Growing up on Long Island, Lisa Smit, Owner of Brevard Equestrian Center, was first introduced to horses at a young age. Even though her older sisters all took horse riding lessons before she did, Smit eventually discovered a passion for horses that shaped her unique path. Following an apprenticeship in Maine, where she learned all about the equine world from an Olympic horse rider and his wife, Smit attended Florida Institute of Technology and then spent 12 years with L3Harris. After growing her business on the side for nearly 10 years, by 2006, it was time to leave her full-time job to focus on her burgeoning business.
“When I graduated high school, instead of going directly to college, I did the apprenticeship,” Smit said. “It was based in Fairfield, ME, but we spent the winters in Brevard County. That was my first introduction to Florida. One winter break, I met some people from Florida Tech and they convinced me to move down and enroll. I graduated in 1995 and, thanks to a great internship experience with L3Harris the year before, I had a job lined up after college.”
Smit started in telecommunications planning, but gradually moved to more of an advisory role, working on different projects for different sectors, and then finally into an account management and sales position. All the while, Smit had already planted the seed of her equestrian business. In fact, as she shared, that seed was planted not long after she graduated college.
“I started taking care of horses and teaching horse riding lessons in the early 90s,” Smit said. “By 1996, I incorporated and turned my professional hobby into more of a business. I owned equipment, had lesson horses and leased space. By 2001, we bought our own property. We built the barns a couple years later and, a year after that, my husband and I got married and moved onto the property. I gave my notice to L3Harris in 2006 and since then, I’ve been 100% focused on building the business.”
For Smit, participating in the apprenticeship, which she describes as a trade school for those in the horse industry, was the single most impactful and important thing she did to prepare for running her own business.
“I learned a lot more than I ever could have in any other program,” she said. “There was a lot of stall cleaning, but we also got the horses ready for the trainers to ride, we warmed them up and we were exposed to injuries, ailments, what worked and what didn’t. We even had opportunities to travel with the trainers to competitions and clinics. The experience was everything.”
Smit, who has experienced her fair share of challenges, including permitting, the recession of 2008 and 2009, people leaving their horses on the farm and customers getting delinquent with their bills, has effectively grown her business through word of mouth referrals and Google reviews. Not only do they teach kids and adults horsemanship and how to ride horses, they also take in rescue horses and provide boarding for people that own their own horses.
“We’ll take in starved animals or those that have been neglected and give them a productive life,” she said. “On the boarding side, most people have horses with us because they can’t find the level of care we provide anywhere else.”
Looking ahead, Smit, who earned United States Dressage Federation bronze, silver and gold medals as a young competitor, is not as interested in showing and competing as she once was. Instead, her future goals are more focused on equine assisted therapy and using her animals to treat mental health.
Smit explained, “The idea behind equine therapy is to have mental health professionals bring their patients to the farm. The patient interacts with two or three horses and the horses, based on their behavior, give the medical professional an idea of what’s happening with their patient. It’s amazing what these horses are able to do. I spoke with a therapist that had a client accomplish more in just one session with the horses than she had over the course of six weeks of standard in-office therapy. It’s a complete game changer and a service we’re excited about offering soon.”
What advice does Smit have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “It’s important to have a good business background,” she said. “In the beginning, you’re doing a lot of business type stuff yourself. Also, it’s a 24/7 job owning a business. Don’t just do something to make money – do something you love. Along the way, it’s also important to go with your gut. If something or someone doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts.”