In this series, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is partnering with Athletux to bring you business tips from top eventing riders and coaches. Do you have a business question you’d like to see addressed by an eventing professional? Email us at [email protected].
Last month, John Michael Durr shared some pros and cons for those contemplating a migration south for the winter. Making the decision to head to Florida or South Carolina is exciting, and a big move for any sized business. It also triggers about a thousand other smaller decisions that need to be made. Will you take all of your horses, or leave some behind? Who will stay back with the ones at home? How long will you be gone? Who will you train with while you’re there?
One of the most difficult aspects of heading to a warmer climate for a business is the decision to keep the farm back home running. Dani Sussman of Aspire Eventing in Larkspur, Colorado shared her game plan for making the most of the winter months in Ocala while still keeping her thriving program in Colorado up and running.
“I actually own my farm in Colorado, which is an added incentive to keep a strong presence back home," Sussman explained. "For me, it made the most sense to take a group of horses with me and one groom, and then leave clients at home in the capable hands of my barn manager. This keeps revenue coming in from both sides, which allows me to leave for extended periods of time without worrying about it being ‘worth it.’" She added that the planning for this year’s trip began over a year ago. “Being able to leave, and knowing that everything back home is being handled, takes about 14 months of planning. You have to have someone back home that’s able to handle the day-to-day without you worrying about it. We have a phenomenal barn manager who takes great care of the horses and property year round, and she’s able to easily step into a teaching role when I’m gone.”
Keeping your clients back home happy is an important aspect of being able to leave town for an extended period. Sussman recommends having someone the clients know and trust as the face of the operation while you’re gone. “In the past we’ve brought in someone to substitute teach when I’ve been gone, and it’s worked just fine, but the clients really appreciate having someone more constant able to take over for you. They know the horses and riders, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what to work on, without me having to text lesson plans every night. It makes my life easier and the clients love it.” Supplementing lessons with mini-clinics can also keep horses tuned up and give customers something to look forward too while the head honcho is out of town. “We bring in a more advanced instructor once or twice a month to give lessons. Everyone loves it, it’s a really fun way to keep working on the things you’ve been doing in lessons with a new twist. They always have great exercises and it breaks up the length of time you’re gone.”
The importance of breaking up the amount of time you’re away varies depending on how long you’ll be gone. “I’m only going to be out of town about five weeks, so I’m able to stay here the whole time and really focus on the horses I brought along with me. If I were going to be gone much longer, say eight weeks or so, I would fly back and forth. It’s important to stay connected to the activities going on at home, and to do that successfully I would plan a few days every few weeks to make a trip back and check in on everyone.”
Even without a physical visit to your home base, technology is making it easier and easier to have a presence without a plane ticket. “I trust my farm manager and know she’s fine on her own, but it’s really nice to know if there is a problem or a question comes up, she can text me or send me pictures or video immediately. We talk at least every other day, if not every day, just to check in and make sure everything’s going okay.”
While Sussman advises that staff choice is imperative, having clients active in the decision making process is also a move that will make life easier for everyone involved. “Originally I was going to be gone quite a bit longer, but I had clients who were interested in coming along. We sat down and made a game plan that worked for everyone’s budget and time constraints. Sure, it means I’m not away training quite as long, but it also alleviates some of the financial strain, and is great experience for the customers and their horses.” Keeping your clients happy and involved with the trip can be the difference between a successful southern excursion and a stressful one that leaves you wishing you had simply bought a warmer jacket and stayed home. “The clients have to understand that it might be inconvenient to have you gone for a period of time, but they are getting a trainer with a stronger education when you get back. My clients know that when I come home I’m bringing with me all the lessons I learned while I was gone, and they understand why it’s so important.”
“My staff and clients make it possible to come down to Ocala and train with the best of the best, and I appreciate their support to make it happen" Sussman said. "It’s definitely a balancing act keeping a business running back home and being here training and competing, but it’s so worth it.”
Start planning now and you’ll be well prepared for successfully managing two businesses in one next winter.
Dani Sussman owns and operates Aspire Eventing in picturesque Larkspur, Colo. Check out her website for more information about Dani and her dedicated team.