Dollars and Sense ~ To Specialize or Not to Specialize

Dollars and Sense ~ To Specialize or Not to Specialize

As the saying goes the way to make a small fortune in the horse business is to begin with a large one. This is no joke. In the management of your horse business it is wise to consider all the options available for improvement of the bottom line. One of these is whether you should specialize in one riding discipline or should you offer a variety to your boarders and students. There are advantages to providing a larger menu of riding options to attract a variety of horse enthusiasts. Here’s a few tips based on my experience of working with trainers as a clinician/advisor.

Can Your Facility Manage a Multi-Discipline Approach?

Obviously different disciplines require different facilities e.g. a dressage arena will have completely different footing to a barrel-racing arena. Show jumping and cross-country will need much larger arenas and outside space to operate at a professional level. An indoor arena used for jumping needs to have sufficient height above fences for rider and horse to safely avoid hitting rafters or trusses.

Every dressage rider looks at a large arena space free of obstacles with delight. Every hunter/jumper looks at a large arena space that is free of obstacles with a ‘hmm.’ If you take on both disciplines clearing jumps back and forth can be tedious. Ideally you have two arenas but this is often not practical.

Western riders may like to practice their barrel racing speeds in and out of the arena charging about at a gallop while the dressage rider will be aghast at the interruption in their schooling session by such commotion. Of course for eventers, three disciplines are already in the pot!

Carriage driving will require groomed tracks and large spaces for training.

Carriage Driving

Look at your facility with a keen professional eye and be honest about your budget. Facility development is expensive.

Cost of Additional Hardware

If you are working with those riders who love to jump you’ll need to budget for the purchase of the lumber, poles and standards. Allow funds for regular maintenance of the jumps for re-painting and associated labor costs. Similarly the dressage brigade will appreciate mirrors, the barrel racers will need barrels etc..

For driving you will also need to invest in different equipment for transportation of carriages/driving equipment if you are taking clients to shows.


Cost of Additional Lesson Horses

While many horses can work across disciplines there are different skill sets required for a horse to be useful in his partnership with you in training everyone from the neophyte to the advanced rider.  The lesson horses will need to be kept tuned up to their job. As we all know, that most valuable asset, the good lesson horse, is not easy to find so be happy you can locate the horses you need to expand your business into other disciplines.

You will also need to invest in different tack such as saddles and bridles. Don’t forget to include all the details in your budget plans.

DressageYour Training Skills

If you are not cognizant of the details of the different riding disciplines then you should certainly further your education in those departments before offering your training services. This may require a new horse for you, certification costs, competition experience and associated costs such as memberships in the USHJA, USDF etc..


If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn a new discipline then you could always resource another trainer to come to your facility and offer the services. Collaboration with other trainers can be very beneficial. It is wise to set the terms out in writing before you start working together. Agree on fees; to which trainer does the client ‘belong’; rules of termination of the agreement; rules of solicitation of clients at your barn; insurance and liability coverage.

Insurance and Liability

Many insurance companies charge more for facilities that offer riding disciplines that are considered more dangerous e.g. jumping over dressage. They also charge more if you offer group lessons as opposed to one on one lessons. Your insurance should allow for outside trainers to come in and work and when asking an outside trainer to develop a new client base at your farm you should be named on their own training liability insurance policy. Seek professional help from an experienced insurance agent before making a commitment to expanding your business.


What if you have zero interest in a multi-discipline option at your farm and wish to focus on one discipline only?

If you are a specialist in a discipline and ride and train at an advanced level this is a good idea. You are well versed and hopefully well respected in your discipline of choice and can attract students that wish to work their way to the top of the sport. Your business branding will be clear-cut and your time will be spent doing the discipline that you love the most.

Show Jumper

Always try to follow your passion and be honest with yourself about how you like to spend your time. Energy, enthusiasm and sincere knowledge can edge that bottom line into positive territory whatever decision you make with regard to whether or not to specialize. Dollars are important but use your common sense when making this decision.


About the author: Nikki Alvin-Smith is an international Grand Prix dressage trainer/clinician who has competed in Europe at the Grand Prix level earning scores of over 72%. Together with her husband Paul, who is also a Grand Prix rider, they operate a private horse breeding/training farm in Stamford, NY.