With a passion for developing strong leaders and a love of horses, Tracey Evans left her successful career as a marketing executive in 2012 to open Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning Centre with her partner Dirk Tews. As a certified Business Coach and Master Certified Equine Assisted Learning Instructor, Tracey delivers innovative leadership, team building and life skills development programs for corporate teams, sports teams, youth groups, families and private groups using horses as guides. An avid equestrian and former senior marketing executive, she brings together her horse sense and over 15 years of leading high performing teams to help others develop critical skills to enable them to reach their full potential. Read our interview with the lovely Tracey below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
When I first embarked on my career after completing my MBA, I was all about the money. How fast could I climb the ladder and how much could I make. But I had nothing else. My partner at the time quipped “you need to find your passion”. As I thought about that, I remembered that all I ever wanted to do since I was a child was learn how to ride horses. I was a horse crazy kid that never had the means or opportunity to learn to ride or spend much time around horses. So I took my first lesson in 2002… and I was hooked. Within the year I purchased my first horse, an off-track thoroughbred with a few quirks to say the least! I took a natural horsemanship clinic to learn how to connect with my horse and work better together. What I learned was how horses need leaders, confident, clear, consistent leaders they can trust. Everything I learned paralleled the skills I need to master in order to successfully lead my teams. And I realized I would love to teach leadership using horses one day. My career progressed and 9 years later I was Vice President of Marketing for international teams within a global Financial Services company. I had achieved many of my career goals, but it never seemed to be enough. After every promotion, I never felt like I had “arrived” and now I felt “married” to this lifestyle I had helped create. I needed to find a way out so I could do what I love. It was then that my husband and I decided to buy a farm to move our 2 horses home, restructure our lifestyle and enable me to pursue something more meaningful. In 2012, I left my corporate job, got certified as an Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator and opened Dreamwinds to teach leadership and teambuilding using horses. I had seen the good, the bad and the ugly of corporate leadership and team dynamics and was passionate about bringing change to organizations to empower their employees to drive engagement and loyalty… all using the powerful language of the horse. My friend telling me about how easy it was to get finance for a new horsebox and I found that really inspiring.
Tell us about your business.
Dreamwinds is a multi-award winning equine assisted learning centre. We develop leaders and transform teams through the powerful language of the horse. Using our horses as guides, we are proud to offer unforgettable leadership development and team building experiences for youth, families, women, couples, private groups and corporate teams. The skills required to lead and work effectively with horses are the same skills needed to lead and work well with people. Just like people, they seek a confident leader, clear communication and effective team work and they provide immediate honest feedback to their human teams as they navigate fun and engaging obstacles to help them get it just right. Dreamwinds is also a premier satellite training facility for the Cartier Farms Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator Certification.
Where is your business based?
Bradford, Ontario, Canada.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
My first step was to get certified in my field. I chose the Cartier Farms EAL Certification which provided me the knowledge and tools to open my own EAL business. It provided a full objective based curriculum that would lend itself well to my corporate programs, bringing some structure and a research proven approach to skill development. I then created my website, some marketing materials and started talking to people and sharing my vision and my programs.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Networking and in person events have been the most effective. There was a large educational component to my approach at first as not many had ever heard of Equine Assisted Learning and even those who had, often linked it to therapy or special needs programs. So getting in front of people, educating them on the concept and providing opportunities for them to experience it were key to driving awareness and building my client base.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
My biggest challenge is staying focused. There are so many opportunities within Equine Assisted Learning and everyone can benefit from it. So it is a challenge to stay true to my strategy and focus on my key markets and core strengths. As it is, in addition to corporate leadership and team building, we offer custom group sessions, a youth program, ladies night and date night. We are often being asked for individual sessions, riding lessons and special needs programs for children. These are not areas we are looking to expand into, but it’s difficult to say no when demand is there.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I continue to refine and focus my strategy, evaluating critically all our lines of business each quarter to ensure it’s where we want to play. Since launching my EAL Certification program, I have also established a trusted referral network of EAL Facilitators to be able to pass leads onto when I don’t specialize in something the client is looking for. This way, while I’m not servicing them myself, I don’t find myself having to say no but rather I have a great partner I can refer you to.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
A year after I first started my business, I had to take on a corporate consulting role to make ends meet for a short time. Leaving my farm to go back to the corporate environment was extremely difficult and disappointing. I will never forget that feeling and it motivates me every day to ensure I never have to do it again.
How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
We differentiate ourselves significantly on 3 key dimensions: Programs, Team & Facility.
- Our programs are second to none in the industry. With a standardized Cartier Farms EAL program curriculum as the foundation, our exercises are objective based and have been developed and tested through research to be effective in delivering the stated objectives. This means we can customize programs to meet the needs of our clients and say with confidence that their objectives will be met and expectations exceeded. Program can be customized to meet the specific needs of a broad base of clients from corporate teams, bridesmaid groups, networking groups, sports teams etc.
- Our certification program is the only program that offers a proven “business in a box” with ongoing business coaching and support. Students learn the renowned Cartier Farm EAL Program, receive all the exercises, tools and support they need to start their own EAL business.
My 20 years of business experience is an unusual combination in our industry. I offer a specialized business coaching service to our graduates that I can confidently say is unmatched in our industry.
- Our skilled and qualified team brings a variety of business and life experiences to our organization, enhancing the client experience by connecting their horse experience to their life and work in a meaningful way.
- Our horses are carefully selected to support our top quality, premium experience. We select horses that are active in mind and body. They are active in another discipline to keep them sharp and engaged as EAL horses. Many EAL centres receive free retired horses, rather than carefully selecting them based on their appropriateness for their client base.
- Best in class facility that exceeds client expectations of a barn environment. Beautiful boardroom space for 30 people, luxury bathroom, highest standards of cleanliness and horse care. We strive to WOW our customers the moment they walk in the door.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
To stay true to my passion regardless of who I’m pitching to. I would often play up my leadership and corporate experience when presenting to a corporate client, in some cases unknowingly downplaying the equine component. The equine experience is what makes my programs unique and what makes them work every single time so it needs to stay front and center.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t go it alone. In my first year, I really didn’t know what resources, groups and support systems were out there for entrepreneurs. When I became more connected to my local business community, it made a monumental change in my business and made me also realize I wasn’t the only one struggling at times. So I encourage every entrepreneur to join networking groups, their local chamber, referral groups etc. and stay connected. There is a lot of knowledge and support within our own communities.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
There are so many! But I recently discovered Canva. My business lends itself to photography as means to convey what we do and I enjoy putting my own marketing pieces together at times. Canva.com is an easy online program that allows me to create professional looking social media posts, cover photos, postcards etc in very little time. And it provides me a bit of a creative outlet!
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“The Thought Leaders Practice” by Matt Church, Peter Cook and Scott Stein. Delivers a simple and suscinct strategy and methodology for developing your coaching/training practice with a focus on “doing work you love with the people you like the way you want”.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I am always learning new ways to position and frame my business for my prospects. Being a very unique business, there are very few best practices, so I strive to create them daily. Understanding my clients current and changing needs is critical to my success.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
My biggest goal is to continue to do what I love every day and positively impact as many lives as possible through my programs. I have a very aggressive goal to once again double my revenue in 2017. We have just completed a comprehensive goal setting exercise and are now creating our quarterly, monthly and weekly targets to achieve this goal. We have a new communication strategy planned, updated website and other new programs on deck to reach our market and drive growth. I am a firm believer in goal setting… what we speak and what we write down, we achieve.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
We will be hosting our 5th annual Horse Day @Dreamwinds on Saturday, June 3, 2017. This is a free community event to share all aspects of the horse industry with the public, including EAL, rider demos, breed exhibits etc. We host a bbq to support our Stomp Out Cancer Campaign with proceeds going to The Terry Fox Foundation. It is always well attended and we add new exciting elements every year.