the story of
Sandy Hoofs St. Lucia
horse back riding in
This page is under construction but feel free to read :)
Everything begins with a thought, a dream, a wish for something you hold dear to become a reality. Josh and I have always been passionate about horses. I grew up doing lessons in Trinidad during school holidays and naturally I couldn't wait for summer to roll around so I could spend my days at the stables immersing myself in all that was horse. Josh had it in his blood, his family rooted in horse racing, he was born with a natural passion and talent.
We met by chance, Josh is a farrier and had come to shoe some horses at Jericho Stables where I was managing. Our passion for horses drew us together and now we are married with three beautiful daughters Lily, Madilyn and Noa. Our dreams to own our own stables and horses are closely knit and have been bouncing around in our heads before we knew each other. Now together we decided this was fate and we would work as a team to achieve it. What better way to accomplish a life goal than with your soulmate.
We began writing down everything we thought important, all the details, drawing sketches of how it may look. Not a penny in the bank to even buy a horse but that didn't matter, we wanted to be ready if the money ever presented itself. Well the money never did show up but we decided life is too short to wait. We sold what we could, found us two broken down horses off the racetrack and one from my dear friend Lena. This was a good foundation to begin. There was no turning back, we packed up what we could afford to ship, and with family support for tickets and somewhere to stay we moved to Josh's island home of St. Lucia. A most magical island that I fell in love with and where we were married.
We had a great business plan, some horses, no land, no money and living off of Josh's parents. Change was most definitely needed! Thankfully it came just at the right time. Josh was offered a position to manage Morne Coubaril Estate in Soufriere and it just happened to have an old stables there too. Our stars were beginning to align. So we headed off to Soufriere, with horses and children in tow.
The estate in Soufriere was truly an enchanting place, every morning I'd wake feeling like we had travelled back in time to when life was a bit simpler and people were more kind. Here is where we began building our dream bit by bit. The old stables were built on good foundation and with a bit of hard work became a home for our horses. We had initially created our company as Sandy Hoofs St. Lucia but for a stables on an estate in Soufriere this didn't really fit. Cue the creation of "Morne Chouval" similar to the name of the estate Morne Coubaril. In the local creole dialect it means Mountain Horse and well if you ever visit Soufriere you'll see it's impossible to go anywhere without going up or down a hillside or a mountain. Estate life was wonderful and we made great friends and built good relationships with the surrounding hotels and tour operators. What could be missing right?
Well we always wanted to be able to share our passion and knowledge with anyone that was interested and not just focus on tourism. I missed being able to practice my dressage and jumping and we both knew how much the already talented local horsemen could benefit from a space to learn other forms of riding and horsemanship. Unfortunately building an arena would not have been possible as the layout of the land was not ideal and would have required a lot of work and the land was not ours.
Then in another “lets just do it” moment in June 2018 (June seems to be the month) we decided to open another branch and offered to rent an old stable up north. The north of the island was where we originally envisioned our stable to be located as there is a higher local and foreign market so we looked forward to the opportunity and saw it as a step closer to purchasing our own land. The property was a mess, but more importantly it had the old stable structure, so we built up some stalls quickly and moved some of our horses up north. The location was superb for tourist rides for its proximity to the coastline and with the horses and staff already experienced on trails we began to market for bookings immediately.
As rides started getting booked online and guests came back with great reviews we knew that we had made a good step in branching out to see our other possibilities. We decided to start prepping an area to use as an arena with the land being more suitable and got help from a friend to level and grade a spot next to the stable building. Unfortunately for us the landlord had plans for his land and soon after spread backfill all around the property, It was disheartening but a reminder to keep our focus on what was bringing in revenue at the time and looked forward to working with our bank towards purchasing our own land.
It was great to see the rides gradually grow in numbers especially as our reputation in the north began to build bringing us direct bookings. In Soufriere we would mainly receive bookings through hotels and tour operators for a commission, now it was refreshing to see that with a bit of trial and error with website building and getting the basics of social media marketing we were able to have a more intimate correspondence with our guests. This was great for improving our product and our customer service. 2020 was quickly shaping up to be a productive year. Discussions with our bank were positive and the possibility of our own land looked closer to become a reality.
Then things got tough, in Feb 2020 our landlord demolished the building we used as a reception, bathroom and staff accommodation to make way for apartments. We were given only a few days notice and we had to rush to get our stuff out. It's crazy what people can get away with when they know that you have no immediate options. With no other option for storage we had to store most things in the stable building that was not secure. Things got damaged, lost and stolen in all the chaos which pains me to think about. Despite all the madness somehow we still managed to pull ourselves together for the guests that we had arriving as we could not bear to disappoint by cancelling and definitely could not afford to. We dug into our pockets and scrambled to build something quickly to be able to continue our service. It was imperative that had somewhere secure to store our equipment and horse feed, have a bathroom and to greet the guests. It definitely was not pretty and I cringed each time we had a guest arrive, but thankfully the tour itself saved the experience each time.
Then COVID-19 reared it's ugly head and Saint Lucia went in lockdown, everything just screeched to a halt. Not only did the cash flow stop completely but we also had to try and refund guests that had previously booked. We never felt so clueless and scared in our whole life. We had no idea how we were going to feed our horses and keep our team afloat with zero income. COVID-19 brought a level of uncertainty that still lingers today. We had no idea of knowing how long the lockdowns and closed borders around the world would last, so the first thing we could logically do was reach out to friends and family for financial help. Considering the whole world had just been turned upside down the generosity that we received was 100% genuine. Without that help we would not still be here today and we would have been forced to sell most if not all of the horses. That would have been heartbreaking but necessary seeing as horses require constant care and cannot just be parked up until the storm passes. Not to mention we have our 3 young girls to provide for. One of the best lessons that COVID-19 has taught just about every soul on the planet is how to adapt. Survival of the fittest is all about adapting to the environment and some of us are better than others. We are still learning I think but we aren't getting left behind. We decided this was the time to jump in the deep end with lessons for local kids. I kid you not I had nightmares from just the thought of starting. How to you offer lessons without an arena and horses that only know how to follow a trail in the middle of what was practically a construction zone! All my training from before just screamed red flags, but Josh kept saying...it's our best shot or we have nothing at all.
To make things more interesting of course our first student was Iloe who had just recently moved to Saint Lucia from France and she did not speak a word or English. Was this a scary movie or a comedy! I thought it was going to be an absolute disaster but Iloe is a true lover of all that is horse and persevered through. Of course one student does not make ends meet but when it's a pandemic the last thing you can do is start promoting a horseback riding school. Everyone is unsure and isolating and freaking out but this was our only hope. Thankfully from word of mouth one by one we got some additional students and with them some restored hope. A part of our dream was unfolding, a bit like the ugly duckling into a swan and we are very much looking forward to the final reveal. 🤣
Saint Lucia was reopening in stages and we had to apply to the Ministry of Health for a covid certification to be allowed to operate for tourists. The money made from lessons could not even cover feed and the water bill but it was important for us to survive by going through the process and get all the necessary PPE and cleaning products and signage etc etc! Again was it not for the support we received I don't know how we could have gotten over that hurdle. It was hard to stay positive and focused, we wondered if we were struggling to keep something alive that would still ultimately fail. Our landlord's construction was also this constant reminder looming over us that we had to get out. Not to mention now he was occupying the space storing his materials in the stables with his workmen around using the water connection that was in our company name for his construction and constantly demanding full rent. He had no sympathy for the situation we were in as he even threatened to raise the rent. I worried every time we had guests showing up as I never knew what state the place would be in. Would I be welcoming them as the workers were sawing, hammering, mixing cement, trucking in materials or quarreling? It was an added stress. If you know horses then you know that's not ideal for getting guests on their back to head off on a trail. As I think back the horses were all angels given the circumstances. They must of known how important it was to stay calm despite the chaos.
We tried our best to pay what we could as we got rides while still trying to find a spot to relocate to. It's tough finding a location when you don't have money and you need it to fulfill specific needs. The ride we offered was far away from any development and offered our guests a unique view of Saint Lucia, this was the foundation of our product that brought great reviews so we couldn't relocate too far away. It also had to not be close to any residential homes so that the neighbours wouldn't complain about those wonderful farm smells. It had to be large enough to accommodate all of our horses. We spent countless hours at the land registry looking at lots and trying to contact owners. In Feb 2021 our landlord served us with a letter evicting us from the property. Josh reached out in desperation to everyone that he knew owned land explaining our current deadline and a miracle literally landed on our lap. That miracle was a parcel of land literally 2 mins away with no houses nearby and no pressure of immediate rent. We finally breathed a sigh of relief. This was by no means going to be any easy transition but it was a much needed one.