FEI dressage rider, trainer and coach Robyne Smith believes in helping her students succeed, committing to family time and making memories outside of work.
How many years have you owned your own business?
I’ve been riding in many different equestrian pursuits including dressage, hacking and eventing since I was very young. I have been coaching since I was about 20 years old and really have developed Gwandalan Stables in the past 10 years to become a high level, boutique riding and agistment training facility in Scone.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
It’s an ongoing juggling act. I am getting better, but I really have to work at it. I usually devote more hours to my students and the horses than I have available – so it’s definitely something I will continue to work at. I am getting better at saying no and making more time for fun. I have a two-year-old grandson, Oliver, who is keeping us all entertained, and I love that he is helping me make more memories outside of work.
All small businesses have their challenges. What were some of yours and how did you persevere?
When I am running my coaching business as a side-hustle to our core business of a large-scale dairy and beef operation (where I’m in charge of accounting, human resources, administration and a hands-on role of rearing calves), dividing up my time and energy between the two has always been hard. I have persevered because, even though it’s a lot on my plate, coaching enables me to enjoy life in watching my students succeed and personally enables me to have a lot of fun. I get to go away to great competitions; I have built a great network of friends and fellow competitors (who also enjoy the camaraderie that goes with the horse industry) and I also get time to pursue a career I really enjoy.
What is something you have had to sacrifice to get where you are today?
With my dressage coaching, because I have a lot of clients who have long work hours and major commitments themselves, I tend to extend myself to accommodate their needs. That can mean 5.30 am lessons or 7.30 pm lessons or weekend competitions to support them. As a result, I’ve had to sacrifice time with family and friends and many sleep-ins. I also have many horses on agistment around Christmas time, so it means we can’t go away as a family a lot – which has been hard sometimes. I am very pleased to report that I have already booked a Christmas getaway with the family for 2022 at the beach! So things are headed in the right direction.
What has been the highlight of your career?
This is a tricky one – I have had many highlights, particularly in the past few years. I’ve had some great successes for myself and also for my students. I’ve had students who have won at Sydney Royal, at Grand National Championships, state and national level dressage and eventing, Stock Horse Nationals and Pony Club Nationals just to name a few. Their successes have been massive highlights for me. In my own highlights, I won my first Equestrian Australia Gold Performance Medal and NSW Novice Horse of the Year in 2021. I also have taken three horses from breaking to Grand Prix Level, which I am really proud of myself for.
What advice would you give someone wanting to start their own business?
I would firstly recommend having a clear business plan for how you will manage financially from the start. I would recommend that you have good support people around you, if possible – a good mentor, to help you get started, an accountant or financial adviser and someone to help you set up smart technology (such as apps to help with efficiencies, social media, accounting and bookings). I think having people pay prior to service delivery is a huge help in a service-based business. I would also advise that you have a kitty of finance saved up, or someone who is prepared to back you, as expenses tend to exceed income for many start-up businesses in those first few years. I also recommend making sure you really know and connect with your clients – make sure you communicate well with them, you treat them well, and ensure you provide the best service possible.
What are you most proud of?
I am really proud of the reputation I have within the industry as being professional, caring and hard working. I believe I have a seriously good relationship with all my clients and students, and I’m really proud of that.
I remember vividly once saying to a well-respected dressage rider and judge, Marion Squires, back in the early 1980s, “I just hope that one day I can compete at Elementary level” (third level dressage out of possible 10 levels). Never did I think I could ride and train internationally at Grand Prix level (Olympic level) with three of my own horses, yet here I am.
location: Scone, NSW
instagram & facebook: @gwandalanstables