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Tree changes, equine epiphanies & channeling your inner cowgirl – Meet Jules & Bellrowan Valley Horse Riding

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Located on the NSW mid-north coast near on a landscape that blends effortlessly from dense rainforest to hinterland and lush Australian bushland is Bellrowan Valley Horse Riding.

Forget your typical trail-rides! Bellrowan is ridiculously beautiful and enchanting.

Once you’re transported from the car park to the valley you’re met with horses, the farmhouse, cabins & nature in all its glory. Instantly there is a feeling that you’re a million miles away from stress. I literally felt as if the weight on my shoulders evaporated into the beautiful country air.

Forget your typical trail-rides! Bellrowan is ridiculously beautiful and enchanting.

Looking around the farm – and I do mean farm, it’s obvious both Mark and Jules are animal lovers. Mark recants stories of Jules rescuing animals on death row and the result is an eclectic menagerie of wildlife all the more happier for their new lease on life with their adopted parents.

Julie and her partner Mark left behind their inner city suburb of Erskineville 16 years ago opting for a tree change of highly ambitious proportions.

I sat down with Jules to ask her what it’s like swapping the city for the country, tips for social engagement and what their secrets are to running a successful business 15 years on and going strong.

Bellrowan's horses taking some time out

Where did the concept for Bellrowan Valley come from?

It was 1999 and I was working in the IT industry in Sydney verging on the point of burn-out.  Mark, who had traveled extensively, encouraged me to jump on a plane and take some time out to work out what I wanted to do. So off I went.

I traveled throughout Asia – all the while looking for ideas and inspiration. It wasn’t until hitting England and riding a horse through the countryside that I had the wow moment!

The next day I wrote a business plan on a beach in Penzance in Cornwall.  Mark said “oh shit you better get me on a horse then.”

I cut my trip short by 4 months, came home, put our house on the market and bought a horse for Mark.

You weren’t scared about leaving the city?

No not at all. I grew up in the country. Mum tells everyone the first word I ever said was “horse”.  But I knew coming to the country it was either work for someone else, where jobs can be scarce, or create the job and start your own business. And that’s what we did.

What were the first years like?

There wasn’t the internet we know today so it was all about community engagement, traditional print advertising and a LOT of hours, determination and belief.

Once we found the right property, Mark and I set about creating an environment the animals would love and were safe in.

Business in the early days was tough. We had to make ourselves known. There wasn’t the internet we know today so it was all about community engagement, traditional print advertising and a LOT of hours and belief.

We’ve grown from those early days of 6 horses, trail rides only and extremely heavy workloads. Today we have 36 horses + 1 in the tummy, more land, and amazing, passionate staff.

Over 50,000 people have visited us and taken part in the Bellrowan Experience and we offer a range of rides including overnight adventures, pub rides and girl getaways.

Escape the city - Bellrowan Valley

What makes your horse riding ranch different to others?

We work hard to create an experience that forms in people’s memories – something they reflect on over time and look back on fondly.

Our passion for what we do. 15 years on we are still evolving, creating and improving. Our customers see it and have come to know it so we’ve a large rate of return visitors along with first timers.

We place a huge focus on customer experience. We’re not just about getting on a horse, having a ride and leaving. We work hard to create an experience that forms in people’s memories – something they reflect on over time and look back on fondly.

Our reputation has lead to a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations and we market ourselves really well.

Our secret to success – 95% of our horses are bred and educated by us. They are family – they trust us, they know their job so well and they’re happy to do it.

Bellrowan's famous pub ride!

What types of marketing do you concentrate on?

We’re still heavily involved in the community. We do some print – mainly brochures & local magazines and have a strong social media presence along with a great website.

How do you get user engagement on your social media platforms?

Tell a story – it’s more authentic!

On social media, for us, it’s all about really thoughtful posts and pleasing images with the occasional facebook on instagram ad. Something that will catch people’s eye and resonate. We’re always looking for great photo ops.

Tell a story – it’s more authentic!

When people see ad after ad, they kind of glaze over but when you do a video of horses running free through the valley – that’s when you capture their imagination and interest.

We try lots of things out too to see what works. Mark has been doing facebook live recently and that’s also having a really good result.

When people see ad after ad, they kind of glaze over but when you do a video of horses running free through the valley – that’s when you capture their imagination and interest.

We also encourage people to check in on facebook when they arrive for their ride or to share their instagram photos and hashtag us.

Best & the toughest parts about going bush?

The best – Waking up. You walk outside, the animals & the birds are there and not a lot else.  You have freedom – You can wear your pyjamas outside and have a cup of coffee. You’re in peace.

The toughest: Knowing everyone we left behind in the city.

Are you a list person or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person?

Funnily enough I’m a bit of both. I have a list I always go back to but the day can change within a nano second. You have to be open to change in business.

And now for a couple of random questions: Last song you listened to & last things you purchased online?

Prince – Red Corvette, a new saddle and a vintage Moran Chesterfield couch.

What advice would you offer other people wanting to tree change and start a business?

Try not to get caught up in the romance of an area or a holiday.

Think about employment and do your research. You can fall in love with a holiday destination but realistically you need to be able to make a living.

We knew Port Macquarie was an up and coming region and we had a unique idea that showed potential to work.

Find a niche market for the area you’re considering and make sure it’s in a location that can support it. We knew Port Macquarie was an up and coming region and we had a unique idea that showed potential to work.

Most valuable piece of business advice you have received so far?

Develop your core first. Focus on reputation and quality the moment you start your business and grow from that.

It’s more what we’ve observed. When I worked in the IT industry the biggest lesson I took home was not to grow your business too fast.

Develop your core first. Focus on reputation and quality the moment you start your business and grow from that. This earns you and your business trust through quality, consistency and authenticity.

As you release new parts to your business people come to know and trust it will be high quality, well thought out and well delivered.

Chicks in the sticks - get in touch with your inner cowgirl | Bellrowan

Let’s talk about your latest ride Chicks In The Sticks.

Chicks In The Sticks is one for the ladies. A weekend away for the girls – I like to call it “getting in touch with your inner cowgirl!”

It’s suitable for beginner and experienced riders and offers an overnight Australian bush escape far removed from the city, technology, traffic and hectic schedules.

I like to call it “getting in touch with your inner cowgirl!”

You start off with 4wd transfers into Bellrowan Valley followed by a lesson ahead or a 2 hour ride exploring the area. The landscape is incredible riding through rainforest, creek & bushland.

Then it’s home for a pink bubbles and nibbles & a whip crackling lesson.

We have a laugh doing line dancing and learning to fire twirl before a delicious dinner – a favourite is BBQ salmon and tasty salads.

There’s music entertainment and the quintessential roaring campfire.

You stay in gorgeous little cabins on the property where you wake up to a country morning and hot breakfast before embarking on a final ride through the beautiful hinterland.

Cabin accommodation fits 12. In addition to the cabins there are spacious stand-up camping tents with lighting.

This over night adventure suits groups of 8-15.

For more information visit www.bellrowanvalley.com.au or call 02 6587 5227.

Check out Bellrowan Valley on Design Counsel’s Directory of Entrepreneurial Women.