THE BUSINESS OF RIDING LESSONS
Earning money by giving riding lessons is a central part of the operation of many horse businesses. Riding lessons can be an excellent stream of income for stables for several reasons. Giving Riding Lessons introduces new riders to the facility; offers opportunities for Boarding, Horse Sales, and Tack Sales. Riding Lessons offer an opportunity to begin a long term relationship with your student with a large economic value to you over a term of years if pursued correctly.
NOTE: Most adults taking riding lessons are learning to ride for pleasure and not actively intending to become competitors in particular events. You can anticipate that children and young teens may wish to engage in showing and competitions of some type. If your skills permit, you may be able to teach upper level riders who are seriously engaged in competition. In developing your plan for providing riding lessons, you need also to look at your market at hand. To whom will you market and what are the demographics of your area? If you are close enough to urban centers or growing suburbia, you likely have a number of young people available for lessons. If you are living in a fairly rural area, you will likely formulate a different marketing plan.
Do not let a first assessment that there are not enough people to whom you can market stop your business plan. Much more goes into the business of providing riding lessons as you will see. If a smaller population is at hand, your key to success will be to diversify across age groups, types of riding, and as many skill levels as possible. Your first goal is to achieve Activity and interest in your facility. Activity breeds Activity. You want your facility to be The Place To Be.
To engage in the business of giving riding lessons, you must conduct an assessment and answer four primary questions and do so with an honest and critical view:
1. Your Abilities: This includes not only what types of riding do you have enough ability to teach but also to whom who can you teach it. Can you teach young people? Can you communicate your knowledge effectively so people can learn from you? Are you a capable rider in the areas your students want to learn?
2. Your Available Lesson Horses: Do you have horses available that are good lesson horses and that match your teaching skills and abilities?
3. Your Available Facility: Will you work at your own facility or work for someone else at their facility? Do your skills match their horses? There are some leasing and partnership variations of this question that will be reviewed in another section.
4. Your Ability to Train Someone Else’s Horse: What is the degree of skill you have in training someone else on their horse? Are you able to take the student and their horse through increasing levels of skill in a particular discipline?
5. Your Target Market: How large is your target market and can you appeal to that market?
These are fundamental questions that will guide you in pursuing a business model that will work for you. Note, these are skill and expertise questions. Your answers to these questions may tell you that you can teach Basic Horsemanship, various levels of Dressage or Western Performance. You may decide that you need another lesson horse or that everything is in good order and you are ready to start your riding lesson business.
WHY DO SOME RIDING FACILITIES FAIL?
Some facilities offer lessons and yet attract few students. Some very knowledgeable and gifted riders find themselves unemployed or not making enough money because not enough people are taking lessons. This website has never claimed nor will it ever claim to tell anyone how to teach someone to ride a horse. That role is for experts in horseback riding. What is being explored here is how and why some businesses are more successful than others at attracting and keeping customers.
Every business has two departments: One is Sales and the other is Everything Else. If you have no customers, you have no business. You must get customers to your facility and into your riding program.
You must first develop a riding program that defines what it is that you are offering for sale. You must then successfully market this program. Note: Marketing means developing the tools ( brochures, websites, flyers, advertisements) that you will use in advertising. Successful Marketing means that you actually accomplish your goal and have customers paying you for lessons.
If you do not own a facility and are seeking employment as a riding instructor working for someone else, you will critically need sales skills to advance your career. If you work as an instructor, no matter how much knowledge you have about riding, you must be successful as an instructor and be able to retain current customers as well as attract new customers. Riding Instructors can have their employment terminated the same as any other employee.
It is this aspect of the riding lesson business, the actual Selling of Lessons that presents the stumbling block for many people. It would indeed be nice if people visited your website, walked in the door, and wrote you a check for your services. This can happen occasionally. Far more likely, you will find people coming to the facility and SHOPPING. They are looking for a place to take lessons. Are they going to take lessons from you…or…are they going to go down the road and take lessons from someone else? You have to get them to take lessons from you. In this sense, you have to sell them on your facility, your riding program, and, importantly, on you and your abilities.
This process need not scare you or worry you. There are steps in this process that you can follow that will make this happen. You need no worry about your personality or think that you do not have an ability to engage in sales. You will find that you do have the ability and that you can learn these steps. You will also find that nearly all riding lesson businesses that have not been successful or that have failed, did not know the steps to selling. They did not follow good sales practices and probably did not train their employees in good sales practices. Again, with sales (paying customers), you do not have a business.
SELLING IS NOT A TURN-OFF
Some people react strongly and even negatively when Selling becomes the topic. Either they have never considered themselves as a salesperson before or do not understand much about what Selling actually entails.
Selling has nothing to do with dishonesty, deception, or trickery. These practices are doomed to failure. Selling has to do with your interaction and the presentation of your services in a direct and positive manner and has everything to do with ethics and honesty.
There is an important principle to remember about Selling any product or service. When people call you, e-mail, or come to your facility to inquire about lessons, they have already decided this is something they want to do. They will, of course, want to look the facility over and see if they like it. More importantly (and read this carefully), they are LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO BUY FROM. In a manner of speaking, they are already Sold--but who do they buy from? The relationship that you are forming (whether it began online, through a phone call, or a personal visit with them) is coming to fruition and they are looking at you. Are you the person they want to buy from?
Your presentation, demeanor, attentiveness, and professionalism will be critical aspects of determining if you are successful in getting their business. This is why you must be at ease with your word tracks and processes. In what order will you present the benefits of your facility? What will you say in answer to typical questions? Have you formulated simple, truthful statements that come easily to you? You cannot memorize a script and yet be conversational with the customer--you need an easy flow with what you are saying and practice (even in front of a mirror or friends) will help this happen.
REMEMBER: YOU HAVE HELP IN THIS. You have help in all of this and know in your heart who the greatest salesperson will be--the Horse.
DEFINE YOUR RIDING PROGRAM
Before you can define anything, you must know and understand what it is that you have to offer for sale. Review your personal assessment of your skills and abilities as well as the skills and abilities of your horses if you are going to provide or lease lesson horses. Decide upon the riding disciplines that you have the ability, skills and know-how to teach AND that matches with that of the horses you have available. Decide also if you have the skills and abilities to train someone else’s horse and in what discipline and to what degree you are able to do that. Until you have these basics sorted out, you cannot move to the next steps.
DEFINING your Riding Program means that you can actually write out a minimum of 48 weeks ( a full year with scheduled weeks off) of Lesson Plans covering your riding program. If you do not think you can accomplish this, ask yourself why you would deserve to be paid for the next year’s lessons. If you are the type of person who is better at talking than writing, this will be a trying task for you, but well worth the effort. It forces you to break down your lessons into one-hour training periods, define each training step, requires you to use proper fundamentals throughout, and provides you with word tracks for everything you are going to do. When you can see your own program in writing and can see how it progresses the student, you can see precisely where you are going.
DEFINING your Riding Program also creates many of your tools and marketing materials you will need. You will have defined an objective for each lesson, have an objective manner in which to assess each students abilities (have they learned this or not), and have a manner in which to issue periodic reports to the student or parent about their progress. If you cannot produce and show progress, why should anyone pay you? Demonstrating and reporting continued progress provides the reason they will continue to take lessons and become more involved with horses.
DEFINING your Riding Program also let’s you know what steps you are missing in your instruction. If your students are not learning as you would assume, break down your teaching into smaller steps or tweak your guidance until you have your lesson plan correct. The best thing about getting your plans right to begin with is that you can use these tools and these processes for many years to come. It is important that you get it right.
Remember: All of these Riding Lesson Plans that comprise your riding program will stay with you throughout your career. While the plans and word tracks become old and second-hand to you, the remain brand-new and fresh to new students. They are your basic lesson hand-outs or the basis of your updates and report cards to parents. They also serve to keep you on target and focused with what you are looking to achieve.
FINDING IDEAS FOR LESSON PLANS
There are numerous websites and discussion board postings on the Internet that basically ask if anyone has any ideas about what to do to develop lesson plans. It almost appears that some people have undertaken the duty of instructing a student and are now thrashing about for ideas about what to do--even as first lessons. This website does not attempt to provide actual lesson plans or tell someone how to teach riding. This is a business website; but there are resources available to help you develop hundreds of lesson plans.
If you do nothing else and cannot attend Meredith Manor for your equestrian training and education, Read and Study their site and everything Ron Meredith has written or published including the course outlines and study guidelines at Meredith Manor. Dr. Ron Meredith is the President and Founder of Meredith Manor and has nearly fifty years of teaching future riding instructors at the college.
British Horse Society Examinations and Qualifications: Check the Syllabus for the BHS Horse Owner’s Certificate (Levels 1-4) or the BHS Stage 1 Guide and Syllabus for Horse Knowledge and Care. The BHS Guidelines and Study Aids outline a thorough system of lesson plans. Included is also a 37-page Syllabus outlining study for the Preliminary Teacher’s Test to prepare and test for an ability to teach. You will also find the requirements for a Level II Coaching Certificate among many other resources.
United States Equestrian Foundation (USEF) Rule Book. Look at the judging standards and base your lessons off the standards for various disciplines.
United States Pony Clubs provides standards for its competitions including sample lesson plans.
American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) provides training plans in the Fundamentals of Horsemanship. The AQHA also publishes its Judging Standards, Judging Manuals for English and Western Riding, Score Sheets on all competitions including Equitation, Equitation Over Fences, Reining Patterns, Cow Horse Patterns, Ranch Horse Patterns, and Judging Working Hunter. The site is a wealth of lesson ideas.
Individual Breed Associations, such as the Arabian Horse Association, publish rules and judge’s standard for the breeds events and competitions.
4-H produces a large amount of training materials from Grades 3-12 as well as Achievement Books for Levels 1-4, Leader’s Manuals and Guides, Horse Bowl Competition Questions, and other resource materials.
The Boy Scouts publish Merit Badge Books on Horsemanship, Animal Science, Farm Machinery, and Veterinary Medicine, all of which can be used as the basis to develop lesson plans.
You Tube: PLEASE NOTE: This site specifically disclaims the accuracy of information that may be contained within posted You Tube videos. Whether or not the information presented is accurate or correct is solely for the viewer to decide based upon their own skill level. However, there are numerous How-To videos regarding horses, horse care, washing and grooming, and even picking stalls. The point of looking at these videos is that they are examples of people filming themselves in an instructional-type videos. Look at their demeanor, presentation, thoroughness, clarity, and whether or not they are successful in achieving their teaching objective. You may decide to videotape yourself (a good idea) and see how you come across teaching or instructing on these same subjects.
Lesson Plans may be developed for the Rider OR for the Horse OR Both. Lesson Plans vary by the Age and Skill of the Student as well as by the Age, Skill, Health, and Behavior of the Horse. Lesson Plans can cover Riding Skills and Abilities as well as Knowledge of Horse Care, Horse Anatomy, Horse Health, and Horse Emergencies. Lesson Plans should also cover the various aspects of Tack, Saddling, and the Proper Usage and Care of Tack. You will need indoor and outdoor Lesson Plans and Indoor Lesson Plans during bad weather.
MARKETING AND TWEAKING YOUR RIDING PROGRAM
Once you have a defined riding program in place, you are now going to tweak it in several ways. First, you will begin your second, third and fourth set of 48 Weeks of Lesson Plans. This is only logical since you may have students entering your program with various levels of skills. You need to have plans in place so you can instruct the broadest number of students across the broadest range of learning and skill levels that you can offer. This way you can make an initial assessment of your student’s skill level and either require or re-train as you deem appropriate before you move on.
You also want to be able to Tweak Your Riding Program in order to market it in many different ways. If you have at hand lesson plans that cover all the basic skills and abilities you can imagine, you will find many ways in which to tweak these plans for sales and marketing purposes. The plans may contain the same fundamentals and be adjusted only slightly to provide a new Riding Program. These new Riding Programs are designed to bring you more customers, to entice more people to ride, and provide you with an opportunity to create more long term customers.
Could you select from your notebook of lesson plans, the appropriate lesson plans to provide for the marketing campaigns listed below? These marketing campaigns could be conducted throughout your existing Network, on your website, through Flyers, Notices in Local Newspapers, Press Releases, and many other forms of advertising. Again, your goal is to create Activity and Interest in your facility.
-- Young Riders Program: Let your child Explore the Horse with six weeks of instruction in the fundamentals.
-- My Child Wants A Pony: Visit our stable and learn about beginning riding lessons and pony ownership and leasing.
-- I Used To Ride: Market to those old feelings. We offer lesson horses and leasing. Get back in the saddle.
-- A Midsummer Night’s Evening for Mother‘s and Daughters: Enjoy four or six weeks of lessons at our farm.
-- The Basics of Horsemanship for the Gentleman. What You Should Know When She Wants To Ride. Private lessons available.
-- A Morning Camp for Young Riders
-- Scouting Merit Badges. Get the Boy Scout Merit Badge Book and put the lessons together.
-- Horses and Exercise: A Ladies’ Morning Out. Join us with a Certified Yoga Instructor. Join with another professional and create a program.
You should have Lesson Plans available and you should be able to tweak them for children aged 8-12 and 13-18 as well as 18 and above. In addition, you will have available (depending upon your skills and abilities) various levels of formal training (Dressage, Hunter-Jumper, Western Performance, or whatever discipline you plan to teach) You can tweak your Riding Lessons to fit many target groups, but you should have on hand a written plan for these programs. You may be using much of the same material and basic lesson plans in all your programs, but you need to know where you are going and what you are going to say when asked about your programs. You are going to speak and present things differently and focus on different aspects of your program with the parent of a nine-year old than you are to a woman in her thirties wanting to ride again. These are your beginning steps to marketing your riding program.
The next reason you are going to define your riding program is to create handouts, explanations, and periodic performance results. You are not going to copy and paste each step of your complete riding program and provide that to the customer. You are rather using topical highlights so people can see that there are future steps, there is more to learn, and that they will progress through a course of instruction and complete it. You are seeking a mental commitment from them to a term of lessons. You want a mental buy-in of your training program reinforced with periodic written evaluations and certificates of completion at various points.
Your students may naturally reach a point where they want to branch from the Main Course where they began learning and desire to enter another course of work. Make your plans adjust to accept this student into the learning path they are seeking.
SETTING LESSON FEES
Determining appropriate lesson fees is a matter of considerable judgment about your competition, personal skills and abilities, and marketing abilities. In reviewing websites, you will usually find ranges from $20.00 (very basic) to $80.00 and over (advanced ) per lesson. There is a large grouping in the $30-$45 range spread across the U.S. Some facilities provide one-on-one or private lesson fees as well as discounted group rates. Your first goal is to produce an actual profit and to make enough money to make all of this worth your while.
Your initial research through competitor websites and telephone interviews should give you some idea about the kinds of lessons available in your area, disciplines involved, and typical rates being charged. Still, do not expect to learn from this initial research if there is a real profit being earned. It is not easy to get a handle on actual lessons being taught per week regardless of what you find out about the rate.
SPIN-UP RIDING LESSON MARKETING
For Beginners, strongly consider reduced costs for riding lessons FOR THE FIRST SIX WEEKS. There are good reasons for this although it will test your abilities and marketing skills. Start by looking at this from a consumer’s viewpoint. This is critical because you cannot demand that they come to your facility and give you money; you have to market and sell them on this idea. Your potential and typical customer, a parent, may wonder what all this will cost and is it worth the expenditure? What if their child does not like this or does not follow through?
Low Introductory Lesson Rates are designed to encourage people to look into horseback riding as an activity. The more people that you can get to try horseback riding as an activity, the more long-term customers you will find. Low Introductory Rates are also beneficial to the parents; it permits them to get their feet wet without biting off more than they can chew. There are two primary outcomes from this approach.
First Outcome: A customer takes six introductory lessons from you. You do your best teaching as you should. The customer does NOT take to the lessons or learned all they want. You have sold a consignment helmet and clothing that you may or may not offer to buy back at a reduced price for future resale to another student. You have made some amount of money. The customer has no hard feelings (and you should not as not everyone rides horses) and may refer friends to you to explore riding for themselves.
Second Outcome: A customer takes six introductory lessons from you. You do your best teaching as you should. For this customer, a new salesperson enters the scene: The Horse. You know in your heart of hearts that this happens. For these customers, The Horse works its own magic. This customer wants more and this is the customer that you want to have for the next year and afterwards. You have to find them in order to succeed.
** A Note About Six Weeks of Lessons: Try to create a six-week lesson plan. Riding Lessons may be a new bill to pay that must find its way into the family budget for many customers. People generally tend to think of their bills as occurring on a monthly basis. If you can create an introductory plan that is six weeks long, you will get to the second month of lessons (in a mental- sense) for your customer-student. If your customer-student now signs up for a full-featured lesson program, they may begin to think of these lessons as extending into a third month and creating more of a routine of taking riding lessons.
GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS
Begin your discussion with learning something about the customer’s current level of experience as the customer sees it. The customer may let you know that they are new arrivals to your town or state and that they have been in competition for two years or that they are first-timers just wondering about riding lessons. This will tailor the presentation of your facility and what it offers.
Make sure you set reasonable expectations and goals and that these goals are agreed upon. Do not get tied to unreasonable expectations or overly demanding individuals who are unrealistic. These will not be worth your trouble until things are settled (some previous difficulty or incompatibility may be the real reason they are seeking a new barn). Do not confuse this personality with someone who is driven and very determined--but trainable and accepting of instruction.
NEEDS AND WANTS
Learn something about their personal goals and what they hope to achieve.
Understand what you are assessing and doing with this process. First, determine if this is a student that you think you can teach. If you have hesitation, of any type explore more deeply into the matter. Ask questions about other interests and activities the student may have. At what level are they performing in school, if appropriate. What you hope to uncover in this initial conversation is the following:
Is this a student who has always liked horses or someone being prodded by parents? Prodding does not rule out the person as a student, but understand where you are in this process. You may uncover someone who truly loves horses or you may be dealing with parents seeking to find an interest for their child or to expose their child to opportunities.
Should you learn or come to believe that the student simply does not take to horses and does not have an interest in horses at heart, you should conference with the parents about discontinuing lessons--or perhaps taking a break. This loses income for you in the short run, but a child without interest or attention is in a dangerous position and is not being well served by further lessons. Don’t overly worry about losing this student, there will be others who will want to be at your facility all the time.
Assessing The Potential Customer-Student:
You must also make some basic assessments anout your ability to work with the student or desire to teach the student. Ask yourself these questions:
Is this a person with discipline or learning difficulties that you may not be able or equipped with the proper knowledge to take on as a student?
Is this a person who would be disruptive to other students? If the student later engages in disruptive activities or shows dangerous propensities for weapons, aggressive behavior, offers harm to any animals or plays with matches, you will have processes in place for discipline and even removal should within the riding agreement.
Tailoring Your Riding Program:
There is no one size fits all set of riding plans. You can select from your existing lesson plans and make adjustments, if permissible without skipping steps, to individualize your approach for this particular student. Everyone likes individualized plans and, with good teachers, they are always individualized and tailored for each student.
As a presentation skill, practice the questions you would ask and anticipate different answers and how you would respond. The reason that you practice this is that you want to finds words and phrases that are comfortable for you and that you can remember easily. This keeps you from stumbling and bumbling and creates a more professional presentation. You will know where you are going in the conversation and feel more at ease.
This answer is designed to be encouraging to the rider, establish confidence and value for their money by providing life-long skills, and to do so safely. Encouragement, Value, and Safety. These are concerns for beginning riders.
You will need many responses for many different situations. You will find that most of these come naturally to you, but you practice in order to have a certain ease with your answer that imparts confidence and trustworthiness in the customer. Do not lie to the customer or mislead the customer. There is no point in this and it will lead to nothing good.
If you cannot provide advanced training on the level the person needs or within the discipline they seek, tell them. Help them by suggesting who can and make the call to refer them to a specialist. Keep your notes, add them to your Networking database, stay in touch. Horse people know many other horse people and you will likely get a referral from them in the future if you handle this correctly.
GETTING CUSTOMERS TO YOUR FACILITY
You cannot sell riding lessons over the Internet or over the telephone. REPEAT: You cannot sell riding lessons over the Internet or over the telephone. Your Goal with your Website, E-Mails, and Telephone Calls is to have the future customer visit your facility--to physically come see the facility and to meet you. If they come to your facility, you have a chance to bring them on as a paying customer; if they do not come out to visit, you have no chance.
Everyone in every business has made appointments for a person to come to their business or has given directions and has had the person miss the appointment and never show up or never call back. Why did this happen? If the person called, they were interested in the first place. What went wrong? The likely answer is that they also called some other place, got a different answer to their questions or received different information, went there, and purchased that persons product or service. Each inquiry you receive, whether by e-mail or phone, is an opportunity and you must make the most of each opportunity you have in order to be successful.
Understand first what it is your customer wants from you. There is some service or product for which all of us do not know how to shop or buy. We can research online, but we really can only see the barest tip of the iceberg. It might be a new product like a computer or a new service like a CPA. When we are customers in that position, we are looking for some answers to our questions, information, guidance, and most importantly, someone to buy the products services from. Think about this: We are looking for someone to buy the products or services from. The person who seems most professional, honest, direct, helpful, and thoughtful will be the one we buy from. If you do not know how to shop for a CPA, you are going to look for those qualities as those qualities have always served you well in the past in other endeavors.
Your customers are much the same. If they are knowledgeable horse people, they will ask a different set of questions than a person new to horses…and others will ask you questions everywhere in between. They will know to ask certain questions and will expect answers. More importantly, they will be looking for someone who will help them and guide them through the process and with whom they have a feeling of confidence and trust. Simplicity, Honesty, Timing, and Control: Answering questions and getting people to come to your facility for the first visit is your immediate goal. Understand that simple, clear and direct answers are best for this purpose. Look at an Example:
--Question: Hi--My daughter is 10 and wants to take riding lessons and I want to know how much do you charge?
--Answer: Great. Has she ridden before or are we starting brand new?
--Question: She’s new and just learning; we are on a budget and I don’t see that we can do this so I need to know how much your lessons are.
--Answer: It sounds like she would be in our beginning rider class and our lessons start at $_______/hour. I like teaching young people and we start with good fundaments. Has she always liked horses?
Your potential customer may volunteer dissatisfaction with another barn if they are considering a move. Listen to them closely. You may know the other barn and its owner as a good horseperson and teacher. If so, look for something deeper at work here and try to learn more about the move.
Hint at things you are going to do. Ask if the student’s Progress Reports are available? (Probably not). Ask if the lessons were structured and prepared?
Do NOT criticize the other barn and its operations. If you feel like you need to say something, begin with “…let me tell you something about my approach” and move on to positive aspects of your program. Move to your Facility Tour.
HANDLING THE FACILITY TOUR
Provide a brief tour of your facilities. Show the customer basic things at first: Where to Park; where is Drop-Off and Pick-Up; The location of bathrooms, availability of a refrigerator or microwave or other Amenities.
Show the customer your Barn and Arena. Present key aspects of your Facility. If you have worked on the Arena footing and lighting, explain that. Let customers know that the Arena is regulation size or if it meets certain training standards. Provide information about hours and accessibility. If you are providing the horses, show and tell something about the horses that will be used.
WEATHER: Weather is an important factor in providing riding lessons. Explain that you have alternative lesson plans if the weather prevents riding, that there is a reduced rate for these activities, but that you are proceeding on course and expect attendance.
You must have an enclosed, all-weather Arena. If you do not, you must work towards having one as quickly as possible. Weather is a great killer of riding lessons when it is either too cold or too wet. Bad weather and cancellations will destroy your income. If you cannot immediately develop an enclosed arena, then develop an indoor classroom or workspace where you can continue during bad weather.
Show the area you will use for lessons during bad weather. If your barn contains a room or lounge area, install a blackboard or marker board with dry erase markers. If necessary, enclose part of the equipment shed. You must have a place available that provides a classroom atmosphere where you can use DVD’s, Wall Charts, Boards, and Work Tables.
You want to minimize and hopefully eliminate lost revenue as well as remove excuses for non-attendance. Explain that there is going to be required class work in addition to riding lessons and is worked into the basic lesson plan and usually covered on very bad weather days. These lessons may include topics such as Rules Training for Shows, Event Planning, Tack Care, Basic Horse Care, Use of and Storage of Barn Tools or other topics as you develop them.
You have already set this time aside and need to produce income for yourself. You do not need a to hear “…it was raining on my side of town, so I figured…”. You need income and must require a continuation of attendance and lesson plans.