From Humble Beginnings to Equestrian Excellence

Welcome to the Just Horse Riders blog, where we delve into the fascinating journey of a riding school that went from almost shutting down to becoming one of the most successful in the country. In this special post, we highlight the amazing story shared in episode 12 of our podcast, featuring none other than Sharon, the inspirational force behind the transformation of the riding school. Watch now or listen now to the podcast for the full story!

Humble Beginnings

When Sharon moved to the dilapidated farmhouse on a whim of love, she had no idea what lay ahead. "I had no intentions of working with horses," she admits. The riding school was in a sorry state, barely scraping by with a handful of old ponies and a few part-time staff. It was a business running on fumes, but Sharon saw potential where others saw failure.

"The riding school was failing. There wasn’t enough money coming in to pay the few staff we had or even to support the horses," Sharon recalls. But instead of walking away, she decided to take a closer look, driven by her innate business acumen and a desire to help. "I know a lot about business," she confidently told her husband, Kevin.

Turning Point: The Shetland Ponies Plan

One of Sharon’s first brilliant ideas involved two naughty Shetland ponies. She proposed taking them to local school fairs to offer rides for kids, charging a pound per ride and handing out free lesson vouchers at the end. Kevin was skeptical, but Sharon persisted. "Luckily, it was around April or May, so I called all the local primary schools," she says. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

This plan marked the beginning of a new era for the riding school. The ponies became a hit at school fairs, drawing in curious parents and children alike. "We charged a pound a ride, and at the end of every ride, we gave everybody a free lesson voucher. And guess what? That’s where it all started," Sharon explains. This simple yet ingenious strategy breathed new life into the business, attracting new clients and generating much-needed revenue.

From Zero to 800 Lessons a Week

With the initial success of the Shetland ponies plan, Sharon didn’t stop there. She continued to innovate and market the riding school aggressively. Over the years, her hard work and dedication paid off spectacularly. "At its height, just before Covid, we were doing 800 lessons a week. We had 70 horses and about 40 staff members," Sharon proudly states.

The transformation was nothing short of miraculous. The riding school went from the brink of closure to becoming a thriving enterprise. This wasn’t just about business growth; it was about building a community and creating a safe, welcoming environment for both riders and staff. "It was hard work—seven-day weeks and 14-hour days—but we did it," Sharon reflects.

Want to hear more about Sharon’s incredible journey? Watch now or listen now to episode 12 of our podcast!

Developing a Passion-Driven Team

One of the keys to the riding school’s success was Sharon’s focus on building a team of passionate individuals. "What was clear to me very early on was that everyone involved, from the staff to the clients, had a passion for horses," she says. This passion was a powerful driving force that kept everyone motivated, even during the toughest times.

Understanding this, Sharon sought to provide her team with more than just jobs; she aimed to offer them career paths. "For the business to be successful, I needed a good team around me. And for that, they needed to be happy in their home life and have a decent income," she explains. This approach not only improved staff retention but also ensured that the riding school maintained high standards of service and care for the horses.

Investing in Infrastructure

As the business grew, so did the need for better facilities. Sharon recalls, "We went from one arena to a second, a third, and eventually a fourth arena." Each expansion was a significant investment, but it was necessary to accommodate the increasing number of clients and provide them with the best possible experience.

Building these arenas wasn’t cheap. "Back then, an outdoor arena cost about £40,000," Sharon notes. But these investments paid off, allowing the riding school to offer a variety of services and attract even more clients. The new facilities also helped in hosting events and accommodating large groups, further boosting the school’s reputation and revenue.

Marketing Magic

Sharon’s marketing skills played a crucial role in the riding school’s success. In the early days, she utilized every tool available, especially social media. "Social media is the best marketing tool ever," she emphasizes. Through strategic posts on platforms like Facebook, she managed to reach a wide audience and bring in new clients consistently.

One particularly creative idea was targeting singles for riding lessons. "I managed to get 12 singles for a Sunday afternoon session," Sharon recalls. This not only filled the slots but also created a unique social experience for the participants. "It was like speed dating on horses," she jokes. This innovative approach kept the school’s offerings fresh and engaging, ensuring a steady stream of clients.

Interested in learning more about Sharon’s marketing strategies? Watch now or listen now to our podcast for more insights!

The Role of the British Horse Society

Another significant factor in the school’s growth was its collaboration with the British Horse Society (BHS). "We weren’t approved by the BHS when I first joined," Sharon says. Achieving this accreditation was a challenging but necessary step. The approval process involved ensuring that all horses were well-cared for, the tack was correctly fitted, and the environment was safe for both horses and clients.

In 2010, the riding school applied for BHS approval. "We had a very nice inspector who was helpful. We weren’t quite there, but she approved us on the condition that we got the rest in place over the next 12 months," Sharon recounts. This milestone not only validated the school’s efforts but also opened doors to further opportunities and collaborations.

The Pony Club Collaboration

Sharon's innovative marketing and dedication to quality did not go unnoticed. Soon, the Pony Club took an interest in how Just Horse Riders was able to attract so many clients. This collaboration opened up new opportunities and further established the school’s reputation. "We got involved with the Pony Club as well. They were very intrigued by how we were able to draw in so many clients," Sharon shares.

This partnership was mutually beneficial. It provided the Pony Club with a successful model to replicate while giving Just Horse Riders access to a broader network of equestrian enthusiasts. "We were getting phone calls left, right, and center from all the riding schools saying, ‘Would you mind if we came and had a look at you and could you help us with this?’" Sharon recalls.

Celebrity Encounters

One of the more amusing and memorable aspects of the riding school's rise to fame was its brush with celebrities. Aaron recounts a particularly interesting incident involving pop star Will Young. "On this one occasion, I was in my office when Aaron came running in, ‘Will's here,’" Sharon narrates. Initially dismissing it, she soon realized it was indeed Will Young. "I ran upstairs, got changed, put my makeup on, and came out. ‘Hi, Will. Nice to meet you,’" she says with a laugh.

Another notable visit was from Leona Lewis, who, much like Will Young, left a lasting impression. "We had to shut the whole riding school down for Leona Lewis," Sharon explains. Her attention to detail, even insisting on brand new riding gear, highlighted the high standards expected by celebrity clients. "She was lovely and even gave us tickets to her show," Sharon adds.

These celebrity visits not only brought excitement to the school but also served as a testament to its growing prestige. "Having celebrities like Will Young and Leona Lewis visit definitely boosted our profile," Aaron says. Interested in more celebrity stories? Watch now or listen now to our podcast!

Changing Lives Through Horses

One of the most impactful initiatives that Sharon spearheaded was the Changing Lives Through Horses program, in collaboration with the British Horse Society. This program aimed to help young people with special needs through interaction with horses. "We don’t know what it is, but there's something about horses that just calms people down," Sharon notes.

The program was designed to offer an alternative form of education for young people who struggled in traditional school settings. "We decided that on a Friday, and by Monday, we had four students starting," Sharon recalls. These students, who had various conditions such as autism and anxiety, thrived in the new environment. "It was just wonderful to see their confidence grow and reengage with life," she says.

The success of this program was significant, leading to its expansion to other riding schools across the country. "Within two to three years, we had 80 students enrolled in the program," Sharon proudly states. This initiative not only changed the lives of the students but also provided career development opportunities for the instructors. "Our staff were then forming a career. We could afford to pay them more, and they were getting better hours," she explains.

Building a Community

Sharon's efforts extended beyond just running a successful business; she was building a community. The riding school became a haven for people of all ages, offering more than just riding lessons. It became a place where people could find solace, build confidence, and be part of something larger. "The passion that people have for horses is exactly the same as people have for dancing," Sharon says, drawing a parallel to her own love for dance.

This sense of community was especially evident during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic. "Thank God for furlough, and thank God for the grants," Sharon reflects. Despite the financial strain, the support from the local community helped Just Horse Riders stay afloat. "The community was absolutely amazing," she adds.

During the lockdown, Sharon came up with creative ways to keep the school running and maintain engagement. One of these initiatives was offering pony rides for just £5. "I put it on Facebook, and on that day, the cars were queuing all the way down the path," she recalls. This overwhelming response not only provided much-needed income but also reinforced the strong bond between the school and its community.

Want to be part of this amazing community? Check out our latest offerings on our website, and don't forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok!

Developing a Career Path for Equestrian Enthusiasts

One of Sharon’s primary goals was to create a sustainable career path for her staff. "If I want to make this the biggest and best riding school in the country, possibly the world, I need to invest in these people," she explains. Sharon's dedication to her team was evident in her efforts to improve their working conditions and provide professional development opportunities.

Understanding the financial and emotional struggles faced by those passionate about horses, Sharon worked closely with the British Horse Society to ensure that her staff received proper training and fair compensation. "We needed to make sure that they all have a career path, which is very important to anybody," she says.

The Birth of an Independent School

As the demand for more specialized education grew, Sharon decided to take a bold step by establishing an independent school. "The local authorities were pressing us to take some of these young people on full-time," Sharon recalls. To meet this need, she embarked on the rigorous process of becoming Ofsted approved.

This was no small feat. "Offsted is scary and hard," Sharon admits. However, with determination and the support of her dedicated team, Just Horse Riders successfully transitioned into an independent school. By September, they were able to enroll up to 40 students. "We now have by September, we will have the 40 students," Sharon proudly states.

Curious about how this transformation took place? Watch now or listen now to our podcast to hear the full story!

Success Stories and Testimonials

The impact of Just Horse Riders on the community is best illustrated through the success stories of its students. "I've cried at some of the emails we got," Sharon says. Parents often express their gratitude for the positive changes they see in their children. "One parent just said, 'Thank you. My child smiles now,'" Sharon shares.

The school’s unique approach to education, combining traditional academics with hands-on experience in a farm environment, has been a game-changer for many students. "We have students who haven't been to school for three years, and yet they come every day," Sharon notes. The dedication of the staff and the nurturing environment have made a significant difference in these young people's lives.

A Vision for the Future

Looking ahead, Sharon remains committed to expanding and improving Just Horse Riders. "It is an onwards and upwards thing," she says, reflecting on the journey so far. The school continues to evolve, adapting to the needs of its students and the community.

Sharon's vision extends beyond just the riding school. She envisions a future where equestrian education is accessible to all and where the therapeutic benefits of horse riding are widely recognized and utilized. "We don't put the pressure on them; they don't need pressure," she emphasizes, highlighting the school's supportive approach.

Join the Just Horse Riders Community

Whether you're an avid horse rider, a parent seeking a unique educational experience for your child, or simply someone who loves animals, Just Horse Riders has something for you. Explore our wide range of products and services on our website. Stay connected with us on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for the latest updates and special offers.

Don’t miss out on the inspiring stories and valuable insights shared in our podcast. Watch now or listen now to join the conversation and be part of our growing community.

Final Thoughts

The story of Just Horse Riders is a testament to the power of passion, dedication, and community. From its humble beginnings to becoming a beacon of hope and education, the journey has been nothing short of remarkable. "It's not work; it's a lifestyle," Sharon concludes, capturing the essence of what makes Just Horse Riders so special.

Thank you for joining us on this journey. We look forward to welcoming you to the Just Horse Riders family. Remember, there's always something exciting happening at the farm, and we can't wait to share it with you. Watch now or listen now to stay connected and inspired.