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« Fellow travellers | Main | Rope coiling »

February 22, 2012


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Good post. Its hard to remember how naive we were at the start of opening a horse business.
I remember being set that we would do it differently, that it would work...
I still love talking to people about their experiences running an equestrian business... most have closed for the same reason as you and I ; that being that here in Europe unless you are willing to sacrifice on feeding and horse welfare, then you will never make money out of horses. We ran at a loss, you ran at a loss... but at the end of the day, you didnt send your horses to be slaughtered at the end of a tourism season (like the true nasties out there) and in truth, accidents will happen anywhere, even with the best care. Just look at all of the top competition horses that break bones on their limited turnout, or colic in their stables...

I like to think that at least a trekking horse does a job that they generally enjoy. Yes they are still work horses - but when the riding is long distance (inn to inn with the same rider all week), they suffer far less than a horse that must take three different riders a day on lessons or short hacks. Trekking horses dont (generally) suffer bad hands or bad riding as much as school horses (since hanging onto a horses mouth 6 hours a day gets tiring for the rider too) and most people fit enough to ride such long distances have at least a fairly good fitness level.

Quite simply, it is becoming harder and harder to find those intrepid riders that will pay for the experience, and know how to ride and treat a horse. I think for me that is why I would never own my own trekking business again. In these days of economic crisis people are cutting prices on rides to gain clientelle which makes it a tough environment to work in if you want to have good horses and gear. People cant afford lessons, so riding quality is often less. I noticed especially in our last year how many people only rode when on holiday... how can you expect to keep riding fit if you ride only three times a year?
Anyhow, Im ranting. I think were the lucky ones anyhow. Now is not a moment to be trying to sell horses or business... we were lucky to get out when we did :)

White Horse Pilgrim

It is a little embarassing to recall the naive hope that one just had to offer an interesting ride, keep horses in good condition and work hard.....I cannot have been thinking clearly. I didn't credit the industry with a fraction of the callousness that is out there, nor riders with much of the tendency to turn a blind eye. There again I needed the adventure - a sense of reality back then would have robbed me of some amazing experiences.

At least you started with a partner who was interested in the business and rode. Part of my regret is that I made a bad choice - a different choice fifteen years ago might have led to a more solid business foundation capable of weathering the storm. Or perhaps we'd just have risen higher and fallen harder? My back would have worn out just the same, and the agents would have kept on demanding faster rides and more work out of people and horses. I might have ended up trapped and having to do things against my conscience.

I think you're right that trail horses don't have a bad life. If they can get through numerous seasons in good shape mentally and physically one must be doing something right. The riders have a chance to get used to their mounts and the guide can discourage bad behaviour.

I also saw people who only rode on holiday. It was a surprise that some of them got around a week in the mountains! My rides were fairly demanding physically and the weather could be really bleak up there. Some of them did take a lot of medication to mask aches and pains. That and alcohol. Drinking could be such am problem.

We're all tightening our belts I think. At least very few people aren't. I wouldn't take a riding holiday. (Why should I when I have a horse to ride whenever I want to? But also these holidays are an expensive luxury.) Plus a guy at work just paid £60 (E80 or $100) for a riding lesson for his wife. It's a lot of money if one wants to learn well. Well horses are a luxury and they always have been. Just for a while people forgot this.


Yes I think thats a big problem. Right now horse owners cant have the holiday AND the horse at home, so its one or the other. You are right that I was lucky to have paolo, I would never have managed to run holidays without him. He worked so hard during the season. Its funny now looking back, remembering carting a 4 month old baby in a truck without air conditioning all over Tuscany following rides. Having to eat and drink with clients, feed horses back at the stables, organize picnics and shopping, and keep up with emails... he had the physical work (making paddocks and riding all day) but my stress was all mental. I would so often have little breakdowns on the crying, lost, or a nasty client.. seems such a long time ago!!

What a change for us now huh :)

White Horse Pilgrim

There's a lot of belt tightening going on. The people with just enough money before who are a bit short now. Owners doubling up horses in the grazing, like two TBs in the same size field that Brena has alone. Shoeing and trimming intervals being extended unduly. As for discretionary things such as holidays.....

I wonder just how stubborn I was to survive three seasons with a negative lazy non-rider who lacked common sense as a "partner". Years simply exhausted physically and mentally. Fielding complaints from the agents about her attitude. Losing three EU grants because she (by professional an accountant) had messed up the finances so badly. Later I heard that she'd been scamming off my father - I only found out after he died. Yes, I was pretty stubborn. Back against the wall stubborn. With a decent partner something really great could have been built. At least we could have sold it when my back started to deteriorate. Rather than having to ride on increasingly heavily medicated, I'm glad all that is over.

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