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Horse boarding accounts for 30 percent of revenues for Libby Ferguson's horse training center, which brought in $500,000 in 2010. Among the horses Ferguson cares for on her 25 acres is EA Love Potion.
Horse boarding accounts for 30 percent of revenues for Libby Ferguson's horse training center, which brought in $500,000 in 2010. Among the horses Ferguson cares for on her 25 acres is EA Love Potion.

Business Spotlight: Behind the Blue Ribbons

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Horses helped shape Libby Ferguson’s childhood, and now she helps make equine memories for today’s youth.

As the owner of Libby Ferguson Horse Training Center, she has provided riding lessons, pony parties, camps and horse training since 1988.

“I love working with people and seeing what horses can do for them,” Ferguson says. “I have former students come back years later and tell me how much the lessons meant to them. That’s very rewarding.”

Ferguson grew up in Springfield and Rogersville riding horses and took in her first show horse at age 11, requiring countless hours after school, on the weekends and during school breaks at the barn practicing.

“I didn’t intend on making it a career,” Ferguson says. “But one summer while I was in college, a friend asked me to help her open a barn and I thought it would be a fun way to spend the summer.”

Ferguson started the training center after graduating from Drury University with a business degree. She was performing 10 lessons a week, but in a few months, she was up to 40 lessons a week.

In 2004, Apple Hill Farm owner Linda Martin offered Ferguson a lease arrangement on the 25-acre property, which included use of a nearly 12,000-square-foot indoor arena. The property is large enough to house her 10 lesson horses, 20 horses in stalls and five in the pasture.

Ferguson charges $550 a month for boarding, mostly to teach clients and show horses in training. Boarding makes up about 30 percent of her business, with lessons representing 25 percent and training Arabian show horses and their riders another 20 percent.

The remaining 25 percent of business is in pony parties and children’s camps during holiday and summer breaks. Ferguson holds eight camps a year, six in the summer, one during the winter school break and one during spring break. The camps run all day Monday–Friday and cost $350 per week.

“The campers get to ride two times a day, and we also teach basic care, safety and maintenance of the horses,” Ferguson says.

During pony parties, which cost $100 per hour, Ferguson or a staff member leads children around the arena on one horse. Additional horses for groups of more than five kids cost an additional $50 per hour.

In an economic climate when discretionary spending is down, Ferguson said her revenues declined by 20 percent in 2009, but rebounded by the same amount in 2010 to settle at $500,000. Ferguson projects a 2011 revenue increase of 25 percent.

Strafford veterinarian Stacey Huntington, who also owns Springfield Equine Service, has served as the center’s vet for six years.

“She thinks outside of the box, especially with young, inexperienced show horses,” Huntington says, noting she and Ferguson will troubleshoot training issues together. “She wants horses to progress, and if she’s not getting somewhere with them, she wants to know why.”

Rogersville resident Chris Ball says his daughters, Elle, 12 and Lindsey, 7, have been taking lessons from Ferguson for four years.

Two years ago, Elle Ball expressed an interest in showing, and Ferguson began training their show horses as well. “Libby trains riders of all ages, but she is exceptional at working with young kids,” says Chris Ball, who works as president and principal of Jack Ball Architects PC. “They don’t just end up better riders, but better people, too.”

Ferguson makes the arrangements for the half-dozen shows the Ball family typically travels to each year, and she travels with families to events such as the most recent show at the American Royal grounds in Kansas City. While the shows are a hobby, Ferguson expects her young show riders to do their part.

“They are responsible for taking care of their horses and their chores,” Ball says.

In 2010, Ferguson says she regained the company’s momentum through development of existing clients. “I had about eight clients who moved up to more competitive horses, and it was a natural progression for them to move to more lessons,” she says.

Depending on the time of the year, Ferguson’s company provides between 50 and 70 lessons per week.

This year, Ferguson wanted to try something new to boost her client list. A representative from Groupon contacted her, and she felt it would be a good fit for her business by giving her more exposure in the community without a large initial investment.

“I only did it for two weeks just recently, but I sold 125 lessons and got a lot of positive feedback,” Ferguson says.

The coupons provided 50 percent off of a private lesson. Private lessons are $50 an hour and Groupon receives 50 percent of the proceeds from the sale, or $12.50 for each one of Ferguson’s lessons sold.

“I was very pleased and will probably do it again at some point,” Ferguson adds.

The increase in spring business, part of it coming from the Groupon ad, prompted Ferguson to recently hire one more trainer and another maintenance worker.[[In-content Ad]]

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