Inspirational Enterprises – Big Heart Horses

Avril Oliver, Founder and Director of Big Heart Horses says women have a unique quality as leaders.

“At the risk of generalising, women have a real advantage in leadership that might be a great advantage in the business world.

“They can act and lead while staying tuned into their colleagues. They act as emotional thermostats for their teams. Being confident enough to use that is crucial. Women leaders shouldn’t try to be one of the guys. They can use their natural gifts to their advantage.”

Avril is one of a number of entrepreneurs leading the way in Scotland’s social enterprise sector, where women are as prevalent as their male counterparts.


Latest figures suggest that over one quarter (26%) of social enterprises are led by women. That’s almost twice the level of private sector SMEs. We talked to Avril about the secrets of her success and why she chose social enterprise for her business.

Big Heart Horses it is the only Spirit Horse centre in Scotland. Two years since Avril started the business she employs five staff and numerous volunteers on a committed team.

After 20-years working with horses Avril noticed how people with learning or physical difficulties responded to the animals. She decided to set up a business to address the lack of services and set up Big Heart using land attached to her house.

“Seeing horses and ponies interacting with people who had acute needs inspires me. Their confidence improves, their communication improves and there is a general ease with people for some of them that wasn’t there before.

“Horses can sense when someone is facing mental health or physical challenges and they respond. They just know. And the benefits for both human and animal are huge. These people grow before my eyes.”

Avril now plans to expand her enterprise across Scotland. Driven by the impact she sees on clients on a day-to-day basis and inspired by a residential with the Social Enterprise Academy, Avril says working with other leaders in the sector has given her the focus to take her business to the next level.

“That learning experience was exceptional from the moment I arrived. It had an atmosphere of sharing and progress and the Academy tutors’ skill and expertise were second to none. We were forced to walk through our ideas and what they meant to our business.”

The whole ethos of Big Heart Horses is about bringing the best out in people. Avril said working with other leaders in social enterprise not only helped bring out her own ideas, it is driving her to take the business forward.

“Our impact is on people and their families. I just want to make that tiny change to one person’s life. Shifting one little pebble in the ocean creates positive ripples that can be felt far and wide. I’m a big ‘individualiser’. I always have been. My focus has always landed on the quiet person at the back of the room who is struggling in communicate and get involved.

Does she have any advice to offer other women who have an idea for a social enterprise business?

“Don’t wait for the ‘perfect moment’ to start your enterprise. Do the best with what you have. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you start thinking laterally.

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