Do you have one pair of breeches that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, no matter how many times they’ve been patched up or how old they are?
Call me sentimental, but I have one pair of Kerrits breeches that I just can’t bring myself to get rid of. They’re almost a decade old and still look remarkably good for their age. I’ve sewed up a few loose strings here and there, but overall they still offer great compression and support, and freedom of movement.
But the biggest reason that I can’t get rid of them is because of all that I’ve done in them. These breeches have carried me through countless lessons and training rides. They’ve been on the back of some of my favorite horses.
They were with me when I first broke a horse to saddle– a little grey mare named Gabby, who had had a rough and neglectful path. They were with me when I trained for my first ever dressage show, on a paint/percheron cross named Sky who I had followed to three different barns. These were the breeches I was wearing when I swung up into the saddle on my first horse, Encore. These breeches came with me to Aiken, South Carolina where I was a working student and was first introduced to eventing.
When I think of all of the horses these breeches have been with me through… Liam, Encore, Amore, Sky, Gabby, LB, and the countless number of horses I catch rode throughout the years, I wind up just staring at them and reminiscing. These are more than just breeches.
Advice from someone who is always learning new ways to keep a horse on a budget.
There’s a common misconception that equestrians are rich. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, the majority of us are “horse poor.” Meaning, we spend all of our hard-earned money on our horse, with nothing left for ourselves.
This blog is all about finding the happy medium. Learning how to prioritize your horse care budget so you can be the best horse(wo)man you can be, while also taking care of yourself, too.
There it is. The only piece of advice you’ll ever need from this blog. Marry a rich partner and all your troubles will go away.
Marry for love, not money, but a supportive partner really does help when you’re struggling to keep a horse on a budget. If your partner is going to throw a fit when the next vet bill comes, you will eventually have to choose between your horse and your partner– which just sounds like a mess.
Be open with your partner about the financial strain having a horse can place on your relationship. Being with someone who understands your love for horses and acknowledges that sometimes veterinary emergencies will happen, can really ease the strain of budgeting for your horse’s care.
Choose a Barn Within Your Price Range
When most equestrians dream of owning a horse, the barn where they’ll ride is a big part of that vision. Whether it has an indoor arena, miles of trails, or its own cross country field, a beautiful barn where you can enjoy all aspects of horseback riding feels like a must.
The truth is, it isn’t. The price of board adds up fast. In some areas of the United States, the cost to board your horse is equal to purchasing a second home. If you own a horse and you’re on a budget, you have to be willing to give up certain amenities.
You must prioritize high-quality staff over luxury accommodations. A knowledgeable and reliable team that treats horses and boarders with respect is worth more than any indoor arena or cross country field.
Adjust Your Expectations
Without excellent financial backing or a massive time commitment, the average equestrian will never rise to the top of our sport, no matter how excellent of a rider they are. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy your horse, ride to the best of your ability, learn something new every day, and become an amazing horse(wo)man.
It’s all about adjusting your expectations. Instead of purchasing the custom saddle of your dreams, shop used tack and spend your money on working with a quality saddle fitter instead. Take lessons once a month instead of once a week. Attend just one show per year or compete at schooling shows instead of the more expensive AA-rated competitions.
With the right mindset, you can find fulfillment in the world of horseback riding without the cost of attending highly rated shows, taking lessons with top trainers every week, and buying custom tack.
Four Star Horse Care
Forget the BEMER blankets, monthly massages, and premium quality bedding. Learn to be okay with meeting your horse’s basic needs: food, shelter, friends, and good health care.
Your horse doesn’t need magnetic blankets and thermawave therapy or whatever new equine health trend is on the market. While these things have benefits, there are many horses out there who function just fine without them. Don’t go broke trying to provide your horse with 5/5 star care. Instead, learn to be okay with providing 4/5 star care.
This doesn’t mean that you’re foregoing vet care, dental work, or saddle fitting. It means that you’re prioritizing what truly matters and not the latest health or fashion trend.
For example, don’t work with the best farrier in your area if your horse doesn’t truly need it. Instead, try and keep your horse barefoot, as long as they’re comfortable. Choose a middle of the road, experienced farrier who does a good job and can keep your horse sound.
Invest Your Sweat
There’s one asset every equestrian has and only a few invest in: your sweat. There’s so many different ways you can hustle to save some money just by working a little bit harder.
Ask your barn owner or trainer if you can pick up a few shifts a week working at the barn to get free or discounted lessons or board. Keep an eye out for “Now Hiring” signs at your local tack shop. Many tack stores offer an employee discount that can truly save you a lot of money.
Most Dover Saddlery locations hire temporary staff for their tent sales. If you sign up, you’ll have to put in some hard work for a day or two, but you usually get the first pick of the tent sale items and get an employee discount as well.
You’ll also be amazed by some of the benefits of volunteering at horse shows. Many horse shows offer volunteers discount vouchers for classes or will even waive entry fees. Plus, volunteering is a great way to give back to the community as well.
Surprise! You’ll Still Be Broke… Sometimes
A few weeks ago someone on Instagram said that if equestrians were more financially responsible (i.e. stopped buying new saddle pads and following the fashion trends), they wouldn’t be broke. As someone with a few used saddle pads, a bridle I put together from spare parts at the used tack store, and a saddle I bought on Facebook marketplace, I’m here to tell you that that’s not true.
There are times when your horse will cut their knee open or have a massive colic resulting in a big medical bill and you will be broke. However, the trick to not being “horse poor” all the time is to know where to put your money.
Prioritize your horse’s health care as number one. Put the majority of your horse budget towards farrier, vet care, and a safe barn environment with good feed and knowledgeable staff. If you cannot afford to keep your horse healthy, then you should consider half-leasing a horse instead of owning.
Next, prioritize their comfort. This includes lessons so you can learn how to be a supportive partner and asset to your horse in the saddle, as well as properly-fitted tack, blankets (if necessary), and good quality grooming products, like fly spray.
Then, you can prioritize more fashion-forward but necessary products. Saddle pads (new or used), good quality boots for you, leg protection for the horse, coolers, clippers, etc.
Finally, we get to the most frivolous items that may bring us joy, but are not necessary to enjoy your horse or be a good rider. High-end breeches (leggings work just as well), beautiful equestrian sport shirts, matchy matchy tack sets, blingy browbands, etc.
Avoiding horse poor-ness (that’s a word, right?) is all about not being afraid to follow your own financial limits and resisting the peer pressure to “look the part.” Instead, stick to your guns, surround yourself with similarly minded equestrians, and don’t mind the looks you might get when you show up to your lesson in leggings and a t-shirt with used tack.
Our ability to be good horse owners and riders does not equal the depth of our wallets.
I think I’ve found it– the best way to clean horse blankets. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m frugal… to put it nicely. I try to keep everything as inexpensive as possible. So, when the end of the year rolls around and it’s time to have LB’s blankets cleaned, I can’t quite stomach the thought of sending them off to a professional blanket cleaner for a pretty penny.
Last year, I tried to use my regular laundry detergent and a pressure washer out on the driveway, which was not a great idea. You have to be very careful about what soaps you use to clean horse blankets. Soaps that are too strong will strip the waterproofing. They make specific blanket-safe detergents (I’ve heard good things about this one) that are designed to get out all the dirt without stripping the waterproofing.
You also have to be careful about the manner in which you wash the blanket. The pressure washer was definitely too harsh on the seams. Looking at them afterwards, I found all sorts of small holes and loose threads. This year, it was obvious I needed to try something else.
I combined a small capful of this Laundry Rinse with one tablespoon of the 9 Elements Vinegar Powered Laundry Detergent. I was a little hesitant to use this one as vinegar can be too harsh to clean horse blankets. It worked well for me, but if you’re feeling a little hesitant, opt for a very gentle detergent, like Woolite, instead.
I diluted this combination in a wheelbarrow filled roughly halfway to the top with water. I left the blankets in the solution to soak for roughly 20 minutes to a half an hour. Occasionally, I would knead the blanket in the solution and turn it to ensure it’s fully covered.
Next, I pulled the now-sopping-wet blanket out of the wheelbarrow and hung it over a railing. I filled a smaller bucket with an ⅛ capful of the laundry rinse plus a very small splash of detergent and used a stiff brush to get any remaining dirt, sweat, or manure off the blanket. Last but not least, I used the shower setting on my hose to rinse off the blanket and hung it out to dry.
You should have seen the dirty water in that wheelbarrow! I dumped and replaced the entire solution with every blanket, so they weren’t just soaking in dirty water. They look much cleaner than last year. I’ll still go over them with a waterproofing spray just in case any of the original waterproofing was stripped, but I’m very happy with the result.
Happy Spring Cleaning!
Veronica’s Blanket Cleaning Solution:
1 capful Leather Therapy Laundry Rinse
1 tablespoon mild laundry detergent
7 Steps to Clean Horse Blankets
Fill the wheelbarrow halfway to the top with water and dump in the solution.
Soak the blanket in the solution for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally to ensure the entire blanket is saturated. Replace the water and solution after every blanket soaked.
While the blanket is soaking, fill a smaller bucket with an ⅛ capful of Laundry Rinse and a very small splash of mild laundry detergent.
Remove the blanket from the wheelbarrow and hang it over a railing.
Use a stiff brush dipped in the solution you created in Step 3 to gently, but thoroughly, scrub off any remaining manure, dirt, etc. Make sure to get the lining near the chest, tail, and legs as well.
Hose off the blanket with your nozzle set to a gentler setting, like “shower.”
Once all the suds are rinsed off, let the blanket air dry on a warm, sunny day. After it’s fully dry, you also have the option to spray it with your preferred waterproofing spray.
Make sure your blankets are stored properly in mouse-proof containers after they’re fully dry.
Nothing makes my heart drop into my stomach faster than a text from the barn owner with the words “Can you get here now?” Last week, I almost lost my horse. Or, at least, it felt that way.
She colicked extremely badly in what was initially a very scary situation. LB makes colic almost a hobby of hers. No matter how I change my management, supplements, grain, hay, offer friends, exercise, relaxation, or rest, she has colicked roughly three to four times per year since I first adopted her in 2019. Unfortunately, we’re experts on the subject of colic emergencies.
Usually, she colics only mildly, with most cases resolving with 10cc of Banamine and some hand walking. By the next morning, she’s fine. This time was different. Her symptoms did not resolve with Banamine and instead, she got worse.
The vet was called pretty much immediately. We walked LB in the dark in the outdoor arena, where she dragged her feet and hung her head low to the ground. Her belly was visibly distended and, although her heart rate was low, she was breathing as though she had just had an intense workout. We later found out that the amount of pressure in her abdomen from a severe gas colic was putting pressure on her heart and forcing it to slow.
We tried every trick in the book, but nothing was working. Referral to the local equine hospital and possible surgery was discussed, leaving me with a decision to make. Put her on IV fluids at the barn, or send her to the hospital? In this heart-wrenching, time-sensitive, and highly stressful situation, I was grateful to already have the answers to several important questions.
Are You Willing to Put Your Horse Through Surgery?
This is a common question among equestrians and it’s essential that you have an answer before you actually need one. When you’re in an emergency, your horse is in grave danger, and your vet turns to you and asks, “Are you willing to bring her to a hospital for surgery?” You will want to throw caution to the wind and say, “Yes, do anything you have to do to save her.”
But the reality is that surgery is not the right decision for many horses. Obviously, the cost is formidable and can range well over $10,000 dollars. But after you manage to sell your first-born son, your right kidney, and remortgage your house to afford it, you’re faced with the stark reality of recovery. Often recovery includes stall rest, the possibility of repeated colics, complications, refeeding protocol, and more. Your horse will most likely be at a higher risk of colic for the rest of their life. While recovery differs with every surgery, one thing remains constant: it will be stressful for you and your horse.
Many equestrians fail to consider that the entire process will be aggravating (to put it nicely) for your horse. You cannot explain to them why they are cooped up in a 12×12 stall. All they know is that their belly hurts, they’re hungry, they’re stressed, and they’re disoriented. To me, after having had a horse on extensive (months) stall rest in the past, it’s not something I’m ever willing to put a horse through again. My personal limit for stall rest time is measured in weeks, not months.
When it comes to choosing to put a horse through surgery, my personal answer is no. I’m not prepared for the costs, recovery time, and mental wear and tear it will place on my horse. But there is no wrong or right answer. Other owners who do not have a sometimes-psychotic, young thoroughbred may find that it’s worth it.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
Admittedly, I could have been better prepared for this one. When the vet first suggested referral to a nearby equine hospital and what it would cost, I didn’t have a good answer. I had to call my husband to discuss credit card limits, the future of our finances, and where we were going to draw the line for spending in one night.
After having her scoped and treated for ulcers in the late winter, paying for her to get her knee stitched and treated in the spring, and now this, our emergency fund was very very low.
Before you wind up in a crisis situation (and that’s when, not if), aim to have several thousand dollars saved in an emergency fund. Barring that, know your credit card limits and what exactly you’re willing to put on those credit cards and pay off. Does your vet offer Scratch Pay or payment plans?
Now, when your vet turns to you and says that what was a regular old Tuesday night could turn into a bill of well over four figures, it helps to have a response of “I can spend X amount of dollars. Do whatever you can, within that limit.”
How Much Work Can You Reasonably Put In?
I stayed up pretty much the entire night with LB. My amazing barn owner offered me several different beds, but I opted to stay in a reclining chair in the barn aisle under a horse cooler so I could be closer to LB. She needed fluids every four hours and I checked on her constantly for signs that she was still improving.
On Wednesday, she needed to be very slowly fed small amounts every two to three hours. The amazing staff at the barn let me work from their office and stay at the barn all day so I could take care of her and keep my costs down.
I can’t imagine what I would have done if I didn’t work for myself. I’m not sure that I would have been able to work from the barn office, and after a big vet bill, who can afford to take a day off? Or what if I had kids and couldn’t sleep at the barn all night?
Knowing how much time and effort you can reasonably put into your horse’s care will have a massive impact on your decision. I would have been forced to either put her down or accommodate hospital expenses, if I hadn’t been able to stay up all night and work at the barn the next day. The hospital would have done all of this extra work for me– and at a hefty price.
Where is the Line?
Where is your personal line between life and death? At what point do you throw in the towel, and call it quits? When is humane euthanasia more fair to the horse, and to yourself, then continuing to shell out thousands of dollars for a horse who only continues to decline?
This is an extremely personal decision and one that I am still grappling with.
Sure, many of LB’s colics so far have been mild and resolved without calling the vet. But at what point do I have to consider my personal finances, my mental health, and my horse’s quality of life? I also feel responsible to my husband to stop draining our family finances.
Considering this line feels selfish. Can you really euthanize your best friend because you can’t handle the stress of repeated colics and injuries every other month (literally)? At what point do you begin to wonder if, with this many issues, there’s a deeper internal problem lurking beneath the surface?
Still, this is a problem that it helps to contemplate well before the time comes to make this decision. I’ve even considered taking all emotion out of it and putting a price limit on what I’ll spend on LB’s medical bills over a specific period of time before I consider euthanasia.
Other times I think about the fact that even though she gets sick so often, she is truly a warrior who never gives up. During her most recent colic, we all knew she would make it when she became angry– something I jokingly call raging dragon mode. With her dainty muzzle, big jaw, and pointed ears pinned flat against her head, it’s not difficult to imagine her breathing fire as she screams at the stall door, tosses her head, and glares at all of us as if to say, “How dare you hook me up to IV fluids? Can’t you see that I am fine?!”
When she acts like this, I have to sit back and admire her courage and desire to conquer whatever the world throws at her. I like to think that I’ll keep fighting, as long as she wants to keep fighting.
Luckily, she has recovered well after the equine emergency last week, so for now, I don’t have to worry about coming to a decision immediately. But this line is something that is sure to fill my thoughts for the next few weeks.
If you’re one of my clients, then chances are good you’ve heard me talk about pillar pages for your equine business. In my opinion, if you have a blog you should have pillar pages and a good Big Picture strategy overarching your entire content creation plan. (Not having a blog at all is a subject for another day, but just know– get on that!)
Think of it like a game of Mario Kart. If you have a website then you’re in the race. The finish line is the coveted number one spot on the first page of Google.
You post a blog. BAM. You get a green shell and start rolling past your competitors on your way to first place.
You post another blog. BAM. Banana peel. Your website moves up one spot on the SEO rankings.
You run a Google Ad. BAM. Bob-omb. Your paid search traffic increases exponentially.
You get a new backlink. BAM. Thunderbolt. Referral traffic is skyrocketing.
You post a pillar page. BAM. Star power. You’re impervious to death, streaking up the organic search rankings, taking out competitor’s websites left and right–
Okay, okay. That’s a little dramatic. But a pillar page really can catapult you up the SEO rankings and boost your website’s credibility in Google’s eyes.
What is a Pillar Page For Your Equine Business?
A pillar page is essentially a very long piece of content that is attempting to rank for the Holy Grail of keywords: a high volume and high competition keyword.
Let’s take a quick detour here to understand keywords. Keywords are the search terms people use to find your website on Google. The level of competition for that particular keyword is based on how many competitors are also fighting to be the number one search result for the same keyword. Search volume is the number of people typing that keyword into google search. A pillar page is trying to rank for a highly competitive and high search volume keyword. It’s going to be tough, but if you win the number one search result for that keyword, you could get your website in front of a lot of eyeballs.
Now, back to our scheduled programming: pillar pages for equine businesses. Pillar pages are usually between 2500 to 5000 words. They include images, a Table of Contents, lists, and more. The goal is to create a powerful piece of SEO-focused content that is also easily used by the average reader. Lists and a clickable Table of Contents allow the reader to navigate this massive piece easily and effectively.
Bear with me here, this gets technical. Pillar pages for equine businesses are the foundations of your content map and the focal point of your topic clustering. A content map will show you the overarching big picture plan for your content marketing strategy. On a content map, you’ll be able to see each individual topic cluster (made up of blogs and pillar pages) and your progress towards writing all the content for that cluster. For every pillar page you post, you’ll have between four and eight blogs that are hyperlinked to the pillar page and vice versa. Every blog will be about a related topic and attempt to rank for a related keyword.
Take a look at the charts below. Personally, I always understand things best when they’re presented visually.
For example, a topic cluster focused on the keyword “horse tack” and its variations could look like:
A content map for a blog that doesn’t use pillar pages would have no hierarchy, no clusters, no organization. Just blogs. It would look like this:
On the other hand, a blog that does use pillar pages and topic clusters would have a content map that looks something like this:
Why Do I Need a Pillar Page for My Equine Business?
When I say, “Does this spark joy?” Marie Kondo is probably what comes to your mind first. There’s a reason why her show about turning messy houses into organized homes that “spark joy” was so popular on Netflix. It’s the same reason why there are huge Instagram accounts that do nothing but post cleaning hacks or videos about organizing houses. At heart, happy humans crave organized spaces that make life easier and more pleasant.
Google is no different.
When crawling through websites, Google wants to quickly and efficiently figure out what your website is about, if the content is reputable and of good quality, and if you answer the question the end user is asking. A website without clear organization and a blog without a content map are like messy rooms with clothes on the floor and an unmade bed. It’s a lot harder for Google to find what it’s looking for and it will slap you on the wrist for your mess by bumping you down the SEO ranks.
Topic clustering is one strategy to make it easy for Google to figure out what you’re trying to tell people. For every pillar page that is attempting to rank for a highly competitive keyword, it will be surrounded by four to eight blogs that are ranking for less competitive versions of the focal keyword that give a power boost to the pillar page. Pillar pages and blogs work together to keep your website organized and efficient. That’s a lot more powerful than a collection of disorganized and random blogs.
Do I Have to Have a Content Map?
The short answer: Yes! Every race in Mario Kart has a map that allows you to clearly see the path to the finish line and count down the laps. Your content map is your roadmap to that number one spot on Google ranking. Without a content map, it’s easy to lose your focus and get lost in the weeds. It’s important to take a moment every month to look back at your content map and mark your progress. Have you hyperlinked all of the blogs to the correct pillar page for your equine business? What do you need to write next? Where do you go from here?
Don’t lose sight of the goal. Use your content map to hold yourself accountable to creating the content your equine business needs to reach that number one spot on Google search.
Where Do I Start?
Unfortunately, getting started isn’t as simple as choosing a character and pressing play. Start by looking at your existing blog content. Do you notice any particular topic clusters that may already exist? If you do, create a pillar page for them and go from there. If you’re beginning from scratch, follow the steps below:
Analyze the current SEO ranking of the website
Research keyword trends
Create the content map
Write, write, write.
If you don’t have the time to create a content map and pillar pages for your equine business, click here to contact me. I’m always happy to help.
We need to talk about the elephant in the room… the Olympics. I’m not interested in placing blame, but the truth is that the Equestrian Olympics were a public relations disaster for the sport. Let’s drill down into what the non-horse-educated public saw:
Swiss horse Jet Set euthanized after sustaining an injury on the cross country course
Irish horse Kilkenny sustained a bloody nose that streamed across his white chest during the second half of his showjumping course
Annika Schleu being told by her trainer to “hit him harder” on live television as she pummeled her borrowed horse in an attempt to make it around the modern pentathlon show jumping course.
Altogether, this does not look good for horse sports. As many problems as I have with PETA, I really can’t blame them for calling to have equestrian sports pulled from the Olympics. If this is the best of what we can present to the world, I’m not sure we deserve to be there.
A post from Denny Emerson got me thinking. He said, “Back to the Pentathlon. Sure, bad temper, bad riding, bad behavior—But the thing that gets me is that a couple of days earlier a horse died in eventing, adding to so many horses that have died in eventing over the last few years, and not a peep. Not a murmur. No “Maybe we ought to think of ways to make serious injuries and deaths not be almost “business as usual” in eventing.”
So, this Olympics had Denny, myself, and the public asking the question: are we asking too much of these horses? How can we make our sport safer for horses and riders? As a lifelong hunter/jumper who has dabbled in eventing, I can’t really answer that question. But as a public relations professional, I have to make my voice heard because the PR professional in me is screaming that this. is. a. disaster. We need damage control. We need to make changes. The only way our sport can recover from this is to develop a strong plan to show the world that we’re safe, we love our horses, and we’re doing everything we can to make our sport better.
We need to start with damage control and an analysis of the problem. As of right now, what are we doing to understand the problem? I’d love to see a study done on equine injuries in the long format versus the current short format. The FEI describes the long format nicely, “Phase A was roads and tracks, required for warming up, B was steeplechasing at a gallop over brush type fences, C was back to roads and tracks, before horse and rider were then vet checked in a 10-minute holding box. The horse’s heart rate had to get below 80 within 10 minutes of being in the holding box, if the horse was declared fit, off they would go across country. Finally, at the end there was a further vet examination to check the horse’s health, before the pairing would be allowed to show jump, the final element.”
That’s two different veterinary examinations to ensure equine health. In today’s one-day short format, there are how many vet checks at most lower levels? None. The FEI states the short format was developed after there were concerns that horses were going too fast over cross country, so they designed more technical courses to slow riders down. This is a classic “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” type of situation. Now we have horses and riders attempting massive solid jumps and technical courses at a moderate pace. Sure we’ve slowed down (a bit), but the technical courses have raised the stakes in another aspect to dangerous levels. It’s still a sport where one mistake can cost both horse and rider their lives. As humans, we can choose to take on that risk, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think our horses wake up in the morning day dreaming about blue ribbons and massive fences.
Step two of my PR plan for the equestrian Olympics is to make changes efficiently and quickly. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to how to make our sport safer. But I do know that those answers lie in a statistical analysis of injuries in the long format versus the short format. Could it be that our attempt to make the sport safer actually put our horses in harm’s way? Can we combine the two formats? Is there such a thing as a medium format? Two vet checks, a dressage round, a slightly more technical course, but lower fences? Whatever the solution, I do know that we need to take emotion out of the equation and take a hard look at what we’re asking these horses to do.
The Tokyo Olympics was a culmination of years of criticism of equestrian sports coming to a head in a very public way. The modern pentathlon was a fun “cherry on top” that served to highlight everything the public thinks is wrong with horse sports. It’s time for serious change across all of our equestrian sports and a tough evaluation of who we’re out there riding for. Even at the Olympic level, when the weight of our country is on our backs, the horse has to come first. I think most equestrians would agree with that. Now, it’s up to us to make the changes and develop the right PR campaign to earn the public’s trust back. Because that trust? It’s gone. Without that trust, I’m not sure we’ll be back at the Olympics.
Two Equestrian Marketing Strategies Help You Reach the First Page of Google
According to one expert, the first page of Google gets anywhere between 71 and 92 percent of all clicks. The very first result gets nearly 32 percent of those clicks. The remaining 29 to 8 percent of traffic is divided with diminishing returns between pages two through ten.
We just started, but let’s back up.
The first page of Google gets between 71 and 92 percent of all clicks.
What does that mean when your website is on the third page? Very few clicks. Your website can be the biggest asset to your equine business, but only if people are looking at it. Otherwise, it’s an expensive decoration which doesn’t do much to help your business grow.
There are two main ways to get your website onto the first page of Google: you can either earn your position or you can pay for it. Paid advertisements can get eyes on your site, but they can be cost prohibitive and do little to build your position as an expert in your field. Organic search engine optimization (SEO) takes a long time to build and is difficult to do without the help of an equestrian marketing consultant.
So which one should you choose? Unfortunately it’s not as cut and dry as one or the other. Do you remember the story of the turtle and the hare from your childhood? If not, prepare for a flashback to elementary school (read it here). It’s a little like that.
Say Hello to the Hare
In the context of our turtle vs. hare metaphor, paid advertisements are the hare. They can drive a lot of traffic very quickly, but once you run out of money, like the hare falling asleep, they’re done. No more traffic. Nothing. Nada. Kaput.
There are a few different types of paid ads. Because the world runs on the value of a dollar, you can pay pretty much anyone to run an advertisement for you. You can pay to drive traffic from social media, like paid Facebook ads, private websites, or right from Google. The more money that you put in, the more traffic comes to your website. These ads are excellent for short-term campaigns, like promoting a big sale or for brand new websites who don’t have as much SEO pull quite yet, and need to make up for it with additional paid traffic.
Meet the Turtle
Our most turtle-like contender is the slow-growing earned equestrian marketing strategy: organic SEO. Organic traffic takes a while to build, but takes a while to fade too (slow and steady wins the race). Rankings can go up and down based on who else is competing for the same keyword you’re trying to rank for, but it’s unlikely a well-established page one ranking website would drop to page ten.
However, because you’re vying with other websites for the same keyword, you can use your site for a little digital offense and fight back against your competitors. An extremely well-written high seo value page can knock your competitor’s page down a few steps. Because of this, keep in mind what the competition is like for the particular keyword you’re trying to rank for. Aiming for high traffic, high competition keywords means your ranking will be less stable and fluctuate more often.Low competition keywords equal more stability and less fluctuation in ranking.
Because organic traffic is earned, not bought, it builds you up as an expert. Google does a pretty good job of looking for quality content. So if you’re on the first page, chances are you sound like you know what you’re talking about. With organic SEO you can also rest assured that you’re also reaching your target audience 100 percent of the time. After all, your website will only come up when your target audience is already searching for the information you have to offer.
Which Equestrian Marketing Strategy Do You Need?
Each of these equestrian marketing strategies have their time and place. Let’s go back to the turtle vs the hare. Paid advertisements are the hare- working quickly to provide the traffic you need as fast as possible. An organic SEO strategy is a long-term slow and steady approach to building traffic to your site, just like the turtle. You might need to take the hare’s approach when you’re promoting a big sale, new product, or hosting an event and you need to flood the site with hard and fast traffic to a specific landing page where customers will hopefully take the action you’d like to see. But an organic SEO strategy is better for long-term, low-cost, high-quality traffic that builds your reputation. Let’s go through a few scenarios, so you can see how equestrian marketing might work out for your equine business.
Scenario #1: Fast Track
As the owner of a local tack shop, you’re the main supplier of riding gear to lesson barns and professional equestrians in your county. To start the summer right, you’re planning on hosting a big Memorial Day sale complete with BOGO deals and up to 50 percent off your top merchandise. In order to grow awareness of your sale as quickly as possible, and following the advice of your equestrian marketing consultant, you run an ad on Facebook. Followers see the ad, click the link, and are taken directly to your sale items where they have the opportunity to buy right then and there. This is a direct, hard and fast route to getting as much traffic to a page with a specific purpose as quickly as possible.
Scenario #2: Slow and Steady
You own a gorgeous facility with cross country fences as far as the eye can see and green grass year-round (a girl can dream, right?). You want your barn to become known as the destination for eventers in Maryland so you host horse trials every single weekend year-round. While running a paid advertisement for every single horse show would be effective in the short term, it would be prohibitively expensive and wouldn’t establish you as the premier eventing show grounds you want to be. Instead, taking an organic approach will help you build trust with your audience and a number one seo ranking for the keywords your target audience is using over several months to a year. Over time, you’ll develop a credible source of traffic as the Maryland eventing community begins to recognize you as their source for quality horse trials.
Scenario #3: The Combo Deal
You’re fresh out of vet school and just opened your doors as an equine veterinarian for the Western Maryland region. You worked with an equestrian marketing consultant and built a brand new website, but now you’re twiddling your thumbs, waiting for that sweet sweet traffic to come through the door. A purely organic SEO strategy would take a long time to build enough business to cover the cost of the site. But using just a paid advertising strategy means that you aren’t growing your credibility or SEO ranking so that when you eventually shut off the ads, you’ll be left with nothing. Plus, you have all that vet school debt to worry about. Combining both strategies is the ideal solution to bring in business while you build your site’s content and SEO value. My advice: put a significant part of your budget into paid advertising while you work on writing those SEO blogs, or hire an equestrian marketing consultant to do it.
Reaching the Finish Line
The lesson we were all supposed to learn from the turtle and the hare was that slow and steady wins the race so don’t count out the underdog. But I think both the turtle and the hare have some pretty great characteristics, why not be friends with them both? When your organic SEO strategy is taking a little too long to cross that finish line or your paid advertisements are running out of money, a combo deal might be in order. In my experience as an equestrian marketing consultant, most equine businesses benefit from using both strategies at the right time and place in their journey to get them to that end goal: the first page of Google.
When you’re a little lost in your race to the finish line, give me a call or shoot me an email to chat about how equestrian marketing can help you.
April showers bring May flowers and— mud season. For most equestrians, mud season is where the winter blues really start to kick in. Mud means a lot of extra work, especially if you keep your horses at home. Boots are constantly sucked off your feet, thrush infections need to be treated, and grimy blankets need to be changed. But when you’re right at your wits end, remember: you’re not alone!
Here are my tried and true tips to surviving mud season.
When your boots start to leak….
…wear your husband’s boots until you can grab yourself a pair of sloggers!
When my hardworking barn boots started losing their waterproofing and the lining came loose, my only other option sat right by the doorway. Noah’s pair of size 11 muck boots! While you’re at risk of looking like a toddler in their parents shoes, I found several benefits.
I never had to worry about getting my toes stepped on. Not only because of muck boots reinforced toe, but also because there was so much room in front of my toes I felt like I was wearing flippers. The chances that either of my thoroughbreds would be able to step on my toes were slim to none.
More surface area is better for trudging through the mud. Now I don’t know if there’s any real evidence behind this, but those big boots were like snowshoes. I felt like I was a bit more on top of the mud, instead of sinking into it. It still threatened to suck them right off my feet, but I think I was able to move around a bit better.
Before we moved in, the farm was basically abandoned for a year or two. Thanks to the minimal presence of humanity, a lovely groundhog took up residence in the barn and run-in shed. Tunnels ran underneath the run-in shed, to the point where if a rainstorm flooded the holes, the tunnels would collapse along with the ground under the run-in shed. It’s not pleasant to think you’re standing on solid ground when a foot falls several inches.
I filled in the holes and tunnels as quickly as I could, but we still wound up with the ground of the run-in shed several inches below the surrounding paddock. Now every time it rained the ground didn’t collapse, but it became a pond instead (thanks a lot groundhog!).
I was sick of it, the horses were sick of it, and I knew it would only get worse. So I bought several hundred pounds of asphalt millings. Dug out the shed some more, lined it with weed cloth, and dumped all the millings into it. I used bricks to line the front of the shed and to separate the millings from the surrounding dirt/mud.
It worked great! The total cost for the millings and materials was $80, the footing in the shed was now an inch above the surrounding ground, and it drained really well. One thing to consider: this may not be an option for a horse with thin soles. Asphalt millings are a bit harsher than pea gravel, but softer than your typical gravel driveway. My horses are both barefoot and don’t mind it, but any sensitive feet will become tender pretty fast. I also don’t recommend using any sort of shavings for bedding on top of it. The small flakes fall into the nooks and crannies between the millings and you lose a lot of drainage.
When the grey horse’s tail turns into dreadlocks…
…start practicing your braiding skills!
Buzz has the thickest tail of any thoroughbred I have ever seen. I swear, when it’s all brushed out it’s twice the size of my thigh. Unfortunately, this also means it collects small branches and mud clumps until it forms dreadlocks. That can’t be comfortable for him, although it doesn’t stop him from rolling in the mud.
I like to use almost any leave-in conditioner or detangler that I find at the pharmacy for my horses. If it’s good enough for human hair, it’s good enough for them too. It also tends to be a lot less expensive, which is just more proof for my theory that any time you put the word “equine” in front of something the price triples. After spraying it down with leave-in conditioner, I brushed it out and braided it, tying it off with my own hair tie.
For now, it seems to be working well. The tail is staying detangled, neat, and remarkably less dirty. The odd side effect is that now he looks like he has a bit of a lion tail. For the future I’m going to look into buying a tail bag from Cactus Tails. I really like how you braid the bag onto the tail and, of course, the fun colors don’t hurt.
When the paddocks need a break…
…time to start changing your management routine.
The sad truth is that I only have a 1 acre paddock. We have plans to expand it to 2 acres in the next few years, but for now it’s what I have to work with. Last summer and through the winter I let the horses roam free across the whole thing with no breaks for the pasture. The horses loved it, but now I’m left with ground that looks like it’s been recently tilled. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get grass to grow this summer.
Mud season is a particularly dangerous time for our pastures. The melting snow and heavy rains leave the ground soft and waterlogged. Our horses’ sharp hooves till it easily, pulling up roots that would previously absorb the water and creating even more mud in the process. My solution is to rotate the two halves of my pasture. Two weeks in the upper paddock and two weeks in the lower paddock. This way the grass will have some time to recover and grow some deeper roots.
Another option I’m exploring is to create a dry lot next to the barn. Eventually I’d love to have a small rectangle with stone dust footing where the horses can hang out on dry land on particularly rainy days. Not only is it good for their hooves, but the pastures won’t be subjected to the weight of two horses when the ground is wet and soft.
When you start to lose your marbles…
…count your blessings!
Mud season sucks. There’s no way around it. Equestrians across the United States dread the early months of spring when everything is brown, grey, and wet. But when you really feel like the mud is sucking away your sanity along with your boots, take some time to be grateful.
After all, there are a few good things about mud season. The flies usually haven’t come out of hiding yet, so we get a few more fly free months. Nothing is as happy as a horse rolling in the mud. Even though it adds work to my grooming routine, it makes me so happy to see my horses absolutely loving the mud, as long as they have a dry place to escape to!
There’s something cleansing and purifying about the rain. Remember, in just a month or two, we’ll have blue skies and green grass. We just need a little rain to get there.
I believe in authenticity. I preach it all over my website and my social media is filled with the daily reality of taking care of a (very) small horse farm in rural Maryland. I also believe in being honest about our mistakes. The equestrian world is filled with images of gleaming bridles, perfectly healthy shiny horses, and luxurious show coats and tall boots. It seems that no one makes mistakes and life is perfect. But, if we’re honest, we know that just the opposite is true.
Last month I ran into an issue with foxtail, that could have been avoided. I’d heard of foxtail in posts on Facebook. I’d run into it in round bales in the past and successfully avoided it. And yet, I still managed to feed hay filled with foxtail to my horses.
That week fell on top of the holidays and I was stressed. Between not being able to see family for the holidays, the financial hardships that always follow Christmas, and various other issues, I was at the end of my rope and quite tired. These are not excuses, but definitely reasons for why I was not paying as much attention to my hay as I usually do.
It wasn’t until I threw down a particularly horrible bale filled to the brim with mature foxtail sticking out in every direction that I realized what I had done. I walked out to my field and discovered the ground was littered with the weed– at least a week’s worth. My horses had been eating this hay. I felt horrible.
Foxtail is a type of grass, often used in ornamental decoration. It’s soft. It’s pretty. It’s also life threatening. When a horse eats foxtail, the barbs at the bottom of each soft piece can embed themselves in the gum tissue. These embedded barbs cause ulcers that may expand and cause severe pain. The horse will stop eating and drinking, often colicking. Signs of foxtail ulcers include discomfort with the bit, excessive drooling, and decreased appetite.
LB and Buzz were immediately brought inside. Buzz’s 14 years of life experience seemed to have paid off as he managed to avoid every bit of the stuff. LB did have three small and mild ulcers in her upper gum line. The dentist was immediately called and her mouth was rinsed with salt water, which she definitely did not appreciate.
This is how I found myself raking my one acre paddock for several hours, until it was too dark to see. Every swing of the rake felt like a small triumph in a big battle. Penance for the mistake that I made, paid for with some very therapeutic sweat and hard work.
Despite the fact that I’ve worked in barns for the last 10 years, there’s still a learning curve to keeping horses at home. We’re all human. It’s time we were honest about our mistakes as equestrians. Why? So we can learn from each other. So we can be more compassionate with ourselves and with others. So we can heal.
Good horsekeeping doesn’t allow for mistakes. But the reality is mistakes will and do happen. All we can do is our absolute best. My horses rely on me. I am their sole caretaker no matter the weather, in sickness and in health, in stressful times and in good times. When I make mistakes, my horses suffer as a result.
I’ve been asked before and will be asked again, “I have this extra land. I want to put some horses on it. I mean, I fed a horse a treat at the petting zoo once. They’ll have grass to eat. I can do that, right?”
Trying to articulate to these people just how much work and knowledge is needed to successfully take care of horses is difficult. How do you explain the sleepless nights spent walking your colicking horse? The summer days throwing around 50 pound hay bales in a hot loft? The years spent learning about wound care, grooming, and general horse healthcare? And that doesn’t even include riding knowledge!
When most people see horses, they see beautiful carefree creatures who gallop around and eat grass. The reality is that it takes a lot of hard work to maintain healthy equines. If we’re honest with each other about the mistakes we make in our horse keeping, we can educate each other, including people who are brand new to horses. Who wins as a result of our humility? The horses. And the horses always come first.
LB recovered just fine with no issues. I switched to first cut hay and have plans to mow quite frequently this summer to combat the seeds left behind from the foxtail heads.
If the equestrian world were a library, it would be a multi-faceted beast with a ridiculous number of genres and subgenres. Understanding what shelf your business sits on is crucial for your equine marketing strategy.
Walking through the library, you’d find two main wings: English and Western. But, of course, there would be the small alcove tucked in the corner for mounted archery, jousting, re-enactment riding and the like. Wandering through the English wing, signs would point to Dressage, Eventing, Hunter/jumper, and Show jumping. But then you’d discover that there are classical and nontraditional dressage riders, eventers who follow natural horsemanship methods of training, and those who jump, but don’t consider themselves hunter or showjumper. The equestrian world continues to expand with a growing number of books filling the shelves.
Each genre and subgenre seems to have its own cult dynamic. For example, say the name “George Morris” and the ears of every competitive hunter/jumper rider will perk to attention. But say “Buck Brannaman,” and an entirely different group of riders will be jumping out of their seats.
Everyone has an opinion about which genre is best. The readers of Classical Dressage and Natural Horsemanship could go at it for days about the use of draw reins, whips, spurs, and the overuse of treats. Unfortunately, unlike your local public library, there isn’t a Dewey Decimal system waiting calmly to help find the perfect book for you.
As a business owner, it can be easy to become lost in the mix. Where does your business fit into the larger scheme of things? Who can you communicate with most easily and confidently? Can you talk shop with a hardcore eventer or are you more comfortable with the whooping and hollering of a barrel racer?
These questions are important to ask yourself when identifying the target audience for your equine marketing. Start by looking back at your own history. What have you done? Where have you been? I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of different equestrian “genres” many times. Learning new groundwork skills from natural horsemanship and working with eventing barns in Aiken, but growing up solidly in the hunter/jumper ring. All of my experiences have helped me figure out who I mesh with and what my equine marketing goals are.
While the equestrian world is wildly confusing at times, it’s important to find your spot on the shelf. As a business owner, understanding your niche can help you grow. Finding your niche should be based on three factors: who your clients are currently, who you enjoy working with, and where you see yourself in the future.
Take a look at a few scenarios below to see what I mean.
Who Are Your Current Clients?
You own a small tack shop in Middleburg, Virginia. You’re wondering what new items to bring in for 2021. Current clients are mostly foxhunters who ride through the local countryside, as well as some dressage riders. When developing your 2021 product list, are you asking local dressage barns and hunt masters what they want to see on your shelves? Or are you just looking through a catalog and choosing what’s pretty?
The clientele you attract are often (not always!) the ones you’re best suited to work with.
Who Do You Enjoy Working With?
As a saddle fitter in Southern Maryland, you’ve set up hundreds of hunter/jumper kids with the latest trendy tack for the show season. Unfortunately, you’re sick and tired of staring at the logos for Antares and CWD. The last time you thoroughly enjoyed saddle fitting was when you worked with a local therapeutic riding center. For 2021, you decide to start offering a discount to local therapy centers and grow that side of your client base.
You started this business to do what you love. You get to pick and choose your clients.
What Do You See in Your Future?
As the owner of a boarding barn, you ride as often as you can. The barn also houses your string of up-and-coming event horses. In the next five years, you want to compete in your first one-star and get a few sponsorships. Your boarders ride in a wide variety of English disciplines, with even a few western riders thrown in. For 2021, you decide to become more active in the eventing community. You post in eventing-specific social media groups and audit clinics with top eventers.
Build your business to support the future that you see for yourself.
What do you think? Finding and marketing within your niche is pretty much common sense. It’s easy to say “yeah, yeah, yeah. I got it.” But too few business owners actually sit down and think about these guiding questions to plan their equine marketing goals.
Ideally, your business will sit at the perfect intersection of your current clients, doing what you love, and supporting your dreams. However, you may find yourself catering to not-really-your-dream clients, taking on tough jobs, and hitting pause on the future to handle the now. Developing an excellent understanding of what equestrian genre your book is in can help you get back on track with your equine marketing strategy and talking to the right audience.
My husband is a law enforcement officer. On the most violent night of the DC protests, I waited until midnight for him to come home, had nightmares until 3AM and then went to work at 6AM. I’m sure many people of color had the same quality of sleep as they waited for their loved ones to come home.
I grew up in a small liberal town in Massachusetts. I had a liberal education, come from a very democratic family, and cried when my husband said he was becoming a police officer. They were not happy tears.
We had been dating for about a year at the time. When he told me he was going into the police academy, I burst into tears just outside of the American University Subway. Everything that I thought I knew about police officers popped into my head. At that point in time, I believed that they were ill-educated overly-aggressive jugheads on a power trip who couldn’t get a real job. And then five years later, as of May 17th, 2020, I married one.
I have the utmost respect and admiration for the majority of police officers. To every single LEO that took a knee in Germantown and to the one who attempted to take a knee in D.C., I want to offer a heartfelt thank you. Taking a knee means that they put themselves in one of the most vulnerable positions in the middle of a crowd of people. This goes against all of their training (for right or wrong). I’m grateful for all the peaceful protestors out there who repaid their trust with cheers and not bricks.
My liberal background combined with my choice of husband has left me feeling trapped and unable to express my horror at the death of George Floyd and the death of retired St. Louis police captain, David Dorn. How do I express that I support Black Lives Matter without friends and family coming to the conclusion that I hate cops? How do I express that I support my husband without friends and family believing I do not support justice?
It was when I was reading back through my own website, that I knew I had to say something. I am an equine marketer who believes in Authenticity. How can I be authentic when I am hiding my beliefs in this pivotal moment in history?
I see so many equestrian brands capitalizing on the horrors of this moment in time to further their business. #BLM has become the latest buzzword in a corporate world of marketing strategy. “Want to increase your online engagement and drive traffic to your website? All you have to do is comment on George Floyd’s death in some vague way and you’re set to go.”
So I am faced with another obstacle. How do I say what I want to say and remain authentic without capitalizing on tragedy? You’ll see this post shared to my personal social media pages, and it will be hosted on my website, but Golden Fleece Farm will overall stay silent on this issue, out of respect. It is not my intention to use this post to increase my business, only as a cathartic way to speak my mind.
I am a privileged white woman. I chose to marry a law enforcement officer. I had a privileged upbringing with two amazing parents, great siblings, a horse, and a nearly full-time competitive riding career. Now, I own a house, two ex-racehorses, and run my own business. I understand that for many reasons this is not possible for many people my age, not to mention millennials in the POC community. Who am I to say that I understand the hundreds of years of slavery and fight for rights that follows the history of people of color everywhere?
I cannot know your pain, but I feel your worries, anxiety, and fear.
Everyday when my husband leaves for work, my heart beats a little faster and my brain drifts to him every other second. Will this be the traffic stop where a bullet travels through his vest? Where someone takes him by surprise? Where he is executed by the side of the road?
It’s at these moments that I think of the mothers and wives of black men and boys. When their loved ones leave the house, I imagine that I am sharing in their emotions. Will this be the day my son is pulled over by an aggressive cop? Will it be the day my father is pinned to the ground with a knee on his neck? Is this the day my husband will speak the words, “I can’t breathe?”
While the core emotions are the same, I know that the history of our situations are not. I do not in any way, shape, or form, want my readers to believe that I am reducing the systemic oppression of slavery that occurred over hundreds of years in order to compare it to my fear when my husband puts on his uniform and leaves for work everyday. But I do know that fear is fear. And my fears and your fears, and my love and your love, may hopefully one day unify our country.
At 9:25pm in Minneapolis, George Floyd was pronounced dead after a police officer pinned him to the ground and held a knee to Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. At the same time (adjusted for time zones) in Maryland, I was on the phone with my husband who was on his way home from work. I could hear his radio crackle to life in the background and then there were hurried “I love you”s and a “be safe” from me before hanging up.
At the same moment George Floyd died, my husband was pulling a man from a vehicle. The vehicle was on fire and the man had slit his own throat, before crashing the car. He fought my husband and an off-duty DC police officer tooth and nail as they pulled him out. He would rather stay in the car and burn to death than live. He had just escaped from a nearby hospital after attempting suicide earlier that week.
As George Floyd was choking on a knee and fighting to survive, my husband was choking on toxic smoke and fighting to save a life. I can only imagine the horrors of both situations.
Because of the actions of my husband and the other officer, the man lived. Because of the actions of Derek Chauvin, a man died.
This is not a “Not All Cops” post. This one incident does not erase the past murders of black people by law enforcement officers (obviously). But it does serve as a sobering reminder of the trauma that law enforcement officers face every time they walk out the door. The ghosts of these tragic situations hover over the families of LEOs, as the deaths of George Floyd and others must hover over the families of POC.
To black families everywhere, I just want to say: the world would be so much easier if I could feel what you feel and you could feel what I feel. And then, maybe, we could find unity. While our country is currently divided on either side of a very messy line, I believe that both sides are faced with the same thought. Will my loved one come home today?
Out of Hope, I believe that Black Lives Matter.
Out of Fear, I ask the world to please keep my husband safe.
There’s a scene in the movie “Elf” that I think sums up most modern marketing pretty accurately. Will Farrell walks by a coffee shop with a sign on the window that says something along the lines of “World’s Best Coffee.” Throwing open the door, he runs in and shouts “Congratulations! You did it!” The rest of the patrons sit there, staring at him. (Watch the scene here.)
Of course the coffee shop doesn’t have the best coffee in the world. Maybe in the owner’s opinion it does, but really it’s just a marketing gimmick that the world allows, but does not accept at face value. It’s a disingenuous truth. To the owner, it may be true. But the rest of the world? We know it’s a subjective matter of opinion.
I see examples of this throughout equine marketing. Have you ever read your fly spray bottle? Supposedly the stuff lasts up to 14 days. Fake news, anyone? I don’t know about you, but flies are always back on my horse within a day of application. You may still be able to find chemical traces of the repellent on your horse 14 days later. But is it still repelling flies for two weeks? Not in my experience. If you know of a fly spray that does— drop a line in the comments. I will personally buy stock in that.
Situations like these are why most consumers are so skeptical. Marketing is just no longer authentic. Testimonials and reviews are often faked. Companies make wild claims that are only occasionally backed up by evidence, but if you read the fine print, you’ll find several “Catch-22s.”
Too often equine marketers are just comfortable stretching the truth. Your marketing slogan may sound good, but if it’s not accurate, what’s the point? Or there’s the slogan that literally any company in any industry could say. “Quality products. Affordable prices.” Sure, I guess that’s true. Depending on what other prices and products you’re comparing to. All you’re achieving with disingenuous truths like these is destroying any relationship you had with the client.
Equestrians are looking for authenticity. If you say your product does something, it better do it and do it well. Disingenuous marketing can make you stand out in the short term, but you’ll find your business failing in the long run. Once the truth gets out, you’ll be hard-pressed to find customers.
Equestrians are not fools. Throwing a horn and some glitter on a white horse does not a unicorn make.
Sometimes trainers and equine business owners are blind to their own disingenuous truths. The owner of a small family run tack shop may post glamorous stock photos of shiny bits and beautiful tack rooms. When, in reality, they aren’t being authentic. Instead of pretending to be something they’re not, they should be playing to the family-oriented aspect of their business. Post photos of Cousin Jerry organizing the bridles and of your niece’s new pony. Representing the family-aspect of your business online is more authentic and your customers will love you for it.
People typically have some level of fear related to authenticity. Would anyone really want to go to a tack store that isn’t selling high-end saddles like CWD or Circle Y? The answer to that is a resounding yes. The equine world is full of unique and interesting people. I firmly believe that if you’re authentic to your own brand, your people will come to you. Stretching the truth won’t get you far. But being honest to yourself and your clients will.
Here’s another trend that I take issue with for blatantly untruthful marketing. What is with the #FarmGirl influencers on Facebook and Instagram? I see these women with beautifully done makeup, clean jeans, stylish boots, and hay-free hair standing in a field of cattle. There’s something wrong with this picture.
I only have two horses and two dogs, not 50 head of cattle. Yet, I still wind up covered in hay, dirt and dust the majority of the time. Let me tell you– when I’m getting up early to take care of my mini-farm before work, I’m not going to spend an hour on my eyeliner. Who believes these women are actually doing the farm work?
What happens when a little girl sees these beautiful women and decides she wants to run a farm one day? I applaud her, but she’s going to find a pretty rude awakening.
I’ll be honest with you- I personally struggle with authenticity. When I first designed my website I was tempted to use stock photos. My personal horses I bought for a combined total of $501. I love them, I think they’re beautiful. But they’re not long-maned friesians galloping through fields of daisies. Most days I’m thrilled with LB if she can remember how to pick up a right lead canter on the lunge (#OTTBProblems). However, I had to have a discussion with myself about what I wanted to represent online.
I could design a website that was worthy of a business with multiple employees. I could refer to myself as “we” and stretch a few truths. But that would commit a cardinal sin against authenticity. I’m a one-person small business established in 2019. I’m able to create high-quality results, but Golden Fleece Farm is not a corporate establishment. When you work with me, you get what you see. Because that’s all it is– just me.
Riding horses can feel a lot like banging your head against the wall.
You put the best feed, care, and training into an animal– a partner– only to have it pull a shoe and come up lame the day before a horse show. All of that blood, sweat, tears, and dreams dashed.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: marketing is the same way.
Whenever I tell family, my farrier, my veterinarian, my boss, that person at the grocery store (the list goes on and on) that I run a small equine marketing business, I get a similar question: How do I ____ ? Almost every time they’re looking for an answer that will get them from question to result seamlessly. It sounds like it should be simple.
For example, it’s well known that in order to solicit free products from brands, you need to have a large social media following. Most anyone that asks me how to get more followers is looking for a simple one sentence answer that starts with the phrase, “Oh that’s easy…”
Unfortunately, marketing is a lot like starting a horse.
If you’ve ever watched a Hollywood horse movie you know that all that’s required to break a horse is a wild untamed mustang and a besotted little girl who’s being bullied at school. Put the two together and POOF! You have a fully trained horse ready to win blue ribbons at the county fair.
Equine professionals and marketers know it’s not that easy.
Marketing can feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. You’ve googled the SEO checklist. You’ve completed the steps. So, why aren’t new customers suddenly knocking on the barn door and offering you money?
Equine marketing isn’t as simple as marking off a checklist. Instead, you need a cohesive guiding strategy that runs through all of your actions and creates a well-oiled machine that helps to bring more money into your business.
Expecting that a new Instagram account and a website will suddenly bring more customers flocking to your shop is akin to the besotted little girl and wild mustang scenario. An Instagram account and a website can be crucial to your success, but several questions need to be answered. Does the branding match across both platforms? Are they presented professionally? Have you been able to get the word out about your newly expanded online presence? Is the website getting any traffic? Is it optimized for search results?
Here’s where the “banging your head against the wall” comes in. It may feel as though you’re doing all the right things and getting nowhere. You optimized your website for SEO, but maybe used the wrong keyword so you still aren’t getting search results. Or your website is finally getting traffic, but you still aren’t getting new customers.
Just as there are solutions to almost every equine-related pre-show day disaster, there are solutions to every marketing problem you may be facing. It just takes some elbow grease and never-ending patience. As equestrians, we should have plenty of those.
Next time you’re about to throw in the towel on marketing your equine business, take a deep breath, and pretend you hear your trainer’s voice in your ear during a lesson: Try it again.
Between the coronavirus and the upcoming election, the world has become a scary and divisive place. For equine professionals, the economic crisis that seems to be looming over the horizon is frightening. Here’s the good news: animals will always need excellent care.
The other good news is that you can take advantage of the added downtime you have now to protect your business’s future in the wake of the coronavirus. Here are some things you can do today to succeed tomorrow.
Build Trusting Relationships
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: marketing is about building relationships. The coronavirus requires physical distancing, not social distancing. Use social media and other online platforms to connect with your customers who may not be able to make it out to the barn anymore. Now is when your customers are looking for reassurance the most. Modern technology allows you to reassure them that their animals are being well taken care of.
You may not have the coronavirus vaccine hiding in your tack box, but you can provide your online followers and clients with a sense of normalcy. Be sure to send current clients updates on their horses, along with pictures. Take to social media with pictures of happy animals, calming barn views, and positive messages. There’s enough fear-mongering out there right now and that’s not why anyone ever went to the barn in the first place.
If you really feel like being creative, set up a livestream of your barn aisle or paddocks onto your website. This way owners (and potential clients!) can check in when needed and bring some of the calming energy of the horses right to their living room.
These tactics don’t just apply to current clients. Potential boarders and students will also appreciate the positive calming messages and reassuring tone in the midst of the coronavirus madness.
Increase Online Engagement
Riding lessons may be on pause and the barn rats may all be safely quarantined at home, but that doesn’t mean online engagement has to stop.
Use your extra downtime now to start laying the groundwork for when you’ll need new clients the most– after the immediate coronavirus threat passes and the economic crisis starts to hit even harder. Take this time to work on your social media, develop videos, and consider doing an online webinar for potential and current students. After all, horsemanship lessons don’t have to stop just because you can’t get out to the barn.
People are stuck at home bored. Give them a distraction, something to do, so after the inevitable quarantine is over, they’ll remember your barn and want to engage with you.
Don’t Back Off Your Marketing
Many equine professionals make the mistake of cutting their marketing budget when the going gets tough. People tend to think that they need marketing when times are good. It’s actually just the opposite.
High-quality marketing helps your business grow and succeed. Your equine business needs growth the most when times are hard. If you can, now is a good time to amp up your marketing and get ahead. Some low- cost marketing activities that you can do now include:
Social media management
Facebook and Instagram Live
If you want to use the time you have now to really give your business a boost, look into hiring an equine marketing professional for search engine optimization and website customization.
Look to the Past, Plan for the Future
You can learn a lot about your business and what direction your marketing should take by talking to your favorite boarders. In this case, I don’t mean “favorite” as in best friend. I mean “favorite boarders” as in those who pay on time, take lessons and board, have their horse in your training program, and are drama-free.
These types of boarders are your bread and butter. When the economic crisis does hit, you want to make sure you’re able to get more of them. Appropriately-targeted marketing is crucial in bringing in new clients that fit your equine business.
Talk to these boarders. Ask: How did you hear about me? What improvements do you want to see? Why do you like to board here?
These questions give you more information on the types of boarders you want in your barn and how to attract more of them. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post with more on marketing for the right clients for your barn.
We WILL Make It Through
The most important thing to remember is that this, too, will pass. Take the extra downtime you have now to build your business for the future. Equine marketing will keep your business front of mind for when the economy picks back up. Remember to provide current and potential clients with reassurance, and a sense of normalcy. Work on creating trusting relationships even in the midst of a crisis.
Your equine business will make it through if you play your cards right. You are not alone— the time to come together as a community and support each other is now more than ever.
The other day I was late feeding the horses. I had gotten caught up writing an article for a client, and lost track of time. I zoomed through feeding as much as I could (I’m a notorious lingerer in the barn) and rushed out to run errands.
I got to my favorite hardware store a mere fifteen minutes before they closed. A high school student was sweeping up and the owner was running the counter. I stepped into the store in my muddy barn shoes completely without thinking and the owner helped me get what I needed. As I paid, he called over the high schooler and asked him to sweep the floor by the entrance again, as there was mud on it– mud that I had tracked in.
Let me tell you, I was pretty embarrassed. First, I make it a point not to go to any small business so close to closing time and my harried thoughts and muddy boots had delayed their closing time even more. Second, no one likes to feel dirty. After my barrage of apologies, to which the shopkeeper said it really wasn’t a big deal, I was off to the grocery store.
I wandered up and down every single fluorescent-lit aisle, mumbling to myself (as one does when grocery shopping) checked out, drove home, and put the groceries away before looking in the mirror while washing my hands. Hay. Hay everywhere. My curly hair seems to be a hay magnet and that evening was no exception.
Not only had I tracked mud throughout my favorite hardware store, but I had also spent an hour in the grocery store looking like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.
In a town with a whopping 1500 residents, I know there’s a very large chance I’ll see everyone I interacted with again.
It was one of those evenings where the checkout lady laughs with her friends and you find yourself wondering if she’s laughing at the cut of steak you bought (which one is the good one again?) and you’re slightly concerned that you’re not looking friendly enough (or maybe too friendly?). Did I say that word weird? What do I do with my hands? Am I being helpful? Am I speeding up her day or am I an annoying customer?
The list of questions that goes through my head goes on and on and on. So when I got home and discovered my scarecrow-like appearance, I was a bit dismayed and a bit tired of being covered in hay. But you know what? I’m also all out proud.
Since I brought my horses home, I spend the majority of my day covered in some sort of slop. The other day, my fiance was watching me throw grain when he suddenly stopped mid-conversation and said, “I now understand why your hair looks the way it does when you come back inside.”
I patted around the top of my head to figure out what happened, coming across a suspicious wet patch. LB had drooled her dinner all across the back of my hair. It’s at times like this you have to laugh and just be grateful that you were wearing your yard-sale-find Carhartt and not your “nice” barn jacket.
But my point is, there’s a reason I’m covered in hay, dirt, and (thankfully rarely) grain soup a far-too-high percentage of the time. That reason is that I put my animals first.
All that hay at the grocery store was a sign of the hard work I put in muscling around 750-lb bales and stuffing hay nets to a full 25 pounds each. My shoes are covered in mud because this constant rain has made mud season particularly bad this year and I need to go out into the paddock to find hay nets, treat thrush, and check eyes and legs — even if it is nine o’clock at night and I have a great bottle of wine waiting for me inside.
It takes hard work to take care of your animals. A lot of that work means doing whatever you can to make their lives better, even if you do have to be slightly embarrassed at the grocery store, and hardware store, and… maybe just cover up the mirrors in your house (kidding, kidding).
But I’m proud of the care that I give the animals that call my home, their home. I’m out there at least four times a day, counting eyes, and checking legs for cuts, scrapes, or sprains. Feeding treats, filling up and scrubbing the water, throwing grain, and filling hay nets. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, twelve degrees, or a swampy humid mess — as their primary caretaker, your horses need you and you better get out there.
Next time I’m in the grocery store and I spot someone with hay in their hair, I’m going to give them a high five and say nice job. Because running your own farm is a sacrifice. A beautiful sacrifice with huge benefits — but a sacrifice nonetheless. Vacations are difficult. Mud season sucks. My house will have a dirty floor no matter how much I clean. And, of course, there will most likely always be hay in my hair.
But you know what? I’m proud of that hay and the dirt under my fingernails. Because the reason for it is something to be proud of.
If you have dirt under your nails and hay in your hair: I’m proud of you too.
Veterinary clinics provide a crucial service to pet owners around the world. Whether a client owns a horse, cat, or iguana, veterinarians are there to help them with emergencies and keep their pets healthy. At Golden Fleece Farm, we believe that it is our job to provide veterinarians with amazing marketing so you can keep making a positive impact on every client you touch. That’s whereSEO for vets comes in. As part of our veterinary marketing services, search engine optimization can bring some big benefits to your practice.
Most vet clinics have a website and do some form of marketing. SEO is a great way to give your website a boost and supplement your marketing. Your clinic website isn’t helpful if it isn’t showing up in Google search results. Search engine optimization can make your website appear on the front page of Google, create a great online experience for clients new and old, and much more. Your website can be so much more than just an online representation of your business– here’s how search engine optimization can turn your website into an unstoppable marketing tool.
1 . Bring High-Quality Traffic to Your Website
Search engine optimization is a form of inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is kind of like setting a lobster trap compared to hunting. A lobster trap sits and waits with enticing bait inside for a hungry lobster to come along, looking for food. A hunter seeks out deer in their natural habitat and shoots. Both strategies work, but have very different approaches.
When a pet owner googles a keyword, they’re actively seeking out information to help them with their problem. Veterinary marketing is the lobster trap. Your website sits on Google, waiting for a potential client to find the information they want on your site and click “Contact Us.”
SEO for vets can bring high-quality traffic to your website, purely because you’re interacting with potential customers who are already engaged. They already know they have a problem (they need a vet) and are searching for the answer on google (your vet office!). Because of this, traffic generated from SEO is much higher-quality than traffic from ads.
2. Get Your Content Seen
If you’re website is number one on Google, you’re getting 40 percent of those clicks. That’s a big number of potential new customers coming to your website each month! Very few people visit the second page. If your website isn’t ranking for the first result, let alone the first page, you’re missing out on visitors.
So, what about the other 60 percent of traffic on Google? Only 15 percent of it goes to Google ads. Why would you pay to ensure you get 15 percent of the traffic, when, with some elbow grease, you can get 40 percent of it? The more clicks you get to your website through organic search results on google, the more your content is seen. The better your content, the more likely you are to close leads– but it all starts with getting more eyeballs on your site.
Google ads are just that– advertisements. Due to the nature of the ad, you may not be providing visitors with the relevant information they were looking for. You’re much more likely to close if you offer high-quality, high-ranking SEO content that actually provides customers with something of value.
4. Spend Less for Great Results
This marketer suggests spending between $1,000 to $10,000 on Google advertisements. Not only is that a lot of money, but what happens when you stop putting money into the” Google machine?” Your results go away. With search engine optimization, your results take longer to manifest, but they stick around for a lot longer too.
SEO as part of your veterinary marketing strategy isn’t free. There’s still the cost of an SEO audit for your website, blog creation, and content optimization. But those costs pay off in the long run. The return on investment for boosting organic search results is much greater than the ROI for google ads. In order for your website to fall from the front page rankings there needs to be a shift in search volume or competitors. When it comes to organic SEO, you’re spending a lot less for longer lasting results.
5. Beat your Competition
Veterinary marketing isn’t just about having the prettiest graphic or the catchiest tagline. Amazing marketing brings in more customers, expands your practice, and helps you beat the competition. Most veterinary clinics aren’t relying on top notch SEO strategy. As a matter of fact, most animal owners find their vets via word of mouth. Word of mouth referrals are great but are quickly becoming old-fashioned. It’s crucial to establish your practice on the first page of Google before your competitors start to catch on.
Expert SEO strategy can help you rank above your competitors.
6. Make a Difference in the Lives of Your Patients
Veterinarians don’t often get vacations. You work long hours, with unforeseen emergencies, and quite literally save lives every day of the week. Veterinary marketing can grow your business so you can keep doing what you love: helping animals and their humans. If someone had an emergency, you’re easy to find in the number one spot on Google. With just the tap of a button you could be there to help.
At Golden Fleece Farm, my job is to empower you to keep making a positive impact for animals everywhere. Marketing for vets is just one way I’m able to help you do that. I offer expert SEO strategy based on tried-and-true corporate tactics. Interested? Tell me all about your vision for your practice– together, we’ll make it happen. Talk to me here.
I greeted the little grey mare at the gate the same way each day. She hadn’t had the best start in life. Living out in a field, with no human interaction, and no vet or farrier care for her first five years. However, she did have food. Lots of food. Her previous owner would dump out a bag of grain each day for each horse. Needless to say, she was fat. I rubbed my hand through her tangled mane and felt her breathe. Then I slipped the halter on and we made our way up to the barn.
Gabby was a half-arab half-andalusian 15-hand mare with lots of spunk. But she was also heartbreakingly timid and when scared, would freeze. I’ve never been the rider with the best relationships with her horses. It pains me to admit it. But they rarely greet me at the gate and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if they ever looked forward to our rides. I was competitive and intense. Unable to find the line between doing nothing and drilling every exercise in the book.
With Gabby, it had to be different. My goal for her wasn’t to win blue ribbons. I needed to start her under saddle and create a functioning citizen of the horse world. Gabby demanded that it was different. Without a relationship, she would have never progressed. With pinned ears or a wild eye, she would tell me when I wasn’t paying enough attention to her opinion. Hence, the same question every day. I wanted her to have fun. I wanted her to look forward to our rides and understand that we could build a solid relationship based on positivity, not competitive drive.
Because of this, our arena looked a little different. My trainer and I had tarps, balls, and poles laid out every which way. The kiddie pool and pedestal even made the occasional appearance. With the help of some creativity, we were making progress. But I have to admit, there were moments where I doubted our approach. The well-known classical dressage trainer would be working her students in perfect collection on circle after circle. I, on the other hand, would be teaching my whale of a scruffy grey pony how to stand on a pedestal. The trainer’s students asked me several times if she was pregnant.
Despite my doubts, we were making progress. She could walk, trot, and haphazardly canter around the ring. Trail rides were still out of the question, but she wasn’t scared of tarps, or plastic bags, or anything else. We would play games where I would hide treats (low-cal!) around the ring and she would hunt for them. We even started to lose weight as I could work her under saddle more and more.
The first time that I got on her was pure magic. Terrifying and adrenaline-rushing magic, but still one of the highlights of my riding career. After groundwork for two months, I could put our relationship to the test under saddle. I got on her with a bareback pad and my trainer ponied us around the ring. Then she let us loose. My heart was in my mouth. I was so thrilled and excited and terrified. The first ride is a crucial moment in every horse’s life. If I made it a bad experience, she could wind up with even more baggage to work through.
Gabby had to trust me in order to let me ride her around the ring after 9 years of barely any human contact. The fact that she allowed me onto her back spoke volumes about our relationship. After that ride, I felt like I had finally started to accomplish what I always wanted to.
For the first time in my riding career, I felt a true relationship with a horse that wasn’t built on competition or drive. Better yet, she started to come to me in the field. When I first met Gabby, catching her was a production. She was barely halter broke and would run away when she saw you. You had to approach her from the off-side. She would turn her rear end towards you and present you with a lovely visual of her gray tail. This intimidated the crap out of me, at first. But then I discovered that she was asking for bum scratches. Yes, this horse loved to have the base of her tail scratched down. Then and only then, would you be able to catch her.
After some trials and tribulations, she became easier to catch. The day that I called her name and saw her cantering, not walking, but cantering over the hill and towards the gate took my breath away. I felt like jumping for joy. I called my mom, “Gabby came to me today!”
We celebrated together over the phone. It was such a big step for a neglected little pony and filled me with so much joy.
My “have fun” philosophy that was slowly being cultivated with the help of my trainer caught me some flak at the barn. At one point, I was trying to work Gabby through a tarp and kiddie pool combination when I could hear the dressage trainer at the other end of the ring openly discussing my training strategy. “What do you think that kiddie pool is for?” she would say, half-scoffingly to her student. “What is she trying to do?”
It didn’t matter that Gabby was starting to enjoy her hunt for treats and was becoming a little bit braver with the ball. It didn’t matter that working with the kiddie pool would teach her to stand still for the inevitable hoof-soaking that she would need some day. Or that the pedestal taught her where her feet were and helped her stretch out her back. My methods weren’t on the dressage pyramid and therefore, were complete and utter bunk. I gritted my teeth in frustration and tried to ignore her mumblings at the other end of the ring.
It was almost the start of the show season and my competitive drive started to rear its head. My trainer and I discussed entering her in some low level dressage tests or maybe a trail class or two. Gabby and I’s sessions started to take on a little bit more intensity. Then, one rainy snowy night I walked up to Gabby’s paddock and she walked away from me.
That stung. A lot. I was in the middle of second-guessing our planned show season, when I noticed blood dripping down her hind leg. In the cold, dark air, I squinted. She was lame at the walk. My heart caught in my throat. She wasn’t letting me catch her because she was trying to tell me something– she was in pain. The moment I understood, she stopped and looked at me. We walked to the barn together painstakingly slowly.
After a few days of waiting, monitoring, and hoping, the worst was discovered. Gabby had a broken leg. Her cannon bone was fractured and a small piece had chipped off and was floating nearby. My trainer, who was also Gabby’s owner, mentioned euthanasia and my stomach just dropped. To some degree, I understood. Gabby wasn’t earning her any money and was just on field board. She couldn’t be on the stall rest she needed. On the other hand, I loved this little mare but didn’t have the funds or the time to provide her with what she needed.
The vet wanted to forge ahead in spite of our hesitations. If she was quiet enough out in the field, she could have a chance at healing. A month of bandage changes and stifled hopes later, we had some good news. She was healing relatively well, but still had a long road ahead of her. I was happy that she was healing, but I was still worried. My childhood horse had to be retired at the age of 13 after tearing a suspensory. It was so painful for me to give up the future that I saw with him. I couldn’t do it again. I felt helpless. As a college student, I didn’t have the money to buy Gabby and put her on the stall rest the vet recommended. I went to school an hour away, I couldn’t be there everyday to change her bandages and take care of her the way that I wanted to.
In my helplessness, I felt myself withdraw. It would be a stupid financial decision to take on a horse with a broken leg. Gabby and I had built a relationship based on trust and connection. It was so hard to let that go– but I couldn’t torture myself by watching her limp around her turnout paddock and be powerless to help.
Gabby eventually got the stall rest she needed with the help of a small turnout pen and a stall loaned to Gabby’s owner by a kind boarder. But for me, the damage was done. I felt powerless. I couldn’t help her. I had to leave her in the care of her owner and trust that she would continue to heal and wouldn’t be put to sleep. I left the barn and took the lessons that Gabby taught me with me.
Gabby taught me how to be patient, stand up for what I believe in, and most importantly, how to listen to what matters most. Riding isn’t always about the blue ribbon or perfect collection. Sometimes it’s just about that first ride on a scruffy little horse. Sometimes it’s about understanding how love and trust can create a relationship between two wildly different species, between predator and prey. Now, almost two years later, I greet my rescued 3-year-old mare with the same question I greeted Gabby.
There is a body in my backyard. He does not belong to me and yet when I bought the house I adopted his bones right along with it.
They lie 6 feet underground, the weight of the earth pressing them deeper into the embrace of the Rainbow Bridge. After a lifetime of abuse, this is now his final resting place — marked only by a simple blue cross, worn and falling apart with the ravages of time. His body was dragged there by a kind neighbor who took pity on his herd. They had stood over him for days, staring at their future.
I know of his story only through hearsay, but I hear stories like it so often that I feel as though I know it in its entirety. His story is one of divorce, daddy’s money, and responsibility. It is quieter than usual, more insidious. It was not featured on the news. It never made the rounds on Facebook. But it is no less tragic.
It starts with a woman who thought she loved horses.
After she bought a house with her husband, her father built her a barn. A paddock was put up with care. A large run-in shed filled one corner, a barn the other. A shiny white stock trailer appeared and a parade of miniature horses high-stepped off of it.
The dead body was among them, but he did not yet know it.
As the months went by, more horses appeared for a total of nine on a one acre field. The little girl next door would come by with treats and the herd would greet her overjoyed. But then, the winter came. With the cold weather their once shiny coats grew caked with mud. The thickness of winter hair hid gaunt hips and the overwhelming presence of a skeleton underneath skin. Food had stopped coming many months ago and hooves had grown long and curled due to a lack of care.
The horses began to gallop to the little girl who fed them snacks, their eyes wide with starvation. The little girl knew nothing but that ponies were prettier when they ran, though I hope her grandfather’s eyes grew slightly wider with concern.
The neighbor on the other side of the house began to grow worried. Hay was dumped into the paddock. Concerns were voiced. Rescues were called. Still, no help came.
The same woman that once delivered beautiful shiny ponies to their new home, now stayed in the house more and more. Yelling rang across the yard. Doors were slammed. Gravel flew as cars sped off.
More time passed. Still, no help came for the horses on the overcrowded acre.
“No trespassing” signs went up. The hay started to come in the middle of the night. The horses grew skinnier. Yelling in the house grew louder and then silence fell.
A few weeks later, the horse died.
The kind neighbor waited for the right people to finally take responsibility. Still, time went by. Days later the neighbor ignored the trespassing sign. Driving an orange tractor, he rumbled onto the field and pulled the body from it, saving the herd from the stench of their dead friend.
Showing love the small figure hadn’t known in some time, the neighbor lowered the horse into the hole he had dug. The sound of dirt hitting the tired body called home another child. A small blue cross with yellow writing went up and the pony found peace.
Finally, a few days too late, someone had taken responsibility and gave him the treatment in death that he never received in life. And now, despite the years that have gone by, I arrive and read the story in what was left behind. I see the desperation in the chewed wooden dividers and the paddock full of weeds. I hear the sounds of starvation in the perfectly clean, tags still on it, feed scoop sitting inside the barn. My heart aches with the neglect and sadness emanating from the poop-filled sheds and the trash that I pick out of the paddock.
Every broken piece of ceramic, child’s toy, plastic bag, styrofoam, and rusty nail that I collect reminds me of those who came before me and how they will never be forgotten again.
Now, when I look out across the field at my two happy horses, I see the hoof prints of neglect that haunt the earth beneath them. I think of the rescue that came long after the divorce. I think of the dead body dragged through the sparse weeds. I think of the little girl that was the hope of a starving herd.
And I feel responsible.
Responsible for honoring their bygone sufferings, to fix the cross, and cherish the animals that stand in their places. Because the only way that I know how to honor their memory is to love my horses and love all whose hooves walked across my lawn, even before it was mine. And even though they are now long-gone.
Let’s get this straight: negativity has no place in the equine world. The horse is an animal that lives in the now. They don’t care if your dressage test was botched — they probably didn’t even know they were performing a test. But the mental state of the rider can have a significant impact on the horse, and constant negative energy should have no place in that partnership.
And yet we see negativity Every. Single. Day. The media has had a field day with the story of Michael Barisone and Lauren Kanarek. Not only the fact that an ex-Olympic dressage rider shot one of his students, but that the victim faced online bullying afterwards. If you want my opinion, the story just sounds like a tragic ending to a bad relationship between two not-so-great people. Equestrians are so rarely in the New York Times. Yet, the big story that gets in the paper is about attempted murder and bullying. Is that really what we want to be known for?
Meanwhile, another high-profile mess, SafeSport and George Morris, has also made the pages of the Times. Another equine great brought down by a past tainted with sexual abuse of his students. More online bullying and discord ensued after that news broke. Equestrians everywhere fell on both sides of the split as to whether or not the allegations were true.
In the midst of all of this, videos of animal abuse regularly circulate the internet, filling our heads with unforgettable images of tragedy and pain. I believe that it’s important to remember that we are our animals’ voices and that role comes with the added responsibility of standing up for them — but I don’t need my Facebook feed filled with horrible videos every other post.
Even with all of these negative stories and images, equestrians somehow feel the need to bring ourselves down too. I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I came across an ad for C4 Belts. The first image was a belt for eventers with the phrase “Why suck at one discipline when you can suck at all three?”
Ha ha, yes, very funny. But to me, that attitude can be so damaging to both horse and rider that why the heck would we want to emulate it, even as a joke? Go to any horse show, stand at the ring, and wait. If you wait long enough, you’ll hear trainers say absolutely despicable things to their students. Tears are far too common on show days when riders break under the pressure of making their trainer look good with a perfect round.
All of that pressure creates fear and anger in riders that gets passed on to our horses. It’s common and accepted for riders to growl — sometimes literally scream — at their horses to tap into that prey drive, pick up the pace, and jump a little higher in a jump off.
That animal blesses you by not throwing you on the ground every day and our response is to put the fear of God into them? We’re humans — not mountain lions. Acting like one is a surefire way to ruin your relationship with your horse.
There are significant repercussions for the maelstrom of negativity that currently has its talons in the equestrian world. At the heart of our sport is the horse. The creatures whose hoof prints built America and made possible every technological advance that we have today. The horse is second in its impact on history only to the wheel. Negative attitudes, training practices, and bullying all comes back on the horse. The animal that can sense every breath, shift of our seat bones, and pretty much read our minds must be undeniably burdened by our human pain, anger, and negativity.
As equestrians, our partnership with our horses is vital to the success of our businesses, riding careers, and happiness. Negativity is a surefire way to destroy any foundation that partnership was built on. The rise of positive reinforcement training and change-makers like “The Zen Racehorse” is a sign that we are finally recognizing the impact of our emotions on our four-legged charges. While I’m not entirely sold on using just positive reinforcement training, I’m grateful for the fact that it shows a paradigm shift in how we think about our relationships with our horses.
The horse isn’t the only one that suffers from negative attitudes and actions in the equine world. The mental health of our best riders is also at risk. The phrase, “It’s not the horse’s fault” gets pounded into the heart of every serious equestrian. In some ways it’s good. It (should) protect the horse from the blowback of our mistakes. But, that single phrase can bleed surprisingly fast into other areas of our lives. If the horse isn’t at fault then there’s only one party whose fault it can be — the rider’s.
If you ride competitively for too long , you’ll quickly find yourself applying that mindset to everything. Your trainer looks bad because there aren’t enough blue ribbons hanging in the barn aisle at the show? Your fault — if only you hadn’t knocked that rail. The horse tore a tendon in the paddock? Your fault — you probably didn’t condition him well enough. Your family spent far too much money on a horse that was only sound for one season? Your fault — you should have looked at his conformation a little more closely.
Pretty soon, it becomes: You didn’t get that blue ribbon in the equitation class? Your fault — you should have lost that extra five pounds.
Body image is one aspect of horse showing that is just now starting to be talked about. And a good thing too. Eating disorders run rampant in our sport as trainers search for the rider with “the look.” I’ll tell you a secret — it’s always the skinnier rider.
Why do we torture ourselves like this? What happened to just enjoying the ride? Connecting with our horses? Having fun?
In 2020, let’s give ourselves permission to enjoy our sport again. It’s not always about the ribbon, the money you spent on your horse, or striving for perfection. Sometimes it’s about taking the negative with a grain of salt, reveling in our own imperfections, and looking for the positive.
Next time, buy the belt that says “Imperfectly perfect, and loving it.”