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Adapting Your Equestrian Business During The COVID-19 Pandemic

How crazy is the world at the moment? This COVID-19 is certainly making 2020 a year we’ll all remember. Quite aside from the health aspect of it, people are struggling to cope financially too, and that is going to be even harder to come back from.

How has it affected me? Right now, I’m meant to be heading towards South Africa, to begin sessions in Cape Town next week. I debated long and hard about it, before deciding I would have to cancel. Now, I don’t think I would have had much choice – flying in from Asia, I think the SA border would have been closed to me, or at least carry a couple of weeks of isolation. Which means I’m free until early June, at least.

The positive advantage that I have over most equestrian businesses is that I don’t have overhead costs. If I’m not working – yes, I don’t earn. But, I only have normal living costs. I’m not renting or paying stable mortgage. I’m not keeping horses, paying vets, farriers, feed stores and hay farmers. I will survive, because I can quietly hibernate, live cheaply and keep my head down.

What can other equestrian businesses do to survive? We’ve been discussing this around the world, and there are two important parts to plan – what are you spending, and what can you be earning?

Expenses – are there places that you can save money?

Horses, unfortunately, are not like bicycles that can be parked when they’re not being ridden. But, can you reduce your overheads? The first, biggest saving, is, can you turn your horses out to grass?

As soon as they are out you have no bedding costs, you have reduced hay costs and possibly reduced feed, if your grazing is at the right point of the year. Also, if you don’t have riders, your horses are on self-exercise, so less work riders are needed. Obviously, this needs to be in the horse’s best interests – turning your overweight laminitis-prone Shetland pony out onto fresh spring grazing isn’t an option, but an enclosed yard could be.

What about shoeing? Your horses won’t be competing for a while, this maybe the time for trying either a half set or trims, rather than full.

Lessons will be on hold, but books, DVDs and online courses are a great way to keep up your learning. Companies such as offer free courses, so you can keep your learning on track without bankrupting yourself. Not helpful for instructors trying to earn a living though.

How about the other side, what are you doing to earn a living?

Businesses now can work in one of two ways; actual product / lessons / training / services, or virtual.

If you have a riding school, the lessons are real life, contact with a horse. Not easy when your pupils are in lockdown. Lectures, demos, shows and events are all cancelled or postponed. Income is being lost, rather than generated.

The other side of the coin is online businesses. These only provide content online, nothing face to face. And, they can be affected by power cuts, postal issues, online banking issues etc. Either of these two, physical or online, can be affected by worldwide issues. So, what to do? Question how you can have half your business in person, and half online.

Do you offer demos / lectures? Could you turn these into online webinars? People pay a slightly reduced fee and can still watch the horse being clipped, or lunged etc.

Do you lecture for riding club or pony club tests? How can these be put online?

Do you offer unmounted sessions, working on gym balls or standing and running through body awareness? These can work well through online programs.

An online horse show – people paying to enter a photograph of their horse. Or, online dressage – if people still have access to their own horse and arena, they can film themselves riding through a test and compete virtually.

Empty your spare room and have a Horsemart ad listing session of all that unused tack that all equestrians seem to have lying around.

One riding school who I work with is offering a clever idea – their arena can be accessed from the main road. While not in lockdown, they are still able to offer social isolation lessons. A horse is prepared, all of his tack being wiped down to disinfect it. He is taken to the arena, tied to the fence and left there, with the rider’s part of a teaching radio headset, also wiped clean. The instructor retreats to the opposite side of the arena. The pupil arrives, coming in from the main road. She collects the horse and headset, and she and the instructor can carry out the lesson, without having come anywhere near each other. After the lesson, she wipes down the radio and tack, leaving the horse tied to the fence, for the instructor to collect after she has gone.

Another is bagging up all their old muck heaps and using her time to deliver sacks or well-rotted manure to client’s houses. She doesn’t generally have time for this, and as they aren’t locked in, she can still move about. Because all she is doing is dumping a sack at the end of their path, she isn’t contacting people directly, and is sorting out her manure pile problems at the same time.

In some ways, this virus may actually be helping us by getting people thinking about how things could be done. If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got… What costs could you cut, and how can you continue to offer what you do, without putting yourself or others at risk? Think outside the box – you have far more ideas and resources than you imagine in your initial panic…

So where am I actually sending this from? A tiny speck of an island in Indonesia, where I will be hammock testing for the next little while…

Stay safe!

Ashleigh Sanderson
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 20-03-2020
Ashleigh Sanderson is a riding coach who travels internationally full time. Part coach, part nomad, part thrill-seeker, Ashleigh is always looking for new ways to explain the principles of ethical, logical and horse-friendly riding and horse care. Her website name,, comes from the Malay and Indonesian languages and so reflects the amount of time she spends in Asia. Kuda meaning horse, and guru meaning teacher. Although initially this was a nickname given by the local staff, she has turned the meaning around a little, thinking of it as, “Your horse is your teacher, I just translate”.