Our role in Rein & Shine

So, we started with a derelict dairy farm which we bought and converted. We had a
small number of liveries and a good response from our marketing campaign for
the riding school. We installed flood lights and a new riding arena, which was
extended later.

We then developed our competitions having secured a Sport England grant. After a
subsequent grant we started a not for profit Community Interest Company (CIC)
focussing on disadvantaged and special needs children

The next development was a full-scale cross-country course after extending our acreage
by 40 acres.

We now employ full, part time plus freelance staff across 4 entities with capacity to
grow further.

What were your main objectives from the beginning?

To buck the trend and run a well-managed business. Most people said equestrian businesses
are niche, made no money, and we would fail. However, after extensive research
into the market, our location and the competition it became clear the
opportunity was real. We often saw riding centres as inhospitable, dirty, run down
with no customer service and no presence on site, or means to access their
services. These businesses were often managed by horse experts, but they or
those around them have little or no other commercial skills.

We knew our team had management, financial, operational and sales & marketing skills,
plus the equine knowledge required. We started by instilling the ethos in our
team that we run a customer service business and by understanding our customers
and their needs, there was plenty of demand for a well-run centre.

A managed marketing campaign drove customers to the door and within 16 months we were in
profit, whilst all we heard was that businesses nationally in our sector were
struggling and even going down.

What have been the 3 biggest challenges to date?

  1. Managing cash flow. Horses are expensive to keep, and the business is heavy on assets demanding ongoing costs
    and upkeep.
  2. Staff management – recruitment was easy but establishing a focussed team in this sector is less easy than some
    ‘regular’ businesses. The emphasis on customer service skills proved trickier than first thought and change is not easy for some to take on board.
  3. Funding for growth. Being asset intensive, an extra horse means more stables, more paddocks, more fencing more
    staff. So, creating profitable growth can be a difficult equation to balance.

If you started again what would you do differently?

Although we had a broad skill base within our team, we could have grown faster by
recruiting skilled staff more quickly to free up time to manage growth. Also,
having personal time is vital, and maybe we worked too hard – but it paid off!

What advice would I give to someone starting a rural business?

Always utilise professional advice right from the outset and  throughout the pre and post start up period,
the growth period and on a continuous basis.

What business professionals did you use and who do you use now?

We used a planning consultant, an architect, a rural banking manager and an equine
accountant plus a switched-on solicitor. We now use the same professions plus
expert building contractors, local farm consultants and equine professionals.
We employ a book-keeping staff and we have HR professional advice on hand as
required. We have also upgraded our accountants to a higher standard, and we
have just taken on an interim Finance Director.

What are the benefits of working with rural professionals?

Specialists bring advice that prevents pitfalls and provides assurance that all aspects of
the business are professionally dealt with, leaving the core team to focus on
strong profitable growth and expansion.

Professional advice and guidance provides a business with a wealth of knowledge
which means we can apply their experience to our development plans. This means
there is far less chance of falling into the unwelcome traps that many small
businesses fall into.

We are not a small business anymore but would probably still be one if we had
closed our minds to seeking those with experience and knowledge that could tap

What are your plans for the future and how can rural professionals assist?

As we continue to grow, we will continue to seek professional assistance. Although we
may acquire specific skills, the legal and financial sector changes rapidly as
does the market, the opportunities and the potential threats. Having good
professionals on hand every step of the way will ensure we have the very best
chance of continued rewards. Our future plans are exciting, and we look forward
to working with our advisors for a long time.

My intention is to publish a series of blogs and articles outlining these and
other key strategies for building a really successful riding centre. Why would
I do this? Because over the last seven years, my wife Jo and I have built up
what we think is a very successful enterprise that we are proud of.
We made our own mistakes and learnt a lot on the way.

But when we started there was no help anywhere, from anyone in the riding centre market.
A few marketing people but no real insider business knowledge specifically for
riding establishments. Well now there is. Stay tuned or visit our website at

Equine Business Consultancy Ltd

1 Buryhill Farm, Braydon, Wiltshire, SN5 0AD – 01666 860068 – johnmcdonald@jamesg62.sg-host.com