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Building a lesson program?

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  • Building a lesson program?

    Hi everyone! I recently took over as the beginner/intermediate instructor at a hunter/jumper barn in the midwest. I love the barn, I love the horses, I think the owner/head trainer and his wife are great. We have some clients who rode with us since they were kids and are now riding at GP level. The barn is affordable and everyone does their own work. I really can't say enough good things.

    My issue is, I replaced a woman who had two kids and a very comfortable lifestyle from her husband's income. She didn't "need" to work and thus didn't really work too hard to build the program. The owners also bumped some of the older kids to the head trainer's program when I came on. The result is that I have pretty few students. I definitely need the job, and the income, so I need to build my program. We already have a referral program in place and we try to encourage word of mouth as much as possible. But it's not enough at this point. This is my first time having to build business as an instructor, and I want to make sure I go through the right channels, eg I don't want to post a Craigslist ad and get people off the street looking to trail ride. I also don't have a ton of money to pay for advertising. If anyone has experience building a lesson program and can give me some advice on how to go about it, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • #2
    You don't need a ton of money or even to advertise at all. I know at my barn, most of the new baby beginner clients result from the fact that the barn's website has SUCH good Google search results if you Google horseback riding lessons X city. You might want to see what the barn does in terms of its website, etc.
    Blog chronicling our new eventing adventures: Riding With Scissors


    • #3
      would they care if you created your own website?

      A huge draw for some of the barns in my area is pony camps. You could start advertising for those (on Craigslist, local boards, tack stores, ect), because it usually results in a few kids who stick around and start taking regular lessons.


      • #4
        Do you have local 4-H or pony clubs? Maybe you could volunteer to do a clinic for them that might get you some new clients (I know I went to train with a couple of young trainers that did my 4-H clinics) OR have a special lesson promotion for them.
        The best sports bras for riders are Anita 5527 and Panache! Size UP in Anita, down in Panache (UK sizing)


        • #5
          Don't knock Craigslist -- you may get some yahoos, but depending on your area (rural, not a ton of H/J barns, etc.) you may get some pretty decent leads. I found one of my current trainers through Craigslist and she's so over qualified, it's not even funny.

          We have an English-poor area where I work and the very few places that were around did not look safe. Plus, with no supporting organizations, there was no place to go to seek out barn or trainer names.

          So ... just a thought.
          The dude abides ...


          • #6
            Most tack shops have bulletin boards where you can put up advertisements for barns, I know the one near my house is free. Some other local relevant businesses also might have places for you to hang posters/ads.
            I like mares. They remind me of myself: stubborn know-it-alls who only acknowledge you if you have food.
            Titania: 50% horse, 50% hippo
            Unforgetable: torn between jumping and nap time, bad speller


            • #7
              I second making sure there is a good website. With good pictures. When I was searching for a new trainer/lesson program, I browsed through lots of web sites. I also went to mapquest or google maps and typed in barn, horse, equestrian key words to see what I got and then went to the web sites. Having a good online presence is super important these days. Especially for busy parents or when teenagers are looking at things for their parents. I was looking for good pictures of the farm, good pictures of the lesson horses and riders (not all if its a big program but enough to get a sense of the quality of riders and horses), and trainer bios. I wanted as much information as possible before I went out for a trial lesson. I emailed the owner and after giving her some info she had the trainer call me and we then chatted about my goals and the farm. Being available and able to discuss your style and methods is very helpful.


              • #8
                Web presence, good quality summer camps and day camps during school breaks will draw in regular customers. After school program for older kids, maybe?
                "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


                • #9
                  Check with local clubs like Girl Scouts and see if they offer badges for riding lessons. Similarly, try elementary and middle schools and see if they will let you advertise your programs as part of a local "get fit and healthy" program.
                  Word of mouth is the best way and make sure your students (usually chatty little girls) are mentioning your program. You might want to offer a free or discounted lesson for a referral. Summer camps and even "spring break" camps are popular as well.
                  You might also look into community colleges and continuing ed programs in your area. It's often a good way to get people in the door. Some areas have "welcome wagon" or community news type flyers that are basically advertising sheets printed to look like little news magazines about your town. If the price is right they might be an option as well.
                  F O.B
                  Resident racing historian ~~~ Re-riders Clique
                  Founder of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique


                  • #10
                    Lots of barns in my area use Groupon offers to build their programs. Usually they get a few people that stick around for extra lessons! Also think about giving flyers out at local schools. Good luck with your new position!


                    • Original Poster

                      The farm does camps, and we are advertising them both at schools and in the local mothers magazine.

                      We have a website that is pretty decent, but I think it could use improvement. I also just figured out that it doesn't come up on the first three pages when you google "riding lessons [city]"! I'll have to look into ways to improve our google placement.

                      I was thinking of fliers at the two large colleges in the city. I would love to get some older students who used to ride back at home to break up the little kids. I'd also love to get some parents who could ride while their kids are at school, not sure how to advertise for this, though.

                      My employers specifically told me not to use Craigslist, so that's a no go.

                      I think my steps one and two are making a great flyer and improving our website. Thanks for the tips!


                      • #12
                        If you want adults make sure your flyers at the schools say that adults are also welcome. That way parents will see it prominently.


                        • #13
                          Is there a local show circuit that some of your level of kids would be qualified for? If so, be sure to take kids every chance you get and network there.
                          A proud friend of bar.ka.


                          • #14
                            I've got one word of advice for you: Groupon. I know someone already mentioned it but I had to tell you my story. I'm a lifelong H/J but have never had my own horse, just always been a lesson student. I live in the Midwest, and I used to ride at a nice barn near home. I had to give up lessons about six years ago when I just couldn't afford them. I have missed riding and jumping TERRIBLY, and always planned to get back to it eventually. Meanwhile, several of my friends moved to another barn. I ran into one gal last fall and she really pushed the new place, saying I'd like it, the horses and trainers were great, etc. I was very tempted but still needed a little push...

                            I got it when the Groupon hit my inbox a month ago. Half off two private lessons. BAM! I was in. My hubby bought me another Groupon as a gift, so I had four lessons paid for. I couldn't believe my luck - another, not-so-great barn had offered Grou
                            "Horses lend us the wings we lack." ~ Pam Brown


                            • Original Poster

                              To answer your questions, the barn shows extensively, and we do well, so I think that could be good for us. I'm really encouraging all my students to show, which the last trainer did not do, so hopefully that will make us more of a presence on the local circuit.

                              We're also probably going to do a Livingsocial deal, the problem is that we basically lose money on it, but another local barn did one and got over 100 lessons sold, so it should definitely bring some people in.

                              Thanks again for the advice. I really appreciate it!


                              • #16
                                (Whoops, guess I went too long!)

                                Anyway, long story short, the Groupon offer got me in the door. I'm delighted with the new place and will definitely continue there. I've noticed they offer a lot of summer camps and they also have a spiffy website, so I agree with the others that these are important, too. (Didn't matter much to me as I'd actually seen the place before and knew their rep, but as a parent those would be pluses.)

                                As a lesson student, I can tell you some other things I appreciate. Punctual, attentive instructors. A nice, tidy barn with well-maintained tack for horses and riders, esp. decent saddles. (I have my own but spent years as a kid in uncomfortable, junky saddles.) A good variety of school horses, ranging from BTDT plodders to some more challenging mounts for experienced folks. An array of helmets to fit all sizes/shapes, in good condition - not just old castoffs.

                                I would also like to mention that, unless your barn is geared towards producing 100% AA show-bound boarders (I know these exist!), I think it helps if you treat all students as equally as possible, INCLUDING the ones who you know are on a limited budget. And won't be buying or even leasing a horse, much less doing anything other than academy shows. There needs to be a place for us, too, and it remains to be seen (I've only had three lessons) how I will be treated when it's obvious that's all I'll be doing. My last BO was super, super nice to me, always, and didn't look down on me, push me or act in any way like I was a lesser citizen of the barn, which believe me, I REALLY appreciated. I know nobody's gonna get rich from my riding but by golly, I love horses, too. :-)
                                "Horses lend us the wings we lack." ~ Pam Brown


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by RiderWriter View Post

                                  I would also like to mention that, unless your barn is geared towards producing 100% AA show-bound boarders (I know these exist!), I think it helps if you treat all students as equally as possible, INCLUDING the ones who you know are on a limited budget. And won't be buying or even leasing a horse, much less doing anything other than academy shows. There needs to be a place for us, too, and it remains to be seen (I've only had three lessons) how I will be treated when it's obvious that's all I'll be doing. My last BO was super, super nice to me, always, and didn't look down on me, push me or act in any way like I was a lesser citizen of the barn, which believe me, I REALLY appreciated. I know nobody's gonna get rich from my riding but by golly, I love horses, too. :-)

                                  I cannot emphasize this enough. The once-a-week lesson student loves the horses and this sport just as much as the person with the six figure budget. Sometimes, there are things that trainers do not realize that might be limiting the lesson student from taking the next step to leasing or purchasing- ill parent, school, time restraints, etc. Being treated like everyone else in the barn, regardless of financial standing, is really appreciated!!

                                  Aside from that, I would work on the website, flyers, and just getting the word out. Maybe a Facebook group? Best of luck


                                  • #18
                                    Listing a program with the local Parks and Rec department has always given me way more new clients than I can handle.

                                    I usually started with a 4 week program that teaches grooming and tacking and leading etc, so that I could teach a group of beginners together easily as there was no riding. After the four week (lesson) course they can sign up to do beginner riding lessons through the parks and rec that I do only as privates. After those four weeks, if they were ready to go into a group they could do so.

                                    I'd say out of every ten people (I got a nice mix of adults and kids) that signed up through the parks and rec, an average of 3 stayed on beyond the 8 weeks. And almost all of those three stuck with it for years.

                                    Rarely did I not have a full parks and rec class.

                                    I ended up having to hire two people to handle the amount of business it generated. If you don't mind sowing your own riders from scratch, it's a great way to go, as well as a way to keep generating income.
                                    "Aye God, Woodrow..."


                                    • #19
                                      OP is in a delicate position because it IS somebody else's barn and that somebody will be away alot depending on her to continue the exsisting program that has worked well but needs a little more effort.

                                      The reality is all barns cannot be everything to all clients. Much as you may want the once a week non owning or leasing crowd? Can the barn afford the schoolies to pack them? How many schoolies are available for you on a by ride basis? How many lessons a week can you schedual using the schoolies you have? Sell 100 lessons via groupon or similar will only work if you can schedual 100 lessons in addition to what you already have. Many barns don't have that many schoolies...certainly not of high quality and able to teach them to jump a course.

                                      I am betting your best effort will be spent getting out to local shows. There you can attract those already with some experience and a horse to bring along and move up. I would hit all you can with as many clients as you can keep lined up to go. Remember you are on stage and so are they, dress and act accordingly. Always.

                                      The other huge opportunity is that summer camp. About this time every year, many communities/school districts host a "summer activity fair" or some such. Have to put in a day, usually Sat, and go sit at a table you bring with some brochures you will need to have printed up. Drop more brochures off at your tack stores, pin them on any bulletin board in a market or wherever. That actually works and works well to get newbies into the game. The outlay for the brochures instead of a piece of paper tacked up there really makes them look at what's inside.

                                      Oh, almost forgot, any silent auction for charity that comes calling? An introductory lesson package is a great donation, hooks a potential client and comes off your taxes.
                                      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                                      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                                      • #20
                                        Some tack shops get bombarded with people wanting to put up advertising on their bulletin boards, so you might want to let a tack shop owner you approach to put up your lessons flyer that you will recommend to your students to come to their tack shop for starter clothing, helmets, boots, etc. in exchange. Some other suggestions: put a vinyl magnet or decal on your car with lesson info and a phone number. If you have good road visibility put up a nice-looking banner with some inviting photos of say, a person hugging a horse, riding and or jumping, maybe a blue ribbon. Also, keep in mind that riding lessons compete with lots of other kid sports these days, so maybe your brochures or banners or flyers should contain a note or two about the benefits of riding, kind of in an educational way. Could spark interest in people who aren't necessarily horse people, but looking for, say, relaxation, antidote from work stress, a fun place for their kid to make friends, a sports activity with competition potential, a fun way to learn responsibility, etc. One barn I know showed pix and told parents that kids sat and did homework in the tack room together after school after lessons as a sort of draw.