After earning a degree in psychology, Wendy Washeleski was working as a counselor when she gave a coworker’s niece a horseback riding lesson at her home in Taberg, not far from Utica in Upstate New York. Soon, the students began to multiply and, in 1996, what had been a lifelong hobby became a business. Wendy left her job and started a small stable with two horses and a small outdoor arena—but she didn’t leave the skills she’d developed as a counselor. “A lot of horse training is behavior modification,” she explained, “and a lot of human change has to come from behavior modification as well.”
Today, Fall Brook Stable comprises 300 acres; as many as 19 horses, depending on the number of boarders and horses being trained; four full-time and up to 10 seasonal employees; and a one-stop shop for horse enthusiasts from Camden, Rome, Utica, Boonville, and Westmoreland. And like many small businesses, this one involves other members of the family. Wendy’s daughter, Emilya, also shows horses and has several championships already under her belt. And while Wendy’s husband, Tom, has his own career, he pitches in as well.
As she gained loyal clients, Wendy continued to reinvest in her business. In 2000, she built an indoor riding arena so clients could ride year-round. Instead of a traditional, solid roof that results in a dark space that has to be lighted, hers has a translucent, arched roof that allows daylight to flood in. Inside the arena, Wendy gradually added first and second floor structures as well: lockers for clients, an observation room for parents, a full bathroom and more. Growing her business over time was integral to Wendy’s plan to be completely self-financed: “I wanted to own my business, not have my business own me,” she commented.
Wendy has expanded Fall Brook Stable’s services beyond traditional riding lessons to include 3-day training camps, birthday parties, group trail rides, and 40-hour certification clinics for instructors. Her most recent expansion is into retail. “Instead of sending my riders to a tack shop for an item they need for an upcoming show,” she said, “I now offer them exactly what they need right here. The shop is an added benefit for my clientele and my bottom line.”
Last fall, Wendy felt she had reached a plateau in running her business and needed a challenge. While searching online, she came across the website of the Women’s Business Center of New York State in Utica, which is part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Center Program. The website featured an upcoming free entrepreneurial training course.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is too good to be true,’” recounted Wendy. “A 10-week course on how to run a business — and it’s free?” The Entrepreneurs Skills Training course featured weekly classes on business planning, marketing, media relations, financial planning, legal and insurance issues and more. For Wendy, the training course provided practical means to meet the continual challenge of anticipating and meeting her customers’ needs. She graduated from the course in January 2009 with 16 other clients and came away with much more than she anticipated.
“This was my first formal business class ever and it was a phenomenal experience. It heightened my awareness of all aspects of my business. I learned something every week that I can use now or in the future. I especially enjoyed meeting other entrepreneurs and hearing their different input on how to deal with issues.”
Having her business located in her hometown hasn’t reined in Wendy’s desire to travel. “It feels good to be in Taberg,” she explained. “The horse industry allows me to travel all over the country for training and shows, but at the end of the day, I have my business and my family all in one spot and that’s all that really matters.” It may eventually be more than one spot, however, for while Fall Brook Stable is surrounded by great natural beauty — rolling hills of forest, creeks and tumbling waterfalls — for several months of the year it is also heavily blanketed in snow. The tough winter conditions of Upstate New York inspire Wendy to dream of opening a second facility in a warmer climate, while maintaining the Taberg location. It’s ambitious, but as Wendy likes to say, “The sky is the limit when you own your own business.”