The Riding Lesson Program

Riding instructors often miss the mark when it comes to setting up their businesses. They look at each lesson in a vacuum, assuming that it stands alone as its own separate event. In reality, each lesson is part of an overall riding lesson program.

Or, at least, it should be.

Students don’t come to riding lessons to learn how to post the trot or hold the reins or execute a perfect circle at the canter. Those are all components of riding lessons, but they aren’t the desired end result. Figuring out what your students want is essential to developing a popular and sought-out program.

Maybe your students want to have fun. They don’t care about competing or developing serious careers with horses; they just like a good time. And they enjoy working with horses.

In this case, your riding lesson program should be designed to give students as much pleasure as possible during each lesson.

Or perhaps your students are interested in becoming professional showmen. They want to compete for a living once they learn all the necessary skills.

For these students, your riding lesson program should be focused on education. Each lesson should be geared toward accomplishing a specific goal, and there should be a focused timeline created for each student.

Is your riding lesson program formal or informal? Are your ideal students driven and goal-oriented or laid-back and easygoing? Do your students learn at a fast rate or a slower pace?

Answering all these questions will help you design an effective riding lesson program that looks to the future as well as one day at a time. When your students know they’re going somewhere—even if their destination is simply learning as much as they can so they can enjoy horses more—the program itself will be more attractive.

Sharing the Load

Running a horse business is no easy task—it takes considerable strength, skill, and energy on a daily basis. This is why many horse businesses run by single individuals often fail. You’ve got to learn to share the load.

Yes, you’ll make more money if you go it alone. And sure, it’s hard to find good help these days. But the most successful farms and ranches are those run by a close-knit team of professionals who work together in a logical, efficiency-minded manner.

This doesn’t mean you need to take out a bank loan in order to hire a full-fledged staff of equestrian professionals right now. That’s absurd. But you need to constantly be thinking about how you will weather growth as your horse business gathers more customers.

There are so many options available to horse business owners—some of which weren’t available a decade ago—and it’s important to take advantage of them. If you aren’t ready to take on an employee, consider hiring someone on a contractual basis to help you out. Or maybe you want to start a working student program.

Whatever the case, pay attention to your horse business growth. And when you see a need for extra hands, fill that need as soon as fiscally possible.

Scaling Back: An Announcement and a Tip

Some of my regular readers might have noticed that I’ve been somewhat absent from the blog these last couple weeks. Part of that is because I’ve been sick (some sort of evil upper respiratory bug that just won’t die), and part of it is because I’ve had to re-evaluate my priorities when it comes to blogging for RIU.

The Announcement…

I love writing articles for Riding Instructor University. It gives me enormous satisfaction to know that I’ve helped someone—anyone—solve a frustrating or limiting problem. And I’m more grateful than I can possibly express to the people who visit each day to learn something about the horse business.

The problem is finding balance. In addition to publishing free content on the RIU blog, I also work with individual clients who need help with the horse business problems. I’m working on my first novel, exploring my new obsession with photography, and contributing articles to other publications. And, you guys, there are only so many hours in a day.

Especially when you feel as though your lungs are about to collapse in on themselves. Can I just say: I hate being sick!

The last thing I want to do is abandon my blog here at Riding Instructor University, but I have to respect my commitments in other areas of my life. And so, the solution: Scaling back. I’ve got to cut down on the number of posts I write every week.

From now on, I’ll be publishing three (rather than five) days per week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

NOTE: To anyone who has e-mailed me with a question/comment on a blog post or other issue, I apologize for not having gotten back to you yet. You will hear from me this week, I promise.

…And The Tip

I encourage all horse business owners to take a good long look at their daily activities. Figure out whether you’ve taken on too much, then make a plan to scale back.

I encourage my clients to focus on a core set of services that best serve their gifts. If you’re a truly talented riding instructor, for example, you need to be in the arena with your students. Period.

You might offer other complementary services, and you will have to spend part of your day engaged in menial and administrative tasks, but it’s important to focus in the horse business (or any industry, for that matter).

Ask yourself: Where can I do the most good?

Start from there.

Mystery Shopping for the Horse Business

Sometimes horse business owners need to take the lead from other industries. If you want to find out how well your employees are performing on the job, mystery shopping is one of the best places to get objective, empirical information.

Mystery shopping is a form of quality control wherein someone poses as a customer and records observations about the business Fast food restaurants use mystery shoppers, for example, to evaluate the quality of prepared food, the level of customer service, the cleanliness of the restaurant, and other aspects of the customer experience.

In the horse business, mystery shoppers can be used to find out if your staff members are doing their jobs.

A horse business owner cannot be on-site at all times, and many of you probably spend less than 50 percent of your work week in the barn. You’ve got other things to do, and you’ve hired employees to fulfill the obligations you cannot perform yourself.

It stands to reason, therefore, that you would want to know how your employees behave when you’re not around. Ergo, mystery shopping.

You can use mystery shopping on a regular basis or you might employ it only when you suspect something is going on in your absence. You might use a company specializing in mystery shopping or you might just ask a friend to stop by the barn when you’re not around. There is no set protocol.

You can also decide whether or not you want to inform employees that a mystery shopper might be coming by.

The horse business is inherently dangerous, and for this reason it is more important than in other industries to check up on your employees. If for no other reason than to make sure safety protocol is always followed.

How to Challenge Students in Riding Lessons

Each riding lesson you teach should introduce your student(s) to new material. You might work on movements or techniques taught in previous lessons, but you must bring something fresh to the table.

I’ve met many riding instructors who hardly ever teach their students new things. Every lesson is just like the last, usually consisting of students riding around an arena at the walk, trot, and canter. And these riding instructors lose their students on a regular basis.

Why? Because students want to be challenged. They want to stretch the limits of their abilities so they can uncover new talents within themselves. They want to learn as much about horses as possible, constantly building upon their repertoires of knowledge.

This is why riding instruction is such an intriguing profession. If you want to excel in it, you must use your experience and creativity to keep your students involved.

The best way to challenge students in riding lessons is to introduce something new each class. Teach a new pattern, a new movement, a new theory. Engage their minds as well as their bodies.

Horse Job Spotlight: Riding Instructor

If you are interested in becoming a riding instructor, take heart in the knowledge that you aren’t alone. Thousands of other equestrians all around the world aspire to this career choice because it allows you to work directly with people and animals.

Most riding instructors were once students themselves, and therefore bring with them to their jobs the skills and techniques they were taught. Some riding instructors own equestrian facilities from which they teach, though the majority are employed by other horse business owners.

This is good news for young equestrian professionals who lack the financial capital and requisite experience to start their own horse farms.

Riding Instructor Schedules

For the most part, riding instructors teach children in the evenings after school, and all day during the summer and on weekends. Part-time jobs are common in this field because it is both logistically and physically difficult to teach riding lessons eight hours per day, every day.

This is why many riding instructors fill other positions in the horse business. Horse jobs such as horse trainer, stable manager, summer camp counselor, and horse trainer assistant all complement riding instruction well.

Since riding instructors often teach in the evenings after children are released from school, their days are free to pursue other endeavors. However, full-time riding instructors can teach adults and homeschooled children during the day if they desire.

In addition to teaching actual lessons, which usually last one hour each, riding instructors must also attend to administrative tasks. Billing clients, scheduling lessons, caring for school horses, and communicating with clients are all part of this horse job.

Riding Instructor Workplace

As with most horse jobs, riding instructors work at barns, stables, and farms. The majority of their days are spent outside, exposed to the elements. Although some stables are equipped with indoor arenas, it is not the same as working an office job.

For the most part, the riding instructor’s workplace is fairly informal. There are no required uniforms unless your boss prefers it, and you have optimum flexibility in terms of scheduling riding lessons and other appointments.

Riding Instructor Experience, Education, and Training

Riding instructors should be experts in horseback riding and horsemanship. They don’t need to be high-level competitors or world-renowned trainers, but they should have significant experience riding and working with horses.

Like other horse jobs, there are no formal education requirements unless a particular employer prefers it. However, it is a good idea for prospective riding instructors to get an education, especially in business administration and management. This will prepare them for careers as entrepreneurs.

It is also a good idea for riding instructors to obtain certification through the American Riding Instructors Association or similar organization. Even if they don’t continue to renew their certifications, the experience is good and it will establish credibility for employers and clients alike.

Some riding instructors apprentice with an established instructor before venturing out on their own. This type of arrangement is particularly beneficial because it allows the student to gain hands-on experience and valuable insight into the job. These apprenticeships are usually informal and arranged between two professionals.

Riding Instructor Responsibilities & Duties

Every riding instructor job is different. There are no set rules or even guidelines, so it is impossible to tell what will be required of a particular teacher without first speaking with the employer.

However, these responsibilities and duties are common in this type of horse job:

Teaching riding lessons in half-hour and one-hour sessions
Preparing school horses for lessons
Cooling down and putting away school horses after lessons
Looking after school horses
Scheduling riding lessons with new students
Communicating with students and/or their parents about progress
Taking students to horse shows
Schooling students during horse shows
Assigning students to school horses
Helping students buy horses for themselves
Selecting school horses for the riding program
Establishing and enforcing barn rules
Making sure minor students are picked up after lessons
Reporting and/or seeking help for injuries that occur during riding lessons
Organizing clinics, seminars and other educational events for students

This is not an exhaustive list, but it will give aspiring riding instructors an idea of what their professional lives will look like.

The primary responsibility of a riding instructor, however, is to keep his or her students and horses safe. This means observing the rules of working with horses and constantly watching all of his or her charges so he or she can prevent accidents.

Riding Instructor Skills

Inherent skills are different from education and training. Although some can be taught, it is important for riding instructors to possess inherent abilities that help them communicate with their students.

Riding instructors should be able to teach according to all the different learning styles (visual, auditory, reading/writing, kinesthetic/tactile). They need to be able to explain and demonstrate horseback riding techniques so that students can understand and apply those techniques.

They must also be excellent listeners and they should be able to pair students with school horses for the safest and most efficient riding experience.

All riding instructors should be able to lift at least 50 pounds, and should be capable of working on their feet most of the day. Athletic riding instructors are the most successful because, like most horse jobs, riding instruction requires constant movement.

There are, of course, always exceptions. If a riding instructor is physically disabled, for example, he or she may be able to perform this horse job with the help of an assistant.

Riding Instructor Employment Prospects

There are numerous ways for riding instructors to find work. Because these horse jobs are not as easy to find as mainstream careers, it is important for aspiring instructors to network with horse business owners in the geographic area where they want to work.

Riding academies, summer camp venues, dude ranches, equestrian centers, and start-up horse farms are just a few places where riding instructors should look.

Riding Instructor Earnings

Riding instructors’ earnings vary depending on where they live and their financial arrangement with their employers.

Some riding instructors are employees, which means that they earn a specific salary or wage per hour. Full-time employees may receive benefits (such as health insurance, vacation time, and sick pay), while others receive no benefits.

It is more common, however, for riding instructors to be classified as independent contractors. This means they earn a set amount for each lesson they teach. If they own the stable where they work, they keep 100 percent of the profits. If they work at someone else’s stable, on the other hand, they will have to give the property owner a portion of their earnings—often called “paying a grounds fee.”

Riding instructors can earn anywhere from minimum wage to more than $75 per hour, though the reality is usually somewhere in between. A beginning instructor working as an independent contractor, for example, might earn $8 per student he or she teaches. If he teaches four students in a class, he would earn $32 for each hour of instruction. Keep in mind, however, that full-time schedules are rare for independent contractors.