Monday 30 January 2012

Hoof Ride's London Horse Network Meeting

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It took my friend and I almost two hours of driving from Berkshire to Brixton but after some weak attempts at map reading and direction guessing we found The Ebony Horse Club, the place for yet another great initiative from Hoof Ride. I've enjoyed attending the meetings and seminars for the last year and I feel like they gave me a much better understanding of the industry as a whole.
Today it was all about marketing and PR, something I probably feel the strongest at but nevertheless it always helps to learn from pros.

It is very true that you can have the best possible service or product but if nobody knows about it, that value is lost.
The speaker in the morning was Jane Fraser and she talked us through some basics of SWOT analysis as well as being able to describe the businesses for what they really offer. It was all done in form of an interactive exercise which allows for comparing the problem areas as well as strong points.
Jane gave us some useful advice on how to write press releases and understand the good timing for various events.
One exercise in particular provoked a discussion on staff retention.
From the point of view of someone who was employed by many riding establishments for number of years I find it interesting that some issues the horse businesses encounter that relate to staff are the same in 2012 as they were in 2002...I guess all of us who work as grooms, instructors, bring-this-tack-up-that type staff know how we would like to be treated and what floats our employment boats but why are there no changes and same problems year after year? Do we not communicate effectively? Is it that the demands cannot be met for some reason? And if so, why?
I don't have the answers to those questions and until I employ people to work for me I don't think I can objectively assess the situation.
My opinion is that the money isn't as big a problem as some employers might think. Sure if the pay is very low nobody will want to stay for long but it's the simple respect and attention to individual needs that's important. I have friends working very long hours, mucking out 15 stables a day, tacking up horses, feeding, haying up in the fields, rushing through the day to get everything done and I have done it  myself in the past. It's hard physical work and I personally did it to be able to ride and train and so do many of my friends.
Someone said to me recently "you know, it would be nice if during an especially hard day, my employer noticed I'm running on empty and said - hey, have 10 more minutes for your coffee break, catch your breath - I would have appreciated that hundred times more than that £10 more for staying after hours".
I feel lucky to be in charge of my time and to be able to rest when I feel I need now so the quality of my job is always as high as I wish it to be but there were many days were I could identify with this statement.
Perhaps what really needs addressing is the hiring process so young people are understood, their motives known (and re-checked periodically as they change all the time) and their life plans helped with. If it's a "lifestyle reward" industry then maybe more attention is needed to non-monetary benefits.
If biggest reward for a low paid groom is to make horses in her charge look and feel great then giving her ten horses to care for with one hour a day to do them all is not going to give her any job satisfaction...

Sad procedures are still very much in place even at well regarded, nicely presented establishments. Even being freelance you come across people who think that if they pay you enough they don't have to bother with your feelings, needs or opinions. You are just a mucker-outer, horse exerciser or money maker (when you teach) they can pick and drop as they wish.
But then again, I am sure there will be people out there arguing that such situation is common across other professions, other industries...

I'm an idealist and would love to see happy people doing what they love and having pleasure doing it. Whether it is possible in real life? I hope so. It's great these issues are discussed and there are employers out there though who stroke the right balance.

I do love to see places like Ebony Horse Club. No idea about staff satisfaction there but it's one great place that must be changing so many lives in the area.

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