By Jess Clawson
Equestrian sports have seen tremendous evolution over the past two decades. From drastic improvements in veterinary technology to a whole host of new divisions at the horse shows, things are changing. Robin Wertleib Schwartz and Pam Saul want to be part of that shift by helping equestrian businesses succeed financially.
Robin founded Equestrian Payment Solutions in 2004 because she identified a need in the horse world she loves so much. “Horse show managers, trainers, and barn owners need to be able to focus on what they do best. I can help them streamline the money side of their businesses to make that achievable,” she said.
Robin grew up riding and showing. “I had the best horse show parents in the world. We were that family that loaded up the motorhome pulling our trailer to go to the horse show on the weekends,” she recalled. As a young amateur, she had two horses in the top 15 in the nation. She decided to take a break, get a job, and went on to sell real estate for the next 18 years.
Right before her 30th birthday, everything changed in her family: her father was diagnosed with ALS. While his disease ran its devastating course, Robin tried to stay connected to the sport she loved with the help of her friends at Rolling Acres Farm. She ended up buying a horse named Pay It Forward, on whom she qualified for indoors in her last year as a younger amateur and her first year as an older amateur. “The last time I talked to my dad, I was sitting on his bed showing him the video of my rounds at Harrisburg. Showing was what had held my family together.”
After her father died, she went to Florida for the winter circuit where she had an unexpected revelation. “I woke up one day and realized I didn’t need to show anymore, it had served its purpose, and I quit cold turkey.” Throughout this time in her life, she was gaining skills in real estate and banking that she relies on in her day to day life now.
“My business is built on long-term relationships and personal service,” she emphasized. “I learned how important that was when I was doing real estate. I went back to my equestrian roots when I started building my merchant services portfolio. In my business today, it’s not about making a lot of money at once and then moving on; it’s about really building a relationship over time and growing with your client.”
From her time in merchant services and as a bank director of a community bank in Maryland, Robin realized how antiquated the horse world was regarding their payment services. “We’re walking into show offices with blank signed checks when everyone else is taking credit cards,” she laughed. “I wanted to keep a toe in the horse world, so I realized that I could serve a need that would help everybody.”
Pulling all of her skills and experience together, Robin started Equestrian Payment Solutions. First she approached horse show management. Her first two clients were Equestrian Sports Productions and HITS, both of whom she still has to this day. Because she understands how horse shows work, she knew that horse show secretaries needed systems that they were familiar with and were easy to understand, so she integrated her program with the various types of horse show management software they were using. Today, she can work with all horse show management software.
She has built her portfolio to include over 100 horse-related accounts, including the World Equestrian Center and the United States Eventing Association. She also works with some of the country’s biggest horse transportation companies, including Brookledge and Johnson Horse Transportation
Recently, she has moved onto trainers and facility owners. Currently, very few are accepting credit card payments. “It would be so much easier for them if they did,” she said. “I’m able to help with cash flow in a way that makes their businesses work seamlessly.”
For example, she finds that many barn managers spend a great deal of time sending invoices to each boarder with both fixed fees (like board) and incidentals (clipping, mane pulling, and so on) only to find entire invoices held up when boarders disputed very small fees. Robin has taught her clients how to set up an automatic monthly credit card payment for the fixed fees and then invoice separately for any incidentals. This way, they have on-time payments every month.
As with horse show software, she is now focused on barn management software with her payment model to help everyone get paid more easily. For those invoicing with QuickBooks and already accepting credit cards, she has found a simple work-around of embedding a different payment link that can save them up to 1% of their total cost.
Of course, some managers are concerned about the roughly 3% fee that credit card companies charge. “I talk them through whether that 3% fee is worth it to have timely payments and guaranteed money in the bank without having to wrangle it every month, and they realize it usually is,” she said. Many barn managers will charge that fee to the client if they are more than 10 days late paying the incidental invoice.
“The barn manager knows that no matter how late someone is in their board payment, they still have to pay for that horse’s hay, grain, bedding, and for the people who clean the stalls,” Robin said. “It’s better to have the payment come in on time, in case someone doesn’t come to the barn the week board is due. Then you don’t have to have the awkward conversation of asking someone for their check.”
“Horse people generally aren’t tech people. The idea of doing things electronically is a little intimidating sometimes,” Robin explained. But she prides herself on her personal relationship with clients and ability to ease their concerns. “All of my clients have my cell phone number. They’re not calling an 800 number or talking to someone who doesn’t understand the horse business or what their needs are. I’m a horse person and I get it; plus I’ve been in this business for 15 years.”
Robin has noticed that as the younger generation of trainers comes along, more are immediately willing to embrace an electronic payment solution. “Some of these young people barely know what paper checks are,” she laughed. “They’re looking into how to put their business together well so that they can do what they love, which is ride and train horses.” She finds that clients like the system, too. “As horse people, many of us are accustomed to using our credit card to enter a horse show, which allows us to manage our own finances without it negatively impacting the businesses whose services we’re receiving.”
These days, Robin has found herself back in the horse world through more than just working with horse show managers, trainers, and other equestrian businesses: her 10 year old daughter, Devon (named after her dad’s favorite horse show) has a pony and recently started horse showing. “For the first two years of her lessons, I wouldn’t sit on a horse because I knew I’d get sucked back in,” she laughed. She eventually relented and now owns a pre-green hunter, appropriately named Back in the Game, who she keeps with Rolling Acres Farm, the very farm that helped her manage through her father’s illness.
Her connection with Rolling Acres and Pam Saul, trainer Patty Foster’s sister spans four decades. Over the last few years, Robin and Pam have reconnected over their love of horses and also smart money management. Pam, who owns both Saul Bookkeeping and Farm & Equine Business Services, LLC, is a certified bookkeeper who helps business owners learn how to manage their money.
“Most people in the horse world are embarrassed that they don’t know how to keep their books, but why should they know how to?” Pam said. “It’s not what they’ve learned to do their entire lives. They don’t teach this in high school. It’s okay to ask for help from an expert. And a lot of times, things that take them 10 hours to figure out are things I can do for them in an hour. That’s 10 hours they could be doing billable work.”
For equestrian business owners who aren’t yet able to fully outsource bookkeeping, Pam can teach them ways to simplify the process for themselves. “It’s like when kids are learning to ride and someone tells them to post. They don’t know how at first, but they figure it out. Eventually they get it and it’s with them forever,” she said.
“A lot of times when people start a business, they’re wearing 27 different hats. You’re everything. And at some point you have to start taking off those hats,” Pam explained. “I can go through things with them and help them figure out where it makes sense to outsource something to a contractor or hire an employee so they can focus more on what really makes them money, and do the things they want to do—like ride and teach lessons.”
Robin and Pam both work to help the horse industry evolve in ways that benefit everyone. Well run, profitable barns will add more amenities and stay open. Horse show managers who are making money won’t sell out to bigger shows or close down. And customers stay happy with streamlined payment processes and an organized system.
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
Read More from This Author »