Excellent advice Ed and appreciated as always. It is always good to have an extra pair of eyes looking at a thing and good to have a sounding board, particularly when wisdom and experience can be offered. When I was much younger and slightly more arrogant I wanted to be a trailblazer. I was quick to pass on the advice of others who (unbeknownst to me) had already been down the same trail. I've reinvented a number of wheels in my day and unfortunately learned later that wheels are pretty much wheels and work just fine as they are.
Our horse show photography business has provided enough income for us to sustain at a level; however it is not providing enough for advancing. We're already parring down some of the events that have proven to be less successful. Sometimes a particular show manager will have multiple events spread through the year. In order to keep the higher profit shows we have to cover the so-so shows and we accept that. We concentrate on "rated" shows. For the show to maintain its rating one of the requirements from the sanctioning association is an official show photographer. The manager must have a photographer for them all so if we aren't willing to accept the buttermilk we can't get the cream. But there are shows that just don't, haven't, and won't generate profitable income for us. A dozen years ago a photographer with the exact same schedule I have now and working exactly as I do now would have made $75K - $95K per year; today we're lucky to pull in 30% of that. The customer volume has plummeted to nearly nothing. Our market penetration is about 12%-15% of entries yet we photograph upwards of 85% of the exhibitors (100% is the goal, but not attainable). So we spend a lot of time and effort photographing exhibitors who will never be our customers. I'm not the only show photographer to consider migrating out of the business. Last summer we contracted out shooting for the official photographer at a large show. He had an impressive setup, one of the better presences I've seen. His rig included a customized travel trailer with a viewing/sales area and multiple screens for proofing. He was in the business for 17 years and abruptly threw in the towel after that show. Unlike the wedding photography or portrait photography business, the horse show photography business isn't being flooded with new so-called professionals. Instead the shows are filling with amateurs with very nice equipment, sometimes better than the pro, who are not selling but giving away. Some of these folks are pretty dang good. They are generally wealthy folks with expensive taste so $10K in a camera and lens is not a stretch. Many of them are familiar enough with the horses, or are riders as well so they know the preferred angles, timing and conventions of horse showing. I'm not bitter, it's purely a fact that the supply of good enough and free is greater than the demand for excellent. It's a dying market. I see a lot of photographers in the business kicking and screaming about it. If I can steal a line from "Titanic": "She's made of iron, sir, I assure you she can and will sink; it's a mathematical probability". We'll unwind from it slowly, keeping the better of the shows and gracefully bowing out before the final curtain falls on our heads.
About the house: We have much larger troubles with it than cosmetics. It has not been inhabited for at least 7 years. It is in the country 6 miles from the nearest town. The septic system has to be completely replaced. One area of the hose is so out of level that the floor drops about 6" in 15'. When it was built, prior to the Civil War indoor privies were yet to be heard of. A bathroom was added at some point but by today's standards it is far, far, far from suitable. I don't think we're near a point of painting or hanging a picture over a few minor distractions. I wish it weren't so.
In the future I want to photograph portraits and small-scale commercial work. To achieve that goal we have to acquire and accumulate capital. I am open to several options for making that happen and resistant to others. I might be happy working with/for an established photographer. I'm not nearly as motivated to be an owner or self-employed as I am to be a working photographer. It seems to me that there aren't studios that employ (on any level) multiple photographers I think they are all single owned one-horse shows. That's okay too but it means I too must be a one-man band to work in the business. I am highly resistant to taking a conventional job because doing so would consume too much of my time.
So I went out on this little fact finding adventure. We never know the answers unless we ask the questions.