Tag Archives: small business

EQUESTRIAN START UP – a real story as it happens…Part 2

By Wiola Grabowska

If you haven’t read it, here’s PART 1

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Everyone talks about seeing a bigger picture when planning for a business to take off. The importance of the big vision you might have and which you should want to strive to reach. I’m sure we’re not the only ones but we have no big problems with that end goal. It’s damn ambitious, a little bit scary and mostly exciting. However, it’s the steps towards it that are personally giving me a headache…

A few weeks ago one of my riders sent me a video of our lesson from one of the first sessions we did together. She asked me how I knew how to get from that “mess” as she called it, to an upgraded version of them that they are right now.

It made me think because I realised I didn’t have a straightforward answer to that. I think I can just assess the situation, come up with ideas of what is missing and start a long process of filling in the gaps.

When I first meet a horse and rider who signs up for training with me, I can see where they could potentially be. In the process of teaching them, I see the stages we need to go through to get to the next and the next level. Sometimes I tell the rider that something looks good. They show me a photo and complain that it in fact looks rubbish. I agree. But conversely it’s also good and it is so because it was built upon a step and will be added to another step until eventually it has a chance to be something much more than  “rubbish”.

The more I thought about it the more it occurred to me that I needed a similar approach to building a business.

But how?

How does one see those small “rubbish” steps without actually making all the errors on earth!

It’s one thing to have an idea. Another one is to figure out the process of taking it from a babygrow to that first day at school…and then beyond. Are there people out there who see these little steps of a business start up the same way as I can see rider development? I am sure there are!


Learning the ins and outs of Farm Agreements and Agricultural vs Equestrian use while submitting a tender application for a Lot on a substantial property (didn’t win the tender, it went to someone who took on all the Lots of the entire farm of hundreds of acres…). We worked on this with Emma Hobbs from Equestrian Property Search Even though we haven’t found the right facility with Emma’s help within the time frame we had available, I would definitely recommend working with a specialised agent to hear of places you might not have otherwise 😉 

Spring and Summer are so busy for me that working on anything that isn’t connected with day to day coaching is a struggle but the days are getting shorter and evenings start early which can only mean more time to focus on going forwards.

The things we have already done in order to reach more clarity in how to make things happen was to join a very positive and dynamic business group – Small & Supercharged VIP – run by Rhea Freeman (more about Rhea and the group HERE) and we set aside a little bit of time each week to sit down and talk some ideas through. It’s not always easy to make that time but I find that it works for me and it definitely helps move things along.

I love working on an exciting project but this one has another dimension altogether, it means serious dose of risk and while I’m not averse to it, it is stressful. With a supportive but totally not horse business focused Other Half added to the equation, there are many things to get right here. If only he wanted to muck out but unlikely to ever happen!

I have witnessed situations where agreements were entered into as well as plans made upon nothing more than pursuits of self interest; situations were the obvious lack of respect for one another made many lives miserable even if the businesses kept going.

Maybe it is an age thing, maybe it isn’t but I am very aware of the fact that to build something of value you need to value people you build it with, respect them but also be able to disagree constructively.

Chatting through various ideas helps with all the above I feel. I’d say I’m fairly lucky with the fellow partner in crime here even though she dislikes sparkling water…but it’s ok, I can overlook that 😉

Another aspect of this start up that’s been on my mind a lot and which is just a tiny bit easier to deal with than the overall strategy is understanding the reasons “why” to create a new business and potentially risk relatively successful current working arrangements. Having a very good, strong “why” and most importantly, a decent understanding of that “why” should make maintaining growth and success easier.

The more consideration I have given to the “why” the more mature and clearer the main idea has become.

The question still stands though – what’s the next “rubbish” step that can take us to the following “rubbish” step until we can start feeling like we are on the right track…

We have viewed fair few different yards for rent available in the area we are interested in. Some came with arrangements favourable enough that would make the rental process possible for us without significant financial investment from the word go but on closer inspection proved unsuitable for what we would like to do. This might sound like we are being choosey and perhaps we are but the main consideration on our minds right now is “will this pay the bills and let us develop further”?!

Running a business like ours from rented facilities will not be easy and we are prepared for that but making numbers work, even if in a roughest sense of the concept, is a priority.

When predicting the costs, the daily spendings, the real expenses of maintaining a place we found ourselves in a maze of guesswork. Even if facilities were occupied before, the information was embarrassingly sparse and left to imagination. Apparently, “you find out how much everything really costs after you operated there and then for a year” … Estimating expenses is a dire task made worse by the fact that the more you look into them, the more of them appears 😉

We also looked into entering much more complicated agreements involving an initial          investment from a third party. It was an interesting experience, a great learning curve on many accounts and I wouldn’t discount involving an investor of some description into our project but yet again, finding a place that suits everyone is that much harder when more boxes need ticking off.

It’s all been a very valuable lesson and even though this initial facility search brought us to a seemingly dead end of a tricky situation with many no-go options, it has also made me think more and more about possible alternative solutions….we just need to figure out those few baby steps now 😉

To be continued…

This blog series follows a story of two freelancers  – a livery manager/groom/rider and a riding instructor with a coaching programme who thought it might be a good idea to join forces and set up a company with a vision beyond what’s achievable by oneself. The trick is – neither of them is that good at business…What can possibly go wrong?  

EQUESTRIAN START UP – a real story as it happens…INTRODUCTION

By Wiola Grabowska 

This blog series follows a story of two freelancers  – a livery manager/groom/rider and a riding instructor with a coaching programme who thought it might be a good idea to join forces and set up a company with a vision beyond what’s achievable by oneself. The trick is – neither of them is that good at business…What can possibly go wrong?  

Start Up - intro photo

There is one problem with Red Lion Pub & Restaurant in Handcross, West Sussex. They don’t have 0% Kopparberg. I could probably get the alcoholic one but when you are about to spend a couple of hours with a business consultant and you have zero tolerance for alcohol, it isn’t advisable. Especially when following ins and outs of business details is difficult enough on a bottle of sparkling water.

I get still water for Kelly (apparently sparkling water is a no go for her). She’s the livery head honcho in this story. My name’s Wiola and I am the instructor in this story. In 2010 I set up a coaching programme which I named Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. I freelanced happily for several years, loved every minute of it until I realised that if I wanted to do a bit more and reach some goals I had in mind, I needed a business partner to rent a yard with.

There followed a couple of years of many very bad decisions, debts and difficulties which does happen if you know very little about real life business. Return to solo freelancing felt good. For a while. Until it didn’t and my unfounded entrepreneurial drive, that I have god knows from where (my self employed parents most likely 😉 ) and which is supported by minimal knowledge of only what I don’t know, have returned.

In 2015 I contacted as many people as I knew, including various former colleagues at numerous riding schools and livery yards I worked at, to find the right set up to grow the Academy at. I gave a few options a go for a while until eventually focusing most efforts on one location in West London where Kelly suggested my young rider could loan her mare. I knew the horse as I taught on her previously and I knew Kelly from a busy London riding school we both worked at years before. Apparently, best chances of survival have those business ventures that are formed by former colleagues. That gives us one thing ticked off on a long list of theoretical successful business must-dos 😉

Our plan is to bring together our respective skills to create a fairly unique livery service, a small coaching centre focused on equestrian grassroots sports otherwise known as lower levels of Dressage, Show Jumping and Eventing as well as a few more services of which I will write more in due time.

We drove to West Sussex for this meeting because there’s one thing to just do something and another to do something very well. I’ve done my fair share of just giving it all a go. You don’t need to be an expert in running a horse business to know that profit margins in this industry are low, rates and bills are high and many livery yards close down because they can’t break even despite owners working their butts off 24/7. Most horse people are exactly that. Fantastic horse people. They are not business people.

So here we are.  The horse people in the trenches with an idea. We don’t know how this will end but we thought it might be interesting to share our journey. I’ll try to make sure the account of it is honest and transparent and I hope there won’t be too many embarrassing details!

If you run a successful yard already and would like to share some of your know-how with us, let us know. We would love to road trip to you or just chat online with you, maybe even blog about you. 

Until very soon!



Equestrian Enterprise Series. A few thoughts on #HorseHour’s Equestrian Business Education Forum

By Wiola Grabowska

#HorseHour event – some of the speakers. Top: Bert Sheffield with Amy Stevenson. Bottom from left to right: Lucienne Elms from Horse Scout, the accounting team and a horse present during Bert’s chat.

Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy is a small enterprise. I like this term more than a “small business” as it makes me think about running a project, a collaboration, something bold and mission focused. A term business makes me think of making money. So enterprise it is.

When Mairi (who you might have “met” via her recent posts) and I sat down on one glorious Pancake Day in 2017 to make a plan for the re-vival of this blog, one of the series I had in mind was such where I would blog a bit more about trials and tribulations of acquiring  (and later developing) an equestrian property on which to base the Academy. Kelly and I are currently working with Emma Hobbs of Equestrian Property Search in order to locate the right place.

However, the more I thought about it, the more doubts I had whether it is such a good idea to share all the little steps. I know I would love to read about it somewhere and learn from mistakes someone else had made but perhaps there is a reason nobody is writing about it! 😉

For now, I think this series will focus on resources or initiatives we found interesting and educational as well as on sharing tried and tested ideas that might be useful for coaches/trainers and others self-employed in the industry.

Here are a few reflections after the Equestrian Business Education Forum we attended on Monday 20th March. 


I think the biggest benefit of these kind of events for small horse businesses is that it, firstly, makes you direct your focus on work that needs to be done “on” those businesses. It’s very easy to just think about teaching and riding (as a self-employed coach and/or rider) or looking after horses (as a livery manager) but there are many little things in between that need attention if the enterprise is to be sustainable.

Secondly, meeting others involved in running their own yards and organisations helping with that is a great networking opportunity. As a member of London Horse Network  which was created in the lead up to London Olympics in 2012, I found the regular meetings very helpful.

The #HorseHour event had good few interesting speakers and a nice informal feel which encouraged some thought provoking conversations with an audience. The business structure and tax planning chat with the accountants from Butler & Co made me want to research various options for livery yards contracts of which I would not have thought of previously.

The Horse Scout website presented by Lucienne Elms intrigued me so that is definitely one to check out further: https://www.horsescout.com

All in all a good evening that was well worth attending and I would definitely recommend seeking out these kind of events if you are your own boss in a horsey world 🙂