Barnes Equestrian Quarterly Review
Making a Barnes Equestrian quarterly review may seem a silly idea. Especially from a tiny equestrian startup yard that has been formally going since mid-December of last year!
However this is no financial review. Instead, I thought this could be an interesting and candid insight into the trials and tribulations of the journey into my first year of business.
Let’s start the Barnes Equestrian quarterly review and see where this goes…
Ups and Downs
2020 has been a very unique year. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the highs and lows of what has been offered in the year so far.
The yard opened in mid-December of 2019 – a date that was pushed back due to difficulties with budget. Basically things got to the stage where I was borderline just going to give up on the whole idea. I’m a perfectionist and everything was going less than perfect as far as budget and living on a tight budget to make this all happen. Needless to say building them was a huge highlight in my life and now I have a physical yard for Barnes Equestrian.
It wasn’t easy to get to that stage but it was a weight lifted from my mind to reach it.
The Barnes Equestrian Quarterly Review is starting to take shape, eh?
The way it all worked out with timing was quite unfortunate really. A mid-December opening meant I was opening right in the middle of the Christmas run up. That’s not an ideal time to open an Equestrian yard because nobody wants to spend more than necessary with Christmas upon us.
January was equally as frustrating. Christmas had passed. New Year was over with but January is a month where people are suffering mental and financial fatigue after the festive season. It was the longest, most plodding month ever. Enquiries were coming which kept me focused but the month itself was never ending. Purely from a morale point of view, I was happy to see the back of January! It did have its good moments though. New clients and new friends made for life.
February was a good month. Things had settled after the festive season and enquiries were picking up a lot. My advertising push was paying off and my name was getting out there. It was a pretty good month for business.
It was also a heartbreaking month where the yard lost a much loved young horse in the form of of Jelle. Sadly he lost his battle for life and despite the best efforts of vets and Sommerton Equine Hospital, he wasn’t a viable candidate for potential life-saving surgery.
In February it was also becoming clear that attempts to prevent the worldwide spread of COVID-19 were becoming futile with cases springing up around the globe and putting Italy under immense pressure here in Europe.
March began with a Barnes Equestrian highlight – it symbolised the first time I’d have a yard full of clients. I was full and that was a very proud moment.
For a few weeks the yard was getting busy – albeit with social distancing. It was a joy to see the yard thriving with life despite social restrictions. Social distancing become a way of life, as did good hygiene. Just as the last client filled the yard and began to settle, disaster struck…
No sooner was the yard full, lockdown was implemented in Ireland as a means to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve.
Remember when I said this year was unique? Coronavirus is what made it so. Our whole way of life as we know it has changed. My whole vision for the yard I dreamed of having has changed. Until there is a vaccine or cure for Coronavirus I fear that my vision has changed drastically.
From December it was clear there was a problem in China regarding COVID-19; but it’s in China. It wasn’t worldwide.
From mid-January it was clear that eventually, one way or another, it was going to travel across the world. On February 29th the first case was confirmed in Ireland.
A dynamic situation such as this needs dynamic thinking
Prior to the first case being reported I had implemented a plan of action to promote good hygiene and cleanliness on the yard. As well as that I made clear plans for the event of a local yard outbreak and even announced plans for the event where I contract the virus myself. It’s important to communicate such plans beforehand to your clients in order to make them aware that:
1) I am taking the situation seriously.
2) That there are plans in place for such events.
3) That nothing is being sprung on people out of the blue.
I always say it, but a dynamic situation such as this needs dynamic thinking. Coronavirus is still relatively new and we’re still learning much about it. I’m a believer in covering all possible scenarios and this was no different.
The Mental Aspect
When lockdown was announced for 2 weeks to start with I locked down the yard. Nobody was allowed up at all. This was a tough decision but I feel I was justified in taking this stance to start with. I encouraged people to stay at home and allow me the same chance. Due to the incubation period of the virus, you may not show immediate symptoms. Locking down the yard was a precaution for everybody.
The truth is, there’s no official guidance for livery yards. Nobody is really coming together with a clear plan and advising any one course of action. Even over in the U.K. the BHS and BEF differ on their approaches to horse owners and livery yards. The Isle of Wight appears to give more official guidance with respect to horses than the rest of the U.K. authorities. Due to that, and the climate we find ourselves in now, a lot of this is trial and error. I have it all playing out in my head and I’m trying to find ways of making a fair environment where nobody is overwhelmed. One where risk is minimal and where there’s still some normalcy in life.
By the end of the initial 2 weeks I was physically and mentally drained. It’s not that my workload had increased but I felt that isolation take its toll. Routine is my enemy at the best of times, I love randomness and a sporadic life. Lockdown on the yard took that away and gave me a routine. For me personally, predictability was my problem.
After those 2 weeks my brain was fried. It made me consider my clients and what they were going through. I looked at my own history through hardship and realised just how much my horse meant in those times.
When lockdown was extended for a further 3 weeks, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the yard on lockdown. Not only for my clients mental well-being but for my own.
Mental health and horses is often overlooked. It’s easy for us to take advantage of these wonderful animals and not realise the complete picture of what they do for us.
Horses have a power about them. They can relax us. A horse can make you feel as though everything is okay. They can do our minds a world of good just by standing before us – before we even ride them.
The mental health aspect of horse ownership and the overall good they bring all of us is something to consider as a priority.
Trial and Error
That’s what all this is. Initially when lockdown was extended I was considering my options. I knew I had to open the yard up again but in a limited manner. The problem is… How is it best to implement this?
I had options but choosing which one was difficult. I wanted to choose the right one.
The issue with this was between 5 clients who spend on average 2 hours on the yard, that’s 8 hours on the day gone already. I have to then disinfect between each visit. Just to wipe down surfaces and keep my biosecurity measures to the highest standard. By allowing 30 minutes to do that (as well as rotating turnout horses, etc) this adds 2 hours to the day between those 5 clients. That’s 10 hours of the day gone.
That also eats into times where I have to head to town for supplies for myself or the yard. For feed, hay, bedding etc.
Unless I was to designate cleaning between clients, I think this was always going to be a push. Plus, I’d rather keep contact with cleaning agents and that responsibility to myself rather than share it.
Give Everyone a Day
I opted in the end for this idea. Each person gets a day of the week to come up and visit. They can spend as long as they want here. They can do what they want. It breaks up the week and gives everyone something to look forward to. It seemed like a good alternative. This is what I opted for in the first week of the 3 week extension.
However, as it was taking place I had a change of heart. I realised I could work a routine so that each person gets every second day. I’ve split the yard into 2 groups and one group gets Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The other gets Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Sunday’s alternate so that each group gets to visit on a Sunday.
I’m willing to admit that some choices I’ve made during this crisis may have been viewed as extreme or even harsh. I’m sure that even my clients may have felt somewhat isolated or pushed aside despite paying for a service. The horses are always a priority and their care is always of the utmost importance to all of us… It’s just difficult to find a true balance of everything.
However, I think I have found that balance.
It really is trial and error. I have to put safety first. I have to consider the safety of the people on my yard as well as myself. Only realistic decisions can be made. Decisions that are manageable. I have to try and make fair choices. It’s not an easy task trying to find a balance of safe and fair. It’s often a balance of pushing clients away and retaining their trust. Especially when they don’t know you as a person very well.
The Future of Barnes Equestrian
Right now, I have one empty stable due to a sad departure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once lockdown lifts I will start advertising again. I also have my next Barnes Equestrian Quarterly Review to look forward to now!
When restrictions are lifted I have a plan to have a phased return to normalcy.
Depending on what measures are actually relaxed next, I may keep to the current system or implement a staggered time system once more.
It’s looking like staggered times will become a new reality on the yard. It’s possible that down the line we may be able to work it a little more loosely. We may be able to have some crossover in times and bring back a social experience to the yard. However I won’t risk anybody to have that back. IF that happens, it’s when the time is right.
It’s also possible that things turn worse once more and that lockdown will happen again. In that event I won’t rule out a yard lockdown as I believe it depends on the situation, for example, if the virus is widespread or relatively controlled.
If a lockdown does happen in Ireland again, the preferable route to take is simply what I’m doing now. Every second day and stagger the times in that. This system works well and so any yard lockdown will always be a last resort.
The Barnes Equestrian Project
I have a phased plan for the year ahead. Phase 1 was getting the stables up, finished and filled with lovely horses and great clients.
Phase 2: I want to (finally) extend water and electricity down to the yard. I want to gravel the centre of the yard as well. I have a small paddock which I’m looking to woodchip and have as a winter turnout paddock for when the fields are too wet. Finally as a side project I’d like to build some cross-country jumps for the smaller field with the (not a Hickstead derby) bank!
Phase 3: To build a secure tack room, shavings storage and dedicated feed room.
Phase 4: More stables. I can build another 6 which brings my total to 13 stables on the Barnes Equestrian yard.
In Other News
Of course there is more than just the physical yard and Coronavirus so what is there for the Barnes Equestrian Quarterly Review?
In my first year of the Facebook page I amassed over 6,000 followers – a figure I’m pretty proud of. Instagram has over 300 followers. I could do more to work on the IG platform and the Barnes Equestrian brand on there but I also need to research more into how to promote my business on Instagram.
Many brands perform on a mass follow / unfollow routine in Instagram but I’m personally not a fan of that.
Mainly I focus my time into Facebook and Instagram while the others serve as placeholders for the BarnesEQ username.
The brand could benefit from expanding its presence on each platform but for now time and energy is better spent on the place where most eyes are – Facebook. However I have neglected the Google Business listing and so I plan to find ways to better utilise that asset alongside existing marketing assets.
The Facebook Page
I have plans for a more social interaction on the Facebook page. I’ve several ideas in the mix and I look forward to working them out and creating that more social experience. This has actually been something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I’ve never dedicated the time to make it work.
(Again) It’s all trial and error. I have ideas and I’ll see if they catch on!
The website has developed a lot over the last year and I’ve implemented much on there. Again with the site, I’m trying to balance it for the experience I wish to give my clients. Professionalism yet personal.
I need to update various aspects of it and change some tabs and pages.
The blog section could be better laid out and while I like my brand colours (black and white) I’m not entirely happy with the look and feel right now. I’ll know exactly what I want when I finally reach it but it does need some more attention to get it right and in that ball park.
The main thing is having something up, right?
The winter just gone by was rough. I had horses living out longer than I wanted to and as a result the field was poached and bare looking by the end of it.
Thankfully they’ve been taken care of and paddocks are in place for the Barnes Equestrian yard turnout.
The theory behind the paddocks is that half can be grazed in summer while the other half rests. There’ll be constant rotation of the paddocks in an attempt to let them rest before they become overgrazed. Come winter I’m aiming to have 3 of the 6 paddocks still with grazing and then split turnout between those and the woodchip turnout paddock.
This way the fields won’t get poached and overgrazed. The horses still get daily turnout and there will be less in terms of restrictions on turnout in winter months – Especially on the wettest days.
The back field I hope to house some cross-country jumps in to go along with the newly formed bank. This paddock will be a great asset in summer months for some riding and a bit of fun.
I’m glad to have gotten the fields TLC out of the way for now. One less thing to worry about in future now!
2020 so far feels absolutely surreal from both a personal and professional aspect. There are ups and downs and that’s always true in business.
I had this vision when I started this project of having a lively friendly yard with clients who interact and get along. My vision is to have the Barnes Equestrian yard as a big family. I planned trips out, I planned a social experience while on the yard.
A lot of that has now changed.
Instead we’re all pushed into a life of social distancing and lockdown. A life of uncertainty. None of us know what’s happening any more. Our plans… Our futures, have changed entirely. This is a time like no other in living memory. Not only for everyone on the Barnes Equestrian yard, but for everyone around the world.
I sincerely hope that when I write my next Barnes Equestrian Quarterly Review (we’ll aim for June!) that the situation has turned for the better. Barnes Equestrian is still doing well from a business standpoint despite ups and downs through the year so far.
It’s a crazy time and Barnes Equestrian isn’t alone in this scenario. Every yard across the country is facing some kind of impact to their day-to-day business. We’re all in this together.
Whatever happens next, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support so far.
To my current clients for their understanding in all the recent limitations.
To my past clients for continuing to be people it’s a pleasure to know.
Whether you’re reading this Barnes Equestrian Quarterly Review, following my social media pages or have even helped to physically build the yard. I owe you all a thank you.
Feel free to follow Barnes Equestrian on Facebook for all the latest day-to-day information and news as it happens!