Married 4 years ago after horse owner friends played matchmaker, the happiness is evident on their 80-acre homestead in Jackson, Wis. From the long driveway to the welcoming tree-covered home, to the two large red barns and white fenceposts surrounding their prized horses, the picturesque Olson farm offers dealers a view into the horse-lovin' hobby farmer.
In describing their passion for horses, Robin puts it this way, "Once you've been introduced to horses, you're hooked. It's a very powerful drug. Everyone wants their horses happy, healthy and looking good, and in a very nice and appealing environment. Horses are very strong animals, but they can be very fragile, too. You must manage the surroundings so they don't get hurt. That's where the equipment comes into play."
Work & Play
Their paths to the rural lifestyle, and horse ownership in general, took different turns. For Robin, it was a real estate decision that led her to the animals. After she and her late husband, Tom, bought property with a barn, they needed to buy two horses to fill it. "Then, I decided I had to ride them," she says, noting she took up riding at age 32. "I didn't like it at first, and cried on my way to the lessons."
But her stubbornness and persistence won, and she was surprised how soon she was hooked on the "horse" lifestyle. Today, she owns two thoroughbreds, a quarter horse and a dutch warmblood. She shows hunters and jumpers throughout the Midwest and is on the board of the local Hunters-Jumpers Assn.
Meanwhile, Dan, a retired police officer, was exposed to farm life as a youngster, threshing, putting the tobacco out and dragging grain sacks around. "Enough to know I wanted to do something else," he says.
His late wife, Barb, (who died following a fall from a horse), drew him to the horse world, and soon he was grooming and handling her horse. Plus, he began helping the stable owners muck stalls and maintain the facility.
"Dan was the perfect husband candidate for me," says Robin with a smile. "He owned a horse trailer and a pickup truck."
The work around their piece of paradise takes on a different bent for both as well. For Robin, who spends 5 hours a day on her horse hobby (an hour driving, 1.5 hours riding each horse and an hour of cleanup), work around the homestead can feel like another job. She maintained the entire farm from 18 months after Tom died, but developed a bad back.
Because Dan is fully retired, the work is the enjoyable part of their lifestyle. In addition to the 7.5 acres that generally takes a day and a half to mow, he trailers his garden tractor to the boarding facility 25 miles away to mow for his friends. "If the grass is too long, the horses don't like it, and they can get poked in the eye.
"I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have work to do," he says, adding that he is particular about the property looking good.
Both agree on one thing, however. With the right equipment, maintaining their large property such "feels a lot less like work."
Dealers: Don't Make This Mistake
After her husband's death, Robin needed a new riding mower. After attending a local lawn and garden show, she determined she wanted a John Deere Spin-Steer mower (similar to zero-turn technology but with a steering wheel) and walked into a nearby John Deere dealership.
She was taken a back when the salesman, an older guy, said, "Little lady, I don't think you can handle this."
"I told him, 'I run a farm and I handle horses every day. I'm the one who drives our farm tractors.'"
Robin asked for the keys, drove it and said she was ready to buy. She proudly adds that she talked him down by several thousand on the price because she'd done her homework.
While she was happy with the purchase and the service thereafter, the experience forever left a sour taste in her mouth. "That was the first place I went, and it really irritated me. This salesperson had this look of 'what's a woman doing in this dealership?' Car dealers used to be that way, too, but they've wised up."
When it came time to buy a new tractor, she was determined to find a dealer who actually wanted her business, which led to the tractor purchase at a neighboring New Holland dealership. If she'd been treated differently that day, she says it's possible that her farm equipment might have been entirely green today. Instead, she and Dan drive by two dealerships to do business with one who is interested in them. They've learned, they say, that it's the dealer — not the equipment — that matters most.
Today, the Olsons' prized possessions include the New Holland 30-hp tractor, and the recent purchases of a Land Pride Treker utility vehicle and Pequea manure spreader.
Purchased 4 years ago from a New Holland dealership that has since gone out of business, the tractor, loader and deck mower were bought as part of a trade that involved two 1930-era Ford Tractors and a 6-foot cutter that had been on the property for decades. Dan proudly displayed the Supersteer Senistrak on the New Holland tractor, which he said provides a near-zero-turn cutting radius. In 4 years, the unit has just 800 hours on it.
A phone call to another dealer, and the response, played favorably in the couple's next major purchase. "I was powerwashing the tractor and knocked something loose. I dialed up St. Lawrence Equipment (St. Lawrence, Wis.) out of the phone book and, in talking with the tech, he figured out I'd disconnected the safety plug. He could've made me bring it in, and could've made some money, but he walked me through the fix right over the phone."
While the couple had been thinking about utility vehicles, the timetable for purchase was moved up thanks to a good salesperson. According to Dan, they'd looked at utility vehicles at Cabellas, but they were pricey and weren't set up right for their needs. Another dealership, which leaned more toward a powersports model, would've had the business, says Robin, if the salesperson could've answered their questions. Either he didn't want to deal with retired hobbyists, or he was woefully ill-equipped as a salesperson, saying he needed to get the OK from his supervisor before sharing pricing info on basic questions such as electric vs. hydraulic lifts.
Dan remembered St. Lawrence Equipment's service, and suggested he and Robin visit the dealership 10 miles away to upgrade a problematic manure spreader they'd purchased from a box store years earlier. "The next thing I know she's off with the salesman in the utility vehicle, riding off into the sunset," he says.
An 'Impulse' Buyer
That particular day was totally an impulse buy, says Robin. "I was looking at the utility vehicle, and the salesperson asked if I wanted to go for a ride. After a while, he stopped and said, 'OK, now you drive it.' It was cute, and already had the power dump bucket. It was set up exactly how we wanted it," she says. "We told him about our need for a new spreader, and he went into the dealership and came out with a package price. And we took both. I'm an impulse buyer — I want to buy when I want to buy."
While they didn't know exactly what they'd be using the utility vehicle for, Robin had one application in mind. Her son and daughter-in-law are building a new home on a 2.5 acre spread that she and Dan parceled out for them, and she envisions a lot of time on the unit with her new 3-month-old grandson, Simon. The cab was outfitted to snap in an infant seat, and Simon's already had his first ride.
Since getting it home, the Olsons are finding an array of applications, including daily trips out back to spread manure, hauling hay, rocks and mulch in the dump cart, as well as transporting weed trimmers, gas cans and tools around the property. And because Dan never disconnects the mower deck from his New Holland tractor, the utility vehicle's higher clearance will make spreading manure an easier proposition in the high-snow Wisconsin winters. Robin also uses it daily to retrieve the newspaper, though she maintains this luxury is only to keep the cats from following her on a walk toward the busy county road out in front.
The Olsons' first experience with St. Lawrence Equipment was praiseworthy and will keep them driving by other dealerships. "The salesman didn't try to oversell; he wasn't pushy," says Dan. "He let Robin go and then was ready with the price when she asked for it."
And for Dan, after-sales service is critical. "While we were on a quick vacation up north, the dealership called my cell phone to see how we liked it. I told him it was skipping in reverse. He offered to come get it while we were gone. He went into the barn, hauled it back and had it fixed and returned by the time we got back."
Advice to Dealers
The Olsons have spent in the neighborhood of $50,000 on equipment over the last 5 years, in addition to the $1,000 or so they spend in maintenance alone each year. "We pay to keep everything in good working order, all maintained regularly," says Dan, noting that he gladly pays the dealership for service. Operating the equipment, not fixing it, is what's fun for him, he says. "We're very religious about the service."
When asked for advice the couple might offer to dealers who want to gain the business of horse owners like themselves, Robin immediately speaks up.
"Don't talk down to us," she says, pointing out that most horse owners are female and that horse shows could give single bars a run for their money. "A lot of us are women who are handling the horses ourselves and running the show. We're just as tough and capable as men, if not more so. A lot of us can do the work ourselves. In fact, we want to."
Robin also shared an idea that she thinks the smart dealer will capitalize on. "A lot of our friends who currently board their horses dream of owning their own places one day. They're at barns all the time. If I were an equipment dealer, I'd get to those boarding facilities, make some fair deals and expose a whole lot of equipment to those buyers who will need it when they eventually buy their own spread. Even when you have just two horses at home like we do, you need pretty much everything that they have at the boarding facilities.
"There are lots of opportunities with folks just like us," says Dan. "Anything you have to make this lifestyle more enjoyable while keeping the property up to snuff is going to be welcomed. When you have the right equipment, it feels a lot less like work."
For the Olsons, their next equipment purchase could be a backhoe, or a triple-deck mower to save mowing time. Or possibly a food plot seeder, as Robin's nephew recently started hunting turkey on the land.
Dan stresses that horse owners are an excellent target market for dealers. "Let's face it, this horse hobby isn't cheap. In fact, it's a status symbol for some people. We all want to keep the horses up and our property up. You need good equipment to do that."