THE BUSINESS OF RIDING INSTRUCTOR
Working As A Riding Instructor is a goal of many people and offers opportunities in numerous disciplines and types of riding. Additionally, a Riding Instructor can work with students through many different skill levels and engage in this work as a full-time or part-time form of employment whether working for others or being in business for yourself. This section should be read together with the Business of Giving Riding Lessons. There are many overlapping considerations that are applicable to each section. This particular section will focus more upon an Individual seeking to become employed or find employment as a riding instructor rather than as a Facility owner choosing to give riding lessons.
REQUIREMENTS TO BE A RIDING INSTRUCTOR
Knowledge Requirements of Riding Instructors:
Clearly, becoming a riding instructor fundamentally requires that you have a very solid base of knowledge and experience in the field that you propose to teach as well as the Skill Level at which you intend to teach. Even if you choose to teach Introductory Horsemanship, you need the same solid basis of information about horses, horse anatomy, safety around horses, and horse care.
Communication Requirements of Riding Instructors: All riding instructors need good communication skills that can be put to use used in a teaching environment. This includes the ability to explain and demonstrate what is needed to students. We all have met good teachers and bad teachers. Your success in the business of providing riding instruction will depend upon how well you are able to teach. You may have great knowledge and ability--learn to teach the knowledge and ability that you have.
--You Tube and Videotaping: This website specifically disclaims the accuracy of information about horses and horsemanship contained in posted videos on You Tube. However, you can and should look at many of those instructional videos. You can find numerous videos about many aspects of horsemanship including riding instruction, how to saddle a horse, how to catch a horse--the selection is as varied as are the people posting them. What you should look at in these videos is the manner and method people are using to teach and explain. You can learn from some of these videos. You can learn more if you videotape yourself explaining the same topic. Practice your videos with friends--use inexperienced and experienced riders. DO NOT be embarrassed or shy about this or worry about criticism of the way you are doing this--learn from every experience and listen to all criticisms and suggestions. Remember: You are trying to make money by doing this and, in the final analysis, the Market is going to judge you. Make sure you get this right.
--See the section in The Business of Riding Lessons about developing lesson plans and where to get ideas for lesson plans. The more prepared you are, the easier all of this will come to you.
Certification Requirements of Riding Instructors: Certification is increasingly required of people engaged in providing riding instruction. The United States Dressage Federation (USDF), U.S. Pony Club, and United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) all operate Instructor Certification programs. The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NAHRA) also conducts workshops and offers Riding Instructor Certifications. The State of Massachusetts requires all Riding Instructors to be licensed through the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture requires all applicants to be 18 years of age or older; have achieved 60 hours of supervised mounted instruction; and to pass a written exam covering equine laws, safety, riding theory, horse anatomy and health. The license is renewed annually.
You should increasingly expect Licensing and Certification to become a requirement for performing this work whether or not it is presently required in your state at the present. There are obviously good reasons to require certification and there are benefits to achieving Certification for you now even if not legally required in your state.
-- You will find that you and your students can compete in more events that are sanctioned through various bodies (AQHA, USDF, USEF, U.S. Pony Clubs).
-- You will likely find that it is easier to obtain equine liability insurance ( or a discount) if you are a Certified Riding Instructor.
-- MARKET the fact that you are certified. Your entire marketing campaign should let people know you are a Certified Instructor. This builds professionalism, credibility, and respect for your abilities. Parents, when looking for riding instructors, will certainly react positively when they find out you are Certified.
-- There is also a more fundamental benefit to becoming Certified or Licensed. Suppose you had lived in Massachusetts a prior to their passage of the Licensing requirement for Riding Instructors. In that case, every person over 18 years of age was a potential competitor to you and your business. Licensing dramatically reduces the competitive field and (should) weed out marginal instructors.
STARTING A RIDING INSTRUCTOR BUSINESS
Most likely, you do not presently own a facility or lesson horses. You might view your option solely as seeking employment from others. This is not true for two reasons: First, you always have the option of opening your own Riding Instructor Business and working only for yourself. Second, even if you do seek employment as a Riding Instructor and work for someone else, you are nonetheless engaged in running your own business.
Be VERY careful in understanding this concept of running your own business while working for someone else. If your work for someone else, you must, of course, follow their rules, instructions, and directions in performing the work they require of you. You are, at the same time, learning, acquiring new skills, and developing a deeper understanding of the operation of their business. You owe your employer loyalty, legal duties, and fiduciary duties. However, you are not merely an employee, you are building your own reputation as a Riding Instructor and creating your own network within the business. This reputation is a business reputation and remains with you and is of value to you.
What you absolutely cannot do while in the employ of someone else is take money from their customers on the side or steal their customers. Both are clear breaches of ethical, fiduciary, and legal duties. What you can do is gain knowledge about ways to do things as well as ways not to do things, learns tips and tricks, gain experience, and enhance your personal skills and abilities.
If this distinction is clear, you may feel comfortable in continuing your networking and making plans for your own business someday. In fact, many employers like the extra drive and effort from employees seeking to advance themselves. You will likely find, as you talk with them at some time about your future plans, that they will volunteer additional advice and become a great resource for you.
Preparing Your Resume
There is so much information and advice about preparing resumes that this site will not reiterate that here. Do the obvious and prepare a neat, one page resume that summarizes your Skills, Awards, Education and Experience. Make sure you make known your time frames to take the job--if you need two weeks, state that. Do not apply for employment in places you cannot go to for a personal interview.
-- Create a business e-mail address you can use for this purpose. Do NOT use anything flirty or sexual or cute in this e-mail address. Make it professional and one you intend to KEEP as a business e-mail address.
-- Social Media Pages: Update your social media pages. Employers increasingly look over Facebook, My Space, and similar websites as they narrow employee choices.
-- Consider creating a social media page aimed at your Business. You can post more information there and include this page in your resume. Again, prepare this as Business page that you may KEEP and control your links and postings.
Posting Your Resume: You may choose to post your resume online and there are websites that provide this service. Look at some sites offering these service such as Yard and Groom. You will find many job descriptions and likely more applicants than openings. You can get an idea of how this works and availability of jobs as well as see what some applicants post online. You can likely improve upon many of these postings.
Personal Safety with Online Postings and Interviews: Your job postings and travel for interviews may result in you being a stranger in a town and, indeed, in a rural area outside of town. Take precautions for your personal safety. It is irritating that we must do this in this day and age, but it is, in fact, required.
-- If you choose to post online, maintain as much privacy as you can while presenting your talents and abilities. Ask to be contacted by e-mail.
-- If you receive a follow up e-mail and are invited for an interview, check out the facility as much as you can. Find it on Google maps and look for a street view if possible.
-- Ask if you can attend and meet them when lessons or events are ongoing. There is safety in the presence of other people.
-- If you are required to travel out of town for a personal interview, see if you can contact and stay with someone you know nearby. Let your potential employer know you have friends, relatives, or contacts in the area. The job may offer onsite living arrangements as part of the compensation package, but your personal safety requires that you make it known there are others nearby who know you.
WORKING FOR A PREMIUM FACILITY
Perceptions can vary some over the definition of a Premium Facility: it may be one of the best in the nation, best in the state, or best in the area. What is meant here is a major, professionally operated horse center that provides riding lessons and training. It has the capacity to advertise for openings and will receive a number of applicants for any position offered. It may or may not offer an apartment or house on site.
Riding Instructor positions in these Premium Facilities are likely engaged in upper level training programs and may look for riders who are very experienced (and successful) in competition. If you feel you are qualified, apply for the position. Submit your resume and follow up. You may find your resume ignored; you may receive a response that the position was filled; you may be a final candidate and still not get the job.
-- Keep track of all correspondence; enter all contact information into your Networking Contacts Database; send follow up thank you correspondence or e-mails where appropriate.
-- Seek a brief follow up interview or correspondence if you were not hired. See if you can determine missing skills (or ones you had but failed to mention); and see if the employer has any suggestions of other facilities you might contact. Keep all doors open.
-- If you do not get the job, this will be a learning experience. Examine what you did, what you learned, and improve upon it.
WORKING FOR A LESSER FACILITY
A Lesser Facility is an existing business that is performing on a more marginal basis, does not have large, active programs, and may or may not be advertising a job opening. These facilities may--depending upon a number of variables--be diamonds in the rough. You need to assess the reasons why this facility is not performing well. There will be a handful of reasons:
--The Facility Is Run Down: What can be accomplished in two-three weeks of clean up here? Can the facility be restored with some sweat and can you turn this into “sweat-equity”? Is the owner willing to invest in some upgrades?
--The Facility Owner Is Tired: Do not assume the owner is too old--it may be that being too tired means the owner needs help, has an illness or disability, is overworked, has another job, a spouse has left through divorce or death, or the children have grown and moved on without continued interest in the facility. Does this provide you with an opportunity?
--The Facility Has a Bad Reputation: This would be your most difficult obstacle, particularly if this ties in to mistreatment of horses. If this is, in fact, the case, then this facility should be your last choice unless your agreement provides you with considerable control over future operations--including re-naming.
--The Facility Is In Financial or Legal Difficulty: You may not know this at first and will need some professional help to determine this. A farm or ranch may be nearing bankruptcy, foreclosure, have tax liens, or other legal issues (a squabble over a will, for example). There are ways to use professional help to check out these factors.
Your object in considering a Lesser Facility is to see if it offers an opportunity for you to build a business. and to conduct your own business through a leasing arrangement that provides you with an opportunity to keep a greater percentage of the fees. You may combine this venture with opportunities to purchase existing lesson horses or purchase your own horses to be available as lesson horses and/or leasing. You will need Legal Agreements to accomplish this and these agreements will be discussed later.
The point is to use your imagination and to spin-up your own business. Look closely at what the facility could offer you as well as what it does NOT offer.
--Location: Is the location good for future growth?
--Existing Barns, Pastures, and Fencing: Are there empty stalls and available spaces? Is there an opportunity for pasture boarding?
--Arenas: Is there arena space that you could use?
--Option To Purchase: Can you lease space, conduct your own business and grow it, and develop an option to purchase the facility in the future? You may or may not want to look into an option to purchase at first. See how this goes and get your toes wet a little at a time.
LOOK FOR SITUATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES:
Suppose that all you initially are able to accomplish is an arrangement for four stalls and use of an arena. First, this is more than you had last week. Your foot is in the door and you can begin to advertise for Week-Day Evening Lessons as well as Week-End Lessons. (if you have a day job). Use this opportunity and grow this opportunity. Remember: These are your customers and this is your business. You will continue all your steps: Developing and giving lessons; creating YOUR website; Networking, and Marketing and Growing Your Business.
Remember this about Situational Opportunities: These opportunities arise from many factors and not only affect you and existing facilities, but also potential customers. Local economic downturns and a number of factors may cause boarders at one facility to find it necessary to seek other arrangements--even if on a basis of a few months. Stay in touch with local news about the economic conditions in your area. Layoffs from major employers and governmental cutbacks may require low priced stabling and pasturing opportunities for existing boarders and may offer you an opening in riding instruction and lesson giving.
Do not be afraid to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate. This must be a good deal for you. Factors to consider will be considered in a further section covering Business Agreements and Leasing.
Other opportunities will come available and you will be looking for these. If you expand beyond the space you have been able to initially negotiate, seek more space where you are. This lets the owner know you are looking to expand--and may be looking elsewhere. Now, you have value and they may not want to lose you and return to the previous business of empty stalls they had. This alone may lead to discussions about options for you at the present location. There will be likely other barns available nearby. Your negotiating power has increased. You now have students (customers), may negotiate for more space, a larger arena, a better barn, or even merge with a riding program at another barn. All of these are Situational Opportunities. Things change and circumstances change. Be ready to make moves when you need to that can grow your business. Learn through your Networking and seize good opportunities when you can. NONE of this happens until you are in the horse business and ALL of this happens once you start your horse business.
GOALS AND ASSESSMENTS
If you are looking to begin a career as a Rising Instructor, have competent knowledge in your discipline, and have either begun employment with someone else or opened your own business, you must undertake periodic assessments of your goals to measure your progress. You will need to focus upon the following factors and measure them with an honest assessment:
-- Teaching Ability: Is this something you can, in fact do? Are your students learning and progressing? Are your students eager and excited about the lessons? Have you been able to communicate and instruct them successfully? If not, or if you have weaknesses in area, what can you do? Can you break down and revise lesson plans? Can you find ways to improve your abilities to instruct and teach?
-- Making Money: Are you making money? This is critical. It is what you need to accomplish and it will affect how you approach your daily work. This is a pretty simple calculation even if you know very little at the moment about business record keeping and accounting: How much have you brought in? How much have you spent? How much is left?
-- If you are very disappointed in your results, you can find yourself being less than energetic about going to work and your customer-students will perceive this. You will be facing the Hump that is faced by all new businesses and will need to decide how you get over it.
-- Use your original Business Plan now. Go back and see where you were when you started and what you had planned to achieve. Your original Business Plan is still your guide and you now need to update it. Instead of projecting what you thought you would make, plug in three-months of actual numbers. Track the growth rate of your customer base. Is it increasing? Are you losing customers?
-- Look at your Flyers, Advertising and Marketing: Are you getting results? Are you receiving calls and e-mails about your business?
Your goal in assessing your own business is to find out where you are making progress and where you are static or losing ground. Always be honest with yourself in your assessments. Even if you don’t like the numbers, write them down.
WHAT TO DO AFTER YOUR ASSESSMENT:
After you have looked at the numbers, adjusted your Business Plan and Projections, and have the information in front of yourself, you are going to answer two important questions:
-- FIRST: Do I Like This Work and Do I Still Want To Do It? Maybe you dreamed as a young teen about being a Riding Instructor and the day is at hand and you do not see this now as your dream job. Or, maybe you have come to realize that, despite what you thought you knew, you need even more knowledge to perform this work and your timing was too early. The answers to this first inquiry, will guide your answer to the next question.
-- SECOND: This is a fun question that can be VERY energizing for you and here is the Scenario: Imagine yourself where you were three months earlier--dreaming and planning to get into this business. You were actively looking for ways to be a Riding Instructor. In this process, you meet a Riding Instructor who is already doing this. The person you meet tells you that a situation in their life has arisen and they must immediately move 1,000 miles across the country. The person then turns to you and asks: Here are my Books and Records, and a list of my students--will you take this over for me?
This Scenario is designed to re-focus you upon your business as if it were an ongoing business that was handed to you. Obviously, you would be starting off from a better place than where you were in your planning stages: There is a Facility from which to work and there are existing Customer-Students. Now, look at the books and records with an advertising program in place and determine if you could you (and would you) take over this Riding Instructor Business and begin to run it?
You can find that you have made more progress than you first thought. You can see where you would take this business that was handed to you and what you would plan to do next. You can see in a direct way what bringing in four new students per month would do to the numbers. You can begin to imagine ways to do that and set about doing it.
This Scenario is designed to do what many Business Plans already advise you to do--to continue to re-assess and modify your plan. The purpose of engaging in the Scenario is mentally to set yourself apart by imagining that these are someone else’s numbers and business that you need to improve upon. See what this imaginary person accomplished--not what you feel you personally did not accomplish. It is a good exercise and, if you buy into it as an exercise--you will be pleased with what you find that you have in fact accomplished--and you did this much in just the last ninety days.
Working as a Riding Instructor for a Premier Facility is probably a dream job for many people. The positions are limited and the competition fierce; very good people will not get the job for reasons we will never know. Even so, most of those who get the jobs will likely move on to pursue a greater dream--that of operating their own business.
You have options (and they will present themselves in varied situations) to Start Your Riding Instructor Business. Make Your Plan, Work Your Plan, and Improve Your Plan. Your first step is to find a way to start. Some ideas have been outlined here as places to start. You may find that you need to take multiple approaches in your area, but look for every way you can to continue to grow your business. This includes adding other businesses that can Spin-Up with the Business of Riding instructor including Consignment Clothing, Tack Cleaning, and other opportunities you find.