November 25, 2019
Preserving the Sport of Horse Dressage and Eventing – How RER Ponies Built an Indoor Arena With the Help of the SBA Network
By Norman Eng, Public Affairs Specialist
Heather Reynolds Dostal is Head Riding Instructor and Owner of RER Ponies in Hatfield, MA. She has been riding horses since the age of 4, and started teaching horseback riding in her community as a teenager.
Growing up in rural Hampshire County near the west bank of the Connecticut River, it used to be easy for Dostal to take her horse swimming in the river. There used to be trails for riding – but now there are blockages, houses and automobile traffic causing obstacles for riders.
Dostal has traveled the world teaching and learning classical horse riding, teaching part-time in four different barns – while working in the healthcare industry at a point in her life.
In 2001, while Dostal was living abroad in England working in the riding school industry; an outbreak of foot-and-mouth became an epidemic and young riders weren’t allowed to travel far for riding. Large indoor riding centers became the industry standard and were being built to provide a classroom in a safe environment for children to learn year-round. Dostal vowed she would try to someday create a riding center like the ones she experienced in the U.K.
Indoor Arena a necessity for New England cold weather
Starting RER Ponies in 2002, Dostal’s business has gone through many ups and downs, originally starting with one farm which she outgrew rapidly, Dostal eventually acquired land and built a smaller training facility up the road – but this still did not solve her problem of no indoor facility. Juggling the management of two farms and facilities and her clients growing needs led her to think about making a change. So with the support of her family she began planning for the long-term by building a sustainable operation equipped for the northeast cold weather.
Four years from the initial acquisition of the new land and property, Dostal experienced a really bad winter – she couldn’t teach, train or do anything and the business came to a halt. The necessity for an indoor arena was evident and Dostal needed more capital to build out the Hatfield farm.
The process started when Dostal’s banker at Greenfield Savings suggested that she reach out to Bob Wigmore at Farm Credit East to assess different funding options. When she met with Bob, he suggested a collaboration with Carol Brennan of CDC New England to structure the financing for the project, because of the uniqueness of Heather’s expansion project.
Dostal’s vision for her farm was to build a residence for her family to live in – along with an indoor arena and stables; creating a one-stop learning center for her students to grow, in a convenient location.
The funding solution for the project was creatively structured in favor of Dostal’s plan. Farm Credit East would finance the barn and arena construction process, and the house under one loan. Building the indoor arena and barn were then financed using the SBA 504 loan. Leveraging multiple financial institutions with a creative financing package was the only way that the project could have happened the way Dostal had envisioned it.
(RER Ponies training and boarding facility / images courtesy of Heather Reynolds Dostal)
Classical equestrian education is grooming amazing human beings
Dostal is most proud of the classical riding curriculum that she offers, teaching proper riding techniques and care of horses – which is becoming a lost art in America without businesses such as RER Ponies.
“I’m proud of the riders that have left here and how they go on and do amazing things,” said Dostal. “These young riders become amazing human beings.”
The 14-acre property, finished in the winter of 2018 features: grass pastures, oversized outdoor and indoor arena, galloping track, and wooded trails that lead directly off the property.
Students are able to learn about riding horses and how to care for horses in a central location with everything onsite. Heather’s curriculum focuses on developing happy and athletic horses in both Dressage and Jumping exhibitions/competitions. To date, her riders have attended the United States Pony Clubs championships for the past 7 years, been recognized with many USDF awards; and a number of students have also attended and placed at Dressage 4 Kids competitions.
Today, Dostal is focused on sustaining the tremendous growth that has resulted in building the current indoor arena. She currently has two part-time employees working for her and revenue has quadrupled in the past 10 years. Dostal has 47 students year-round weekly and serves another 30 in outside clinics.
In the future, Dostal wants to continue expanding her business by building the community education and training aspect of her programming – and holding training conferences in the northeast.
(Disclaimer: The SBA does not endorse the organizations sponsoring linked websites, and does not endorse the views they express or the products/services they offer.)