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Lesson Only Facility - Viable Business Plan

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  • Lesson Only Facility - Viable Business Plan

    Once we get our small horse facility up and going, I will have room to board a couple horses. To be honest, I really don't want to be in the boarding business. If I come across a really great client, then I would not mind boarding. It is a very time consuming venture, that can put a lot of stress on a small facility. Both hubby and I work other jobs - I am a school teacher, and he is a paramedic that works 24 hour shifts - one day on, with two days off.

    On the other hand, I would love to begin a lesson program - small at first - and see where it goes. What I envision is offering lesson services on our property, and perhaps instruction at the client's location, depending on the situation. We live in a rural area in western NC that does not boast of many stables where a person can obtain good, quality, basic riding instruction locally. I myself travel at least one hour to ride with an FEI level trainer, and in the past have had to travel up to 2 and a half hours, one way, to work with a quality instructor.

    In addition to offering lessons, I would like to be able to host clinics with credentialed industry professionals. There are a few interested riders in my area who are willing to travel for clinics and such. Like myself, due to job or time constraints, or simply lack of knowledge, they have not been able to seek out quality instruction that is sometimes far from home.

    So I guess my questions is this - how realistic would it be to develop and base a business model, on a horse business that offers lessons, and educational events to clients - and relies less on boarding and training to make income.

    Could this type of plan provide a moderate level of income for a person who is looking to start up a small horse business, to supplement income from another job - at least for a while? It seems that most facilities offer the boarding/training as primary services - just wondering how much good, quality instruction and providing educational opportunities would stand on its own. Any thoughts?

  • #2
    Actually, with the right school horses and a summer camp (programs during school holidays would be an added extra...think daycare with horses), you should be able to do quite well. Boarding is almost always just break even and a hassle.


    Good luck. Sounds like fun.


    • #3
      Where I used to board in AZ, the primary function of the barn was beginner lessons. Every afternoon during the school year, the minivans would arrive!

      September would start out with "hold the reins like an ice cream cone" and by April they would be ready for a mini event and an open-type show (just the lesson kids and maybe a couple of extras from down the road.)

      She would also do a "lesson lease" where for a fixed amount, the kid would get to call a particular horse their own, though they were generally not allowed to ride outside of lessons. It depended on the age and ability though, some of the kids were allowed extra rides, but always supervised.

      There were horse camps (like LauraKY said, daycare with horses) with both riding and other activities.

      She also hosted local scout troops getting various badges, and every few years would teach a community college horse management class. (She was also a teacher, and had done Pony Club through her B rating.)

      It worked out well, because the horses were borrowed from the summer camp up in the mountains that she also worked at. So they were down in the valley during the school year, and when it got miserably hot, she and the horses headed north.

      Like you, she didn't really want or need boarders, but if you came through word of mouth you could get in.

      I think there's definitely a workable business model in there.
      ... and Patrick


      • Original Poster

        Hey - thanks for the great ideas! I should of said in the OP that I would also like to target adults - espec. beginners or those with years of "experience" that maybe never had formal instruction. Any suggestion for tapping into that segment of the population?

        I was thinking that where I could tie in the adult learner is through carefully planned clinic/educational events on the farm. I am primarily a dressage rider, although I would not market the farm's programs as "dressage only". My personal philosophy in planning my educational programs would be to teach from a balanced seat approach, founded on really solid BASICS, that could be applied to any discipline. Clinics would include dressage for me, with instructors that I am interested in working with, but may not be possible to ride with in regular lessons (due to distance, time, etc.). My hubby is interested in reining and western disciplines, and so we could tie in some really good regional clinicians that focus on communication, building confidence, with maybe a tad of natural horsemanship thrown in for good measure. That would target a lot of local interest around here. I would not be opposed to bringing in event instructors, from time to time, to target those who are interested in some jumping instruction, etc.

        My familiarity are with lessons in successful dressage barns, so that is why I'm coming here asking for "ideas". My experience with dressage, the riders generally have their own horses that they trailer into to a trainer's facility for lessons, etc. Its just a one-shot focus. I am trying to think of ways that the focus could be expanded a bit.

        I have 15 years of experience as a classroom teacher, and so educating others in something that is my passion (good horsemanship - regardless of discipline) is something that I would love to share with others. I think it would bring me a great deal of satisfaction. It would be wonderful to see a strong educational program grow here in my neck of the woods.

        Over the years, I have had quite a few kids that I teach at my middle school approach me about their interest in horses, wanting to learn more about them. Many of them have seemed more interested in just having a place to come and spend time with them, and learn about them, even more than riding! That surprises me a little bit. Then again, I think back to when I was a horse-crazy little girl, and I can totally identify with them. There definitely were no barns in my area back then where I could of gone to hang out and just learn.

        Thanks so much for the ideas! Looking forward to hearing from others too!


        • #5
          My trainer has very few boarders (me and one other person at the moment), takes the occasional select horse in for training, and the rest of the time does ship-in lessons. She also lets a local jumper trainer teach ship-in lessons (she has an indoor, so most of the students are people who keep their horses at home, thus don't have an indoor or a trainer on hand). Some weekends she has "workshops" where a dozen regulars ship in to do a long morning session on a specific topic (usually as much a fun social event for all of us as anything). Now and then she hosts a clinic. There's a good amount of demand from the type of student I described above - keeps horse at home and doesn't have an indoor, but wants to work on their own or their horse's skills in preparation for competition, or just for the sake of it.


          • #6
            barns make their money off of training and lessons. boarding rarely yields a profit. Having a couple of your own horse sthat you do a couple of lessons on a day/week sounds like the ideal way to make the horses pay for themselves and possibly have some extra on the side.
            I WAS a proud member of the *I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday* clique..but now I am 30!!!!!!!!!!!
            My new blog about my Finger Lakes Finest:
            She Ain't No Small Potato!


            • #7
              The most important thing...if you plan to teach adults is your experience and qualifications. What level do you ride, are you certified and are you good enough to generate interest in trailer ins?


              • Original Poster

                Laura - I have had horses most of my life, and for the past 12 years I have had the great good fortune to work with some excellent FEI level dressage instructors. I have also participated in quite a few clinics with FEI level instructors, a couple of them being internationally known. I have started young horses, and brought them along to good solid citizens under saddle. I do not show much, as I live in a rural area, and it involves a good bit of travel to get to shows. I'd rather invest in my own education going to excellent trainers, and clinics where I can contribute to my own education. I would not begin to instruct higher level dressage riders or even bill myself as a dressage instructor, but I can certainly hold my own where teaching beginner riders are concerned, and even intermediate riders who need a set of good, competent eyes on the ground to help occasionally. I also have 15 years of experience as a classroom teacher, so I understand how people learn, and have a good grasp on a variety of teaching methods.


                • #9
                  I am basically doing what you are planning. Its great! What I learned from working for others - those that were successful were true "people" persons along with being good horsemen (or women!). Great personalities that are warm and welcoming to their customers no matter the day or weather or mood they are in. That is what I strive for, along with good, solid, correct instruction. You must be ready for truly difficult children, timid fearful adults, and the occasional know-it-all parent. But, all in all, I have my dream job - I don't get rich and I work my tail off, but I also truly enjoy it.


                  • Original Poster

                    WendellsGirl - thank you for a truly nice post! I love it! Its ironic, but as a public school teacher, I have had to learn to have a lot of tact and diplomacy in dealing with upset parents. I pride myself on the fact that there have been very few people over my career that I just simply could not work with. Most come around when they see that you are honest, fair, and truly interested in their child and in themselves as a person. I can totally identify with the fearful adult - there are times when I am fearful, and have been fearful, and have worked HARD to over come those fears. As for difficult children, well, safety is a big focus of mine. If they are so difficult that they will not take instruction and direction, and follow barn rules, then they are off the horse - period. If they and their parents get mad, they can take their business elsewhere. I don't need un safe situations going on.


                    • #11
                      I have a smallish barn (max 30 horses), so do training, some board (up to 10 horses) and lessons.

                      The "risks/costs" of lessons you may not have considered:
                      1) insurance costs. For me they depend on the number of horses I have AVAILABLE to use in lessons. it doesn't matter that most are used only a few days per week, and that there are only 1-3 people in a lessons.
                      2) Your main asset is an animal: As well as the difficulty in finding good lesson horses, you have to deal with the fact that they: go lame (needing time off and accruing vet bills), eventually need to be retired, sometimes go sour or just don't work out in a lesson type environement, and can be hard to find.
                      3) Really hard to budget how much a lesson horse may cost when vet bills can really run to whatever...when you have 6 horses that are supposed to be EARNING money, you may have to make some hard decisions.

                      I have found the barns that truely make money teaching lessons with lesson horses, have large programs with 3 - 4 hours of group lessons a night, and 12-20 horses doing 10 or so lessons a week, and instructors that are thrilled to make $20.00 an hour to teach them. Volume is somewhat key to a lesson program.

                      Although I suppose if you are a truely above average teacher and can charge bigger bucks, then you would also be ahead of the game, but you would still need to make sure you have lesson horses and a back up plan in case one (or two) go lame.

                      That said, I love teaching. I do think I make more on board and training than teaching as I teach more to share the joy of riding than to make the big bucks, but I am sure someone with more business sense than I could make some money at it!

                      One risk with not having room to board though, would be that you may be discouraging students who want to one day own a horse from coming to your barn.

                      To answer your other question, I do teach mostly adults (mostly returning riders who used to jump and either want to get back into jumping or want to learn the basics of dressage), and I think that is in part because I will not teach anyone under 12 years old and adults appreciate that. I also have a pretty forgiving cancellation policy that is inviting to professionals who sometimes just can't get out of work on time to make their lesson. I have also found that adults appreciate someone who can teach them why not just what.

                      Good luck!
                      Freeing worms from cans everywhere!