By Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg – The equestrian business is growing, but remains largely managed and controlled by people who have been in the field for a long time, working with outdated equipment, and on aging facilities. The pandemic has caused the cost of improvements to skyrocket, along with the demand for lessons. This has created a paradox of issues for small stable owners- How to keep up with the demands of these new, young clients, make improvements that will be sustainable and good for the environment, all while keeping costs down? Older stable owners must also consider whether the amount of time they potentially have remaining in this business justifies the cost of making improvements. And, of course, we all wonder about the future of the equestrian lifestyle- Can this industry be maintained and grow despite the competition from computer games, team sports, and social media?
The numbers the AQHA website reported in its article AHC Releases Results of Economic Impact Study from The American Horse Council’s 2017 National Economic Impact Study, shows a thriving equestrian economy. This economy generates nearly $122 billion in total economic impact, provides an employment impact of 1.74 million including $79 billion in total salaries, wages and benefits. The study further shows that only 38% of riders are under the age of 18, demonstrating that the industry is being largely carried by adults, often those older than 50 (1). The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) 2021 Annual Report Executive Summary shows that membership is up by nearly 4000 members over 2020 (1). All these statistics show that the prospects for the industry still look good, but accommodations must be made to attract and hold younger clientele.
As our facilities age, we must consider sustainable solutions for upgrades that will also help our economic bottom line. Having facilities and practices that are modern and supportive of the environment will not only improve appearances, but attract a younger clientele as well. Given the choice between two like facilities, most would choose the one that has been updated with, and utilizes, sustainable options. Here are some solutions that small business owners can implement without much cost that will help both their bottom line and the environment.
Many states are experiencing the worst drought in recorded history. These states, such as California and Texas, also house great numbers of horses. How can we keep our facilities going without compromising the health and welfare of our precious animals? Here are a few easy ways to help:
- Replace landscaping with drought tolerant plants. Remove costly lawns and plant items native to your area. These changes will improve appearances, save water, and reduce maintenance costs.
- Use 5-gallon automatic water buckets. Get rid of the old, bulky water troughs that are hard to clean and need constant manual refilling. The smaller buckets are easily cleaned and waste less water when emptied.
- Use a fish net to clean water buckets between deeper cleanings. Simply skim out the hay and debris while leaving the clean water behind.
- If your horse likes to soak their hay, give them a sacrifice tub of water for this purpose. This will keep their drinking supply clean while still allowing them to do their best “dunking Oreos” impression.
- When the time comes to empty water buckets, use the water on your plants. Consider this an opportunity to get in an extra work out by schlepping water to the nearby foliage. You’ll improve your upper-body strength, save money, and help the environment.
- Use a bucket and sponge instead of a hose when washing down your sweaty horses.
- Keep a shut-off nozzle on your hose.
- Regularly check your water system for leaks. A properly maintained system can save time, frustration, water, and cash.
- Eliminate the old arena watering schedule and only water on an “as needed” basis, such as before large group lessons or training that requires quicker movements. Check the adjustments on your sprinklers to minimize overlap and overspray (FEI 17-21).
Most of us have some sort of office from which we operate our business. These spaces often become places of clutter and chaos, but are vital to success. FEI suggests some options in their Sustainability Handbook for Event Organizers that can easily be translated into working solutions for stable and ranch offices. Using these options will make the office neater, more energy-efficient, and less expensive to operate.
- Move desks near windows. This will allow you to work with natural light instead of costly electric lights. It will also let you keep an eye on the happenings on your ranch.
- Replace light bulbs with lower wattage and energy efficient models.
- Go Digital! Embrace the digital age with your paperwork, newsletters, and correspondence. If need be, update your computer system and internet access so you can send correspondence through email and your clients can make payments online. Legal documents such as releases and contracts can be sent, signed, and returned through sites such as DocuSign.
- Create and maintain a good website. Many hours on the phone and in person can be saved with a good website. Have pictures of your facility, your business model, and business plan clearly displayed. Once you have implemented sustainable options, you can advertise the eco-friendliness of your business as well. This will improve your overall appeal to the younger clientele looking for a place to train, board, and ride.
- Do away with disposable items such as cups, plates, utensils, and plastic water bottles. Use “real” coffee mugs and plates in the break room. Eliminate paper towels in the restrooms by replacing them with air dryers or even simply washable towels.
- If you must use disposable items, purchase options that are biodegradable and/or recyclable.
- Give your clients a water bottle personalized with your ranch logo as part of their welcome package. Not only will this save on buying water bottles for students, but as they carry them to other events, you’ll get free advertising!
- For those occasions when you must use your printer, re-use paper as much as possible. Keep a stack of those one-printed side papers near the copier for re-use.
- Install and use fans as an alternative to air conditioning.
- Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Encourage others to do the same.
- Install timers that will turn lights off automatically.
- Use recyclable materials whenever possible.
- Install recycle trash cans and encourage clients and staff to properly use them (FEI 22-26).
Every facility needs maintenance and repairs. When this happens, make the decision to upgrade to sustainable products and services. While the initial costs may be more than other choices, the long-term investment will reap substantial benefits.
- Use a local workforce and suppliers whenever possible. This includes hired help, feed dealers, suppliers, and other services.
- Encourage waste sorting and recycling.
- Always check for the most sustainable options for any upgrade or repair.
- Use recycled products such as rubber floor mats and fencing.
- Create reusable banners and signs for summer camps, shows, or other events simply by omitting dates.
- Provide bicycles or other energy efficient modes of transport for getting around the property instead of using trucks or cars.
- Use natural shade from trees or buildings for unmounted outdoor activities.
- Create sacrifice areas to allow water run-off to seep into the ground naturally.
- Avoid the use of chemicals on property and animals. Use fly sheets and masks. Use glass fly-catcher bait jars instead of the one-use, disposable bags.
- Free-roaming hens will improve the ambiance of your ranch while helping control pests and providing fresh eggs.
- Use goats or other livestock to help with weed abatement (FEI 27-32).
By implementing some of these simple changes, your stable area can become a thing of beauty while also saving money and helping the environment. Look around your place today and see where you can apply these methods to improve your sustainability and your bottom line.
Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Certifier. She is also an AQHA Professional Horseman. Cheryl has been teaching all levels of riding and horsemanship for over 40 years. For more interesting articles from Cheryl go to www.crktrainingstable.com
“AHC Releases Results of Economic Impact Study.” Go to Aqha, 9 Mar. 2018, https://www.aqha.com/-/ahc-releases-results-of-economic-impact-study.
“FEI Sustainability Handbook for Event Organisers.” FEI, 3 Dec. 2020, https://inside.fei.org/fei/about-fei/fei-library/sustainability-handbook.