Marian’s dream come true is putting a ‘Smile’ on young equestrians’ faces

A childhood dream has come true for one Northern Ireland woman, who has launched her very own riding school in County Armagh.

Mum of two, Marian Tennyson, spent hours scouring the countryside with her late father, William Lappin, searching for the perfect place to set up her riding school, Smile Equestrian.

The 47-year-old finally decided on the perfect spot for her new business venture in the months after her dad passed away last year.

Entrepreneur Marian was able to make her dream a reality thanks to the support she received from the Go For It Programme, in association with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

Smile Equestrian founder Marian Tennyson’s love for horses started at a very early age and she has now fulfilled her childhood dream of launching her own riding school thanks to support from the Go For It programme.

The project is part-funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme.

“We’ve always been horsey, me and my daddy - we’ve all grown up with horses since we were no age,” Marian explained.

“Daddy and I were thick as thieves with the horses.

“I wanted to teach children how to ride since forever.

Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council Alderman Glenn Bar with Smile Equestrian founder Marian Tennyson and Business Adviser Niall McKevitt.

“I worked in Woodside Post Office for 25 years, but having a riding school has been my dream since I was a child.

“But for different reasons, it didn’t happen - we couldn’t find the right property and so on.

“Then the right property came along, and I decided to take the bull by the horns.”

The ideal property needed to have a shed with stables and an arena, as well as a field for grazing.

The place Marian eventually settled on was somewhere she and her dad had spotted while driving around the countryside, at Tullygarden Road in Richhill.

She continued: “He and I both went a few times but we couldn’t find the owner.

“Nobody seemed to know who the owner was and it was always closed when we visited.

“But after I lost Daddy in July, there were just a few signs thrown my way, saying you need to do this.

“I just went over one day and left my phone number on the door and an hour later the owner phoned me.

“It was a shed with stables and an arena and the field - I knew it was a sand arena even though it was full of grass.

“It had been a riding school years ago and then a livery yard up until three years ago.”

Even before that, Marian had already got the ball rolling on starting her new business.

Encouraged by her daughter Anna Rose, she had responded to the ads for the Go For It programme she had seen on TV and made contact with the programme.

“It all kicked off from then, and I started the business in November.

“I had a few horses of my own and then my friend was selling her ponies and phoned me,” she added.

“She was giving them up and I knew they would be perfect for the riding school, so I thought ‘get the ponies and I’ll find somewhere to put them later’.

“Then once I got the yard, it was full steam ahead to find some riding school ponies.

“It was all word of mouth because we have lots of contacts and it all took off - we’re up to 18 now!”

Go For It was able to help Marian put together a business plan and conduct research into the age ranges of her potential market in the Armagh, Portadown and Richhill areas.

She said: “The programme helped me with finances and what way to go about marketing.

“He also suggested spreading the word through Instagram and Facebook, so I have the Facebook page sitting, but it’s not active because I haven’t needed it yet as I’ve plenty of wee people coming to see me.

“Go For It advised me how much I was going to make by having 20 kids to start off with, and the outgoings I would need to consider, as well as things like the signage and advertising - it was brilliant.”

The determined businesswoman was full of praise for her partner Liam too.

“He’s been fantastic, running the country picking up ponies for me - any wee job needing doing, Liam would do it for me.”

Marian is now up to 55 pupils and is hoping to see numbers grow as summer approaches.

Business Adviser, Niall McKevitt from CIDO, commented: “It is extremely rewarding to see Marian’s business take off after working with us to create a business plan.

“We can’t wait to see how Smile Equestrian will continue to grow in the coming years.

“Hopefully, anyone who wants to create their own business will see Marian’s story and be inspired to take that next step.”

Lord Mayor, Alderman Glenn Barr, stated: “Smile Equestrian is an absolute credit to Marian and I am delighted we are able to support local entrepreneurs, like Marian, through the Go For It programme to help make dreams a reality.

“Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is passionate about supporting new businesses, encouraging new entrepreneurs and helping our businesses grow,” Alderman Barr concluded.