are pretty easy to identify as loving horses for the beings that they are, or loving horses for the experience they provide.
The people that love horses for being their horses, are unique in the fact that they don’t mind smelling like manure all day long. They will tell stories about how ‘hilarious it was when their horse kept rolling in the dust after being bathed’ and will show you 99 pictures of the same pose of how beautiful they are.
The people that love horses for the experience tend to be a more straight-forward. The experience they are seeking to enjoy may be monetary (racing) or it may be a winning mark on a dressage test. If the horse falls short, means of finding a more suitable horse are in order.
There is nothing wrong with either type of person.
However, being in the horse business causes you to define which horse person you are truly. You will run into all manner of horses and people – and at the end of the day your mission and business plan has to support the reason you began in the first place.
- Keep going
Want to make a million dollars as an equine entrepreneur? Easy. Start out a billionaire! Those who will succeed in the long run of having a successful business will do one thing no matter what; keep going.
The economy can change, a money making horse could be injured, a client could change their mind, the space in which you used to market could disappear; just because it’s a horse business doesn’t mean it’s exempt from mainstream business struggles. Having an attitude about succeeding no matter the circumstances is what allows for actual success.
In my ever growing experiences I’ve learned how to adapt. My original business model would never in a million years work for me in this season of my life.
If you are having a hard time making it as a farrier, find ways to get creative and either A. offer more value to what you are currently offering or B. start offering a higher value service, like educational clinics.
If you are having a hard time making it as an equine artist, find ways to get creative (not hard, you are an artist) in how and who views your work. Collaborating with like-minded groups around you to share your pieces at events would increase the number of eyes you are in front of. Or consider offering certain groups custom pieces based on a seasonal theme.
If you are having a hard time making it as a horse trainer, find ways to either 1. Be a better horse trainer or 2. Get someone who specializes in marketing to market how unique you are.
The good and bad news is that equine business people are stubborn. My favorite quote is, ‘if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you’. So be stubborn in NOT quitting, not stubborn in staying the same with no progress.
My last piece of advice: evaluate your support system.
Support can come in all different forms; people/money/real estate/ etc. Try to value your own work and time enough to admit that you can’t do it all or have it all; all at once. Many people are willing to learn, help and be paid for menial tasks that it takes to run a business. Whether its mucking stalls or posting social media content – your special gift is not to be outshined by your ability to wash horse blankets just because ‘you don’t mind doing it’. Don’t let the current circumstances of your life put limits on your business!
Let your circumstances cause you to think outside the box(stall) and gallop toward new growth in the direction of your choosing.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my experience.
Feel free to visit my website IntegratedEquine.net; if you do I’ll give you a FREE ebook for your trouble! Please take advantage on the links below in regards to business help:
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