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.)
THE DIFFERENCES IN THE TYPE OF PEOPLE WHO ARE IN THE HORSE BUSINESS
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.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE WITH RUNNING A LESSON PROGRAM
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.
CAN LESSON PROGRAMS BE RUN WELL ENOUGH THAT MORE GOOD FARMS AND GOOD PEOPLE WILL WANT TO RUN ONE AND MAKE ENOUGH MONEY DOING IT?
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!
HOW CAN IT BE DONE?
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.
THE STRUGGLES GO BEYOND MONEY STRUGGLES:
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.
firstname.lastname@example.org to get a hold of me!