Why do so many lesson programs close?

If you do a google search online, there seems to be a lot of riding lesson programs, but when you dig deeper, you find many of them aren’t operating for lessons anymore, or they downsized and don’t have school horses available anymore, etc. There ARE still good programs out there, don’t get me wrong, and I know a few around me that are doing great.

However, there is always a theme, everywhere, and the theme is: closing down/selling/instructor went to college/etc, etc. I have received several emails stating, “my daughter/son was riding but they closed down.”

I have been everywhere on the lesson program spectrum from “making it” to “still under” to “SUPER SUCCESSFUL”, and…. guess what guys?? I have closed my doors twice as well.

So why is this happening? What’s the problem?

THESE are the problems that some programs solve some of, but hardly any solve all of them:

They fear the liability, or can’t afford the insurance
Good kid’s horses are hard to come by, and hard to maintain too
Doesn’t themselves want to teach anymore/other life plans or career goals
Can’t find instructors to stay on board with them/their program (for their own personal, time or money reasons)
HORSES are expensive – so to furnish school horses for students, you first have to make enough to pay for the horses AND still make something for YOUR life too, so most people burn out of trying to furnish school horses (and more than money reasons for this… instructors get burned out with their clients’ entitlement about what the horse should provide as a ‘lesson horse’, and their lack of awareness or gratitude toward the financial burden the school horses can create.)

Programs that can run off the pocketbook of someone independently wealthy outside of the horse business is rare. I’m trying to become one of these people eventually lol, but for right now, my own money is made THROUGH the horses.

I have even done my own mini-surveys and also from my own observations, 90% of people that own and show horses, do so with money made outside of the horse world, at a “regular” job.

People, like me, who are cray cray enough to try and make a LIVING with horses have our work cut out for us.

I tell you what…. it’s HARD. I have had the lesson business be my sole income making thing since I entered adulthood. At first, it was fantastic. I was young, no kids, didn’t have to pay rent to my parents and for a long time they didn’t charge me board or any sort of stipend either… I was super spoiled. Then, for a winter, I wanted a covered arena, so I rented a barn and paid full care board for $500 a month on TEN horses. But I was making $10,000-$13,000 a month with absolutely no other living expenses (still spoiled.)

But then….. let’s just say…. I did NOT marry for money. So, I needed to keep running the business to make ends meet.

It was a struggle, but it always built up. But I remember distinct moments where I was so excited after the bills were paid and I had nothing left, that I could get one new student, and their $140 for the month (this was back then), means I could fill up my gas tank and go buy groceries!

Now I always have money for gas and groceries when I need it (mostly lol), but I just had to ask a client to prepay a package of lessons because I really needed dental work done.

This is another major problem, and it’s a problem with the entire horse industry having a shortage of new trainers and instructors. It is way too hard and way to expensive to have medical and dental insurance. For a while, I qualified for state medical insurance, but there are no dental programs like that. So, there aren’t a lot of trainers and instructors because this is not a job that provides benefits.

Maybe, maybe it could be, in what I want to build? We will see. I know that was cryptic lol.

So, here is my task. HOW do we make enough money, to provide for the horses themselves, PLUS regular living expenses, PLUS money for medical/dental/emergencies, PLUS having a bit of a life?

Because of the absolute large magnitude of all those above things, most programs don’t make it. They literally CHOOSE to close down.

**Unless** they have a spouse who provides so this is more of their “heart” project (most of these instructors burn out too), or unless they have another means of income and medical benefits, it just can’t be sustained for long term.

**Unless!!!!!** You do it differently. And I am finding a way!

Because, for me, it has done… MOST of those things, maybe not the medical care part lol. It will keep having to do this, and it will keep having to get better and better, because I like to provide lessons for horse-crazy kids, and I have my own horse-crazy kids to provide for!

An instructor that tries to teach private lessons a few days of the week or everyday a week can’t make enough money. ESPECIALLY if they have their own school horse. The horse itself, with all it’s expenses for good care will cost you around $800/m (Washington State area, I averaged board, feed, farrier, supplements, and bodywork. I didn’t include vet care in this number). That’s 16 lessons a month. Then you need more than that to pay for your living expenses.

Teaching people on their horses, ok awesome! But getting enough clients to pay all your bills takes TIME. Advertising one day and getting to teach 30-50 lessons a month right away doesn’t usually happen.

So, my burden to solve becomes… how can I make enough money for the program to pay it’s bills, to take care of the horses and equipment, to hire instructors so I can be a parent to, to pay my own living expenses with 4 kids, etc.

This business is HARD. We are combining a LOT of energies together. Instructors, students, horses, their parents, their families, students all together, other helpers and barn friends.

Let me reiterate putting HORSES in this mix. Do you see how many personalities, needs, quirks, attitudes, moods, health, emotions that is to manage? And HORSES… prey animals, herd animals.

We try our very best but horses will ALWAYS be horses. Always. Even the best ones will have their perfectly-natural-instinct “moments”. So, we don’t have perfectly UNPREDICTABLE machines. Then we have to teach PEOPLE how to speak horse, and be leader of horse and each of these people have their own nerves/anxieties OR unawareness/overconfidence.

SO THIS IS WHY. This is why most lesson programs don’t make it:
Money. Horses. People.

All those things are wonderful. All those things can be as equally terrible.

I am learning all the time, getting better all the time, growing and evolving. I am also still making lots of mistakes.

LUCKILY… I love it! I love this business so much. The good things I see and the magic that is created between people and horses much outweighs the struggles for me.

And, luckily, I stay one step ahead of the mistakes by not quitting, and always learning and pushing on. I’ve had a couple decades of making it work really well all the way to closing it down twice, and back again.

It’s working and paying all those things, as I have done my best to create a way to get it sustainable. I have also solved problems with instructors, horses, different client’s personalities/needs, and with students confidence levels and varying goals. Now, I want to teach all of these things to people, so we can get MORE successful lesson programs in this world.

I am making myself available as a consultant, and also my curriculum, instructor training, lesson horses training, and management services will be a recourse that any future (or current) instructor/trainer/farm owner can sign up for.

featherequestrian@gmail.com to get a hold of me!

The Benefit of Growing Up on Lesson Horses

I was a very very very very lucky kid! I got to ride several dozen horses and ponies in my childhood. I have never kept count but I am sure I have sat on around 100 different horses. And thousands more I have been near, around, watched, interacted with, etc.

Most people won’t own 50 horses or have their kid go work for horse trainers/etc.

But, you CAN provide this type of life experience for them in lesson programs.

In human relationships, it’s important to meet MANY people right? To interact with, get taught by, be friends with all sorts of personality types? Because, life is varied. College professors will all be different. Work colleagues will be various personalities. Boyfriends/girlfriends, all different.

It’s a personal goal of mine that my kids date A LOT instead of getting in early relationships and sticking with someone without even knowing what else might be out there that their own personality type might do better (or worse) with.

Such it is with lesson horses. There is so much to be gained learning how to ride/handle horsES, not just A horse.

Gem. Jersey, and Cheyenne – All vastly different in color and personalities, have all offered invaluable learning experiences for students of all ages and personality types!

Many students focus on what they want to do each ride. They want to canter and jump, or whatever it is. Then they might get disappointed if, because of the horse’s energy that day, they only get to walk and trot.

As the parent, ask yourself, what do you TRULY want your child to learn by riding horses? Yes, you want them to have fun and do as much as they can, but, in life, would you want them to disregard intuition and do more than what they should just because they want to and then potentially get hurt?

And what’s more, don’t we all want our children to be kind and in tune with the needs of others rather than just themselves?

On the flip side, do you want them to stay on a school horse where they have plateaued in learning, when other horses are pushing them out of their comfort zone?

Jen, teaching lessons with Reyna and Cody at Feather Equestrian Bonney Lake

As an instructor, there is no perfect formula for making the right horse choices all the time, but we do try our best, pay attention to the cues of each rider and horse and rider and horse PAIRING and will make the best decisions we can.

Sometimes, when a pairing doesn’t mesh right away, we will continue on, as we know that what can be gained is what both horse and rider are ready for and it will be an ultimately positive journey.

Then sometimes, when a pairing doesn’t mesh, or a pairing that has happened for a while has taken a turn for the worse, we will change it, when we sense that it will only go in a downhill direction for the rider, or the horse. We’ll back up, fill in foundation holes, work on certain anxieties, etc with the goal of going back to that horse in the future.

Jersey, meeting 3 Horsemanship Class students

I’d like to again, stress what an INCREDIBLE blessing that is for you/your kid. That there is an opportunity for multiple experiences and relationships with horses.

School horses all deserve the highest honors.

Imagine what it’s like for the school horses. They are non-vocal, sentient, energy sensitive, herd animals. And they get to encounter multiple energies, anxieties, attitudes, personalities, cues, riding abilities and knowledge/skill sets daily. Wow. I just got overwhelmed with appreciation for my school horses. What a working ranch horse puts in in physical effort each day, the school horse matches or exceeds that in mental and emotional effort each day, and they are working physically too.

In conclusion to you, parents:
No matter what kind of experience your kid has in each lesson, encourage the fact that they are learning life skills. That your agenda doesn’t always go according to plan, and that learning to be adaptable, and learning to listen to the needs of others is more valuable than learning heels down at the canter. Yes, most often those are the types of things we work on. But, 100%… learning to ride horses is learning how to communicate (two-way!) and be the leader of a different species. Period.

In conclusion to you, students:
You are so so so so so so so so so blessed to be able to ride multiple horses. You might be jealous of a kiddo who owns a horse. And that could still be a noble goal of yours to have your own. But, until that happens, you need to REALIZE what a unique opportunity you have to ride more than one horse. Even to be able to ride one horses in lessons is MORE than most kids get. Got that? Let me repeat. Many kids are jealous of you, that you even get to take horse lessons. So, as you’re busy wishing you had more and better in lessons and horse ownership and shows, there are those out there wishing they were you. So, please stop what you’re doing right now and say, “I’m thankful.” I, Leslie, am pretty good at riding ANY horse, because of the opportunities I had my whole life to ride ANY horse. Yeah??? Your agenda should be to bond with ALL horses, and to learn from each and every second of your time with any horse you get paired with.

So You Want to Buy Your Kid a Horse

-Advice for the Middle Class Family on ‘To’ or ‘Not To’ Buy a Horse-

To write this blog, and have you truly take it to heart, I wish that I wasn’t a horse trainer or riding lesson instructor.  Why?  Because I am not writing it to make a profit off you.  I want you to know, that I write this as a person who wants you to get the best value out of your money. I want the best experiences for each student and to keep them, and the horses safe and happy.

Why listen to me? Since I AM a horse trainer and riding instructor and have been involved with horses for 30 years (since I was 6), and I have seen a lot on the scale, from very bad, to amazingly good–of horse behavior, and people’s interactions with horses.

In this article, I am going to lay out checklists, on what might make your family ready for horse ownership.  I will do this right after I drive my next, VERY IMPORTANT point home.

The MOST important thing for any horse loving kid (or adult) is EDUCATION.  The very best competitors and trainers I know, are the ones who know that the learning is never, ever, EVER over with horses.  There is no such thing as knowing everything you need to know. 

Horses are humblers.  Every horse, every situation, will teach you (or the rider in question), something new… and something about them as an individual, and about yourself.

Because of the size and strength (or lack thereof) of kids, in addition to their developing minds, fragile emotions, and their state of confidence, I do not recommend ever letting riding lessons stop, ever, even for a short time, if they are going to be around horses, until they are much older. 

If you buy a horse, and the money you will use to take care of that horse means that you will have to cut lessons and professional training out, then please, keep reading… because I care about you not having a bad experience.

Like I said, I have seen a lot of things in my time.  Kids are given a horse, they don’t continue in training or lessons, then they have something happen that causes injury or a serious shake up of confidence in both the horse and the kid.  I have “fixed” many of these kids that have come back to lessons after such incidences. 


  • You have done at LEAST one year of CONSISTENT weekly lessons on lesson horses.  See #1
  • Student can tack up correctly and with well-rounded knowledge of being thorough and foster a healthy respect for ‘what could go wrong’. See #2
  • You have bumped it up, and done 2x a week lessons or “lease rides”/partial lease with lessons, and you show up to the barn for those lessons without conflicts or stress from the other aspects of your life. See #3
  • *You have enough funds to keep the horse in training and the kid in lessons.* See #4


Before you take another child into your family (horses are expensive), has your little horse lover proved their dedication to their lessons and their horses?  Is it a struggle to get them to lessons?  Are they respectful to the lesson horse, to their instructors and to the amount of work that goes into their lessons?  How do weekly lessons fit into YOUR life? Easily?  Or do they cause any stress?  How are once a week lessons into your budget?  Could you bump it up and afford 2-3x a week lessons?  Could you fit 2-3x a week lessons into your schedule?  If the answer to the last 2 questions is no, horse ownership should be on hold.  See #3 for more information. 


If they can’t tack up on their own due to height or strength or any other limitations, they will need help.  If you, the parent, are the helper, how many horses have you tacked up?  Do you have experience with a horse that might fight getting the bridle put on?  Can you identify issues if the horse is responding in a way that is saying, “something is not right?” EVEN the most kid-friendly horse could instantly develop a problem with any process of being tacked up if something accidentally happens that causes the horse pain, or to be startled, or if they sense a lack of boundaries from a less-than-knowledgeable handler. 

Who in your family has the height, skill, strength, knowledge and correct energy to help the horse get “back to normal”, should they start not being such a perfect kid horse?  Or better yet, can you identify warning signs and help prevent these incidences from happening?

Horse ownership requires a very experienced and trained eye for prevention of mistakes as best as possible.  If you have such experience, awesome! Own a horse.  If you don’t, but you can afford to get your horse training, and your kid consistent lessons, then GREAT! Own a horse. 

If you can’t, please rethink.  I say this for the safety of horses, and of you, but mostly THE KIDS. 


If you can’t easily afford 2x a week lessons (or more), then you can’t afford horse ownership.  Trust me.  It doesn’t matter if you found the cheapest board, or if you can keep the horse at your house, GOOD horse ownership costs a lot.  GOOD kid horses/lesson horses don’t happen by chance.  I have another post on this subject.  To have them get all the nutrients they need for brain health and body health and comfort, and the farrier and vet routing appointments, keeping the worms out of their belly, making sure you get a saddle fitter for proper saddle fit, and have enough on hand for incidentals, it adds up!!

You might be thinking you don’t HAVE to do all these things for your horse—and you’re right.  But not doing them increases the risk of accidents happening.  I am here, with bluntness, to say: a kid-safe horse doesn’t remain kid-safe without consistent and continual effort to make/keep it that way with proper nutrition, care and training.

Time:  I will do this simple.  I will average to $500 a month to own a horse (without lessons), and with good care.  It is usually much more than this, even at your house once you add it all up.  It could be a little less if you have an “easy keeper” etc.  So, these numbers are generously LOW for you.  You could do your own math with your own numbers too. 

$500 a month divided by 30 days (average amount of days per month) = $16.66 per day to own that horse, with no lessons.  Super great deal if you can get to the barn every day. (Plus gas $ etc).

We are going to use this formula on how many days you can go ride/go to the barn.

If you can get to the barn 3x a week, your horse ownership comes to about $41.66 per time you get to see the horse.  This number is approaching what lesson barns charge per lesson.  And this is a 3x a week commitment to seeing your horse/riding your horse, without lessons still, and still with generously low numbers.

IF you can only see or ride your owned horse 2x a week, that is $63.33 per experience for you/your kid to ride that horse.  Without a trainer, where crap can happen.  This costs more than most lesson barns charge per lesson.

When you can look at it this way, I hope you are seeing that your money might be better spent in a lesson program, with experiences like camps, shows, etc in addition. 


Full time board and training with lessons is $1,200/m with us for one horse.  We also have clients that keep their horses at their home and report they average that the horse costs them $250 to $300 a month with feed and care, not counting incidentals, barn repair, manure removal, horse trailer ownership costs, etc.  They haul in for once (or twice) a week lessons for $60 each.  So that person is about $600-$700 a month per horse, again not including the costs of the farm and “extras”. 

If this is easily doable for you, to own one and do superb care, and consistent training/lessons, (and you have the time) then you are ready.

If you need an example of a kid who spent their whole life in lessons… you can look right here!  Me!  (Leslie Cook)

My mother started me in lessons on lesson horses at age 6 in Arizona, and I remained riding there until age 10, always in lessons, never unsupervised.  When I was 10, we moved to Washington, and they bought me a pony because we moved to our own farm.  But they also signed me up for pony club, and we had instructors come to our barn.  In Pony Club, you haul to lessons 2x a month, and do one unmounted lesson per month.  It was still too much pony for me, and we ended up selling him to some friends, who did pony training (for $1,500 then bought him back for $5,000 a year later…. Good business there, friends! Lol… I am jealous.) Then I continued in pony club, summer camps and lessons with him.

I continued to do lessons at my mom’s show-trainer barn, on the horses in training, and on my parent’s horses.  I worked at the trainer’s barn and other barns too (not for pay). 

At the age of 12 I showed a 3-year-old horse my mom owned that was in full-time training.  Also, at age 12, I upgraded my pony club horse to a full-size horse, and he also went to training and I showed him, and we did pony club. 

At age 13 we moved to a big ranch where we lived until I was 25.  The most horses we owned at one time was 50.  We had several horses in full time training with the trainer, and at home, we had skilled workers. 

Between the ages of 13 and 20, I drove to lessons at a show barn/professional trainer(s) (or was driven until I was 16) THREE times a week!  No joke!  Then, I rode practically every day at home, (and cleaned stalls, fed, etc.)  Off and on I had a dressage instructor come to our home barn too. 

Yes, I would ride on my own sometimes, without supervision—but it was ok.  Why?  Because I was in consistent lessons from ages 6 through 20 years old.  And in the last 15 years, I have continued my education with horses.

Even with all the lessons—my childhood was not incident free.  I’ll tell you what though, the “bigger” incidences I remember??  ALL of them were without an instructor or trainer present.

In conclusion, for the safety of your precious kiddo—unless $1,200/m (and more for tack, clothes, equipment, horse trailer, etc) is easily doable for you, or you have your own property and barn and can afford on site or haul-in training and lessons, I HIGHLY recommend putting the money you want to put towards horses, into lessons, leases, camps, clinics, etc.  We haven’t even added horse shows into this budget! 

I promise you, your kiddo will get more out of it than owning a horse and having to cut training and education/lessons.

Let the lesson programs do the training and care of the horses.  You will both be supporting the lesson program and their horses (make sure you find a high-quality program), and you will be supporting your kid’s safety and positive horse experiences.  If you can spare more expense towards horses, add more lessons per week, sign up for camps, clinics and classes, talk about partial leasing and get involved with horse shows! 

Let’s break it down one more time. 

Let’s say you did 2x a week lessons for an average of $400/m, and then did clinics, classes, etc for an average of $100/m.   There is your $500 a month you’d be putting toward horse ownership right there!  And to be realistic, that is about the same amount of time you’d be spending actually working or riding your horse anyway.  Yes, horse ownership does have its responsibility teaching advantages.  But first, see how you, the parent, and your student, first cope with the responsibilities given in the lessons, and through the lesson program first.

With lessons, your dollars are going toward supervised education.  These are horses, of course, so incidences will (not might) still happen.  But, instinctually—I know you know—that the risk of accidents increases dramatically w/o an experienced person overseeing the horse and the student.  If you don’t know this, then I need to teach you about how horses are essentially overgrown rabbits with the “fight or flight” instinct well attuned! 

Did I scare you?  I honestly hope so, because I do it with love.  My life mission is to create as many safe, happy, knowledgeable equestrians AND horses as I can.  

Ps, I’m not against anyone owning a horse.  I am only against it if you can’t afford lessons and training and premium care with it.

If you can afford ownership, WITH training and lessons and all the extras, then let’s go shopping! Haha.