In this week’s ‘a few minutes with…’ we catch up with Karen McConnell from KA Equestrian. Karen is a complete star and is incredibly forward thinking in the way she approaches her business. And she’s an incredibly talented and thoroughly lovely person too!
Tell us about you and your background I’m Karen and I own and run KA Equestrian, a busy backing, schooling, training and livery yard based in beautiful Perthshire, Scotland. I was born in Surrey as my parents were living there at the time but they’re both Scottish so a few years later we moved back to Scotland and settled in the outskirts of Edinburgh for most of my school days. I was lucky to have ponies growing up and loved all Pony Club activities and generally messing about on the horses. Dressage was definitely not on my radar in those days! When I left school I went to work on a dressage yard, studied for my BHS exams and learned to start horses and school them on and that is where things changed for me. All through University and other ‘real’ jobs, I always had horses for training on the side until the summer of 2009 when I got ill and was signed off work for three weeks with suspected swine flu! After a few days I felt better but had to stay off work just incase. I set up a website and a FB page, pulled the name “KA Equestrian” out of thin air (my maiden name was Anderson hence the A in the KA) and it just took off. No planning whatsoever. There have been HUGE learning curves along the way but eight years on, we’ve grown massively and are thriving.
On a day-to-day basis, in addition to running the yard, managing the property, training horses, coaching riders, competing in the dressage arena, and creating lots of content for our blog and social media channels, I’m a mum of two young children, Cora who’s five and Callan who’s three. I have this nagging ambition to become a Grand Prix dressage rider and now that the kids are a little bigger, I’m actively pursuing that goal. Life can be a bit of juggling act at times but I’m so lucky to be able to do what I do.
What made you want to start a business? I’ve always liked to be in control of my own decisions and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not great at being told what to do (!) so being my own boss was always inevitable. KA Equestrian was born out of a love of training horses, teaching them new skills and watching them develop.
How is your business different? KA Equestrian has evolved over the years and what made us different in the beginning, a business whose sole focus was starting young horses, has also changed. We have a number of niches – our backing process ‘The Right Start’ is still very much a core part of the business but we’ve also developed a few other niches – retraining ex-racehorses, and coaching young riders. What KA Equestrian has become is a family-friendly yard where everyone is welcomed and respected and help is tailored to their individual needs and dreams.
What makes the services you offer at KA Equestrian special? The services we offer are special, I think, because we pay attention to the details and give real consideration to whether our clients are benefiting and if not, we find out how can we change things up to better meet their needs. When it comes to the horses in our care, to ensure we don’t bend to the pressure sometimes applied by owners, I always ask myself “What would I be doing if this was my horse?” and go with that. That way I can know we’re doing the very best job, making the right, not always easiest, decisions and I can sleep better at night!
If you had to sum your business up in five words, what would they be? Quality, Friendly, Training, Coaching (and) Livery
Does KA Equestrian have a motto or ethos? Our tag line is “Home of Happy Horses” and that applies to both our livery and training clients. Happy horses, to me, are well nourished, cared for, respected, loved, protected from harm and abuse and given every opportunity to thrive. It’s important to me that our little bubble here at KA Equestrian is also home of happy owners and riders, but that doesn’t have the same ring! My top priorities at the yard are to maintain and develop an excellent facility and to ensure everyone feels welcome and respected.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring business owner, what would it be? I know the sensible advice is to plan and prepare BUT I like to think big and move fast. Be brave, and if it feels right go for it!
Tell us one thing that helps you manage KA Equestrian more efficiently I simply could not run my business without my phone and I can’t imagine using anything other than an iPhone. I’m on the yard most of the day and without the means to make calls, take pictures and videos, reply to messages and post to social media, the business would grind to a halt (or I certainly would as I’d have to do all that in the evenings once the kids are in bed!)
What’s the best thing about running KA Equestrian? Gosh, there are so many good bits – the freedom to think big and make a bold move, the flexibility to fit in the school run, a hair appointment or a day away, and the fact I get to do what I love every day – there’s never that Monday-morning feeling.
And the worst thing about running a business? Hmmm, I used to take things very personally when things didn’t go the way I’d hoped and it took a lot of work to put that in a good place in my head. I think when you are your business, it’s very hard to not take things personally if a client isn’t happy with what you’ve done or a project you’ve been working on hasn’t worked out – there’s no corporate structure to hide behind. That’s been my biggest challenge to date but I think I can now see the difference between things I have a legitimate reason to be disappointed with myself about and those that are more to do with the circumstances or a particular client.
Top business blog you follow Well, obviously Rhea’s blog along with all the amazing help and advice she gives me as one of her coaching clients (thank you :-)), but I also love Marie Forleo and Seth Godin – both seriously positive and motivational.
Best business book you’ve read I don’t really engage with text books but I LOVE autobiographies from business people – I want to know not just how they make the decisions they make and the strategies that they use but how they live their lives and how they fit it all in. I really liked Tamara Mellon’s book ‘In My Shoes’ as it was very honest, she wasn’t afraid to appear flawed.
Something we might not know about you I once shared a helicopter with Pierce Brosnan in Monte Carlo – doesn’t get cooler than that right? Well, if I had my pick of Bonds it would have been Daniel Craig!
What’s your top business achievement? Oh gosh, you know I’m really not sure… nothing massive YET! But I’m really proud of the busy yard I have now, I’ve worked hard for it and I know we do really good work, offering real value to our clients both human and equine.
Find Karen McConnell and KA Equestrian at…
Website – www.kaequestrian.com,