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Advice for a new-"ish" trainer?

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  • Advice for a new-"ish" trainer?

    Since I was a kid I knew I wanted to teach and train. Thanking my lucky stars that I am now doing these things full time, but I still feel like I am new to the whole game. I showed a lot and trained a few horses in my teens, I started teaching a little in high school, took a long break while getting an Equine Studies degree (and rode on the intercollegiate team) and then a second bachelors degree (as a back-up plan). I started teaching again after graduating but just part-time and working another job full time, then gradually transitioned over about 5 or 6 years to teaching/riding full time (this will be my 3rd year of doing this full time without a second source of income). I now teach and ride 6 days a week, with a full client schedule, and am leasing a very small facility to do so. I have great working students who help, but I'm on my own for every business aspect from property maintenance to client billing.

    I often feel overwhelmed and worry a lot about whether I am making the right business moves, the right decisions, handling client needs correctly and professionally, etc etc etc... I THINK I'm doing alright so far; I get a lot of referrals, students change barns to join me, mainly because of my reputation for safety and "running a tight ship", as one client said, and I feel good about my methods and students' and horses' progress. BUT I have a long road ahead of me before I feel like I will be truly settled and experienced.

    I'm hoping other trainers and professionals on here might be willing to give me any tips and advice, things they have learned over the years? Particularly with developing a great program, dealing with tough clients, keeping good relationships with other trainers, organizing students/horses at shows (eek! have only gone to a handful of shows with a handful of students, felt like I was herding cats!) or ANYTHING else that may not have even occurred to me yet?

    Thank you so much for any input!

  • #2
    Can you find a mentor in your area? An established trainer who might be willing to be taken out for coffee once and month with whom you could mull things over/share ideas/plan?
    ~Veronica
    "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"
    http://photobucket.com/albums/y192/vxf111/

    Comment


    • #3
      The mentor idea is an excellent one. And, at the end of each day, if you can look yourself in the mirror and say, "in all my decisions today, the horse came first" then you know you are being the right kind of trainer.

      Good luck!

      Comment


      • #4
        I felt the exact same way a few years after I started...I took the time to search out awesome barns/trainers all over the country, wrote up a nice letter telling them about my experience and advice, and wrote to them asking how they became successful and what they did to get there, and if they had any advice for me - the majority never wrote back, BUT the ones that did were amazing. I will forever cherish those letters that were written to me, they were full of great advice and encouragement.

        You're doing the right thing posting on here, hopefully there will be some good responses.

        have you written down your goals, your ideas, plans, etc? it really helps to have a business plan and write down exact what you want to do, and the steps that it will take to get there - that will help "solidify" it and keep it all on the table so you can see what kind of progress you've made.

        will go into more detail with examples if you'd like, using my own experience.
        Teaching Horseback Riding Lessons: A Practical Training Manual for Instructors

        Stop Wasting Hay and Extend Consumption Time With Round Bale Hay Nets!!

        Comment


        • #5
          I think the same can be said for a young professional starting out in ANY field. No matter your education or the hands-on training you've received, when you're thrown out in the world and told to "GO" it can be really overwhelming.

          I really like the mentor idea. Also, if you don't already do so, it may be a good idea to set firm dates/days to do the "routine" things - like billing, maintenance, etc. That way, billing on the 15th and routine property maintenance done every Thursday afternoon are just naturally part of what you do, and having set times and dates to do them frees you up to handle clients at other times.

          It may also help to keep a journal for your clients and/or horses - their basic info, goals, and a record of steps taken to reach said goals. Or even using it as a self check-in at the end of the day. Kind of like reporting to a boss, you know? In my own (non-horsey) job, I'm actually REQUIRED to do this if I'm away from the office at trade shows or conferences - I have to report back to my boss every day with the meetings I had, sales numbers for the day. issues that came up, etc. It's very, VERY beneficial.
          Adversity is the stone on which I sharpen my blade.

          Comment


          • #6
            As an amateur rider, I think that just the fact that you are even thinking "what can I learn" and "what can I do better" speaks volumes to your program.

            As for handling clients at shows, I think that comes with time—I ride with a younger pro myself (who I love) and I think she was in your same shoes about two years when she started at my barn. Now she can bring 10 horses to a show basically without a hitch or any drama.

            Comment


            • #7
              I believe the USHJA set up a program to offer the sort of mentoring you are looking for; this is a dated link but may help: https://www.ushja.org/content/e-updates/April%2016.html

              My suggestion is to see if you can find a mentor who is in a similar market but not one in your immediate local area; this allows you to discuss marketing and other sensitive issues without the hindrance of worrying about competition in your local market.
              **********
              We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
              -PaulaEdwina

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: cat herding at the shows...
                Train up one of those working students to be the Mini-You on the show grounds. Have them handle all that extraneous stuff that has to be done, that you usually do, but that takes time away from stuff ONLY you can do (i.e. prepping your riders right before a class). You train this person to do things the way YOU want them to do...then you don't have to be everywhere at once or worry that the person you asked to do something will handle it in a way unlike you. Peace of min.

                You sound like a very sound thinker and planner from your post. Best of luck to you!

                Comment


                • #9
                  My trainer is a younger pro (3-4 years in I believe?) and she has a wonderful mentor who has been in the business for decades that helps her along. My trainer hauls younger horses, etc. up to the older pro's barn for lessons, occasional help with training, and just for an outside opinion - the older pro also helps her out at shows when both our barns are competing in the same place. Our BO is also a very well-established local figure in the H/J world who guides her as well (though more in barn management things - shows, barn improvements, billing, etc, although he keeps an eye on training as well). As far as I can tell, having these two mentor-types has been invaluable to my trainer. I took a year off while studying abroad soon after my trainer started working at our barn - she was great when I left, very talented both with horses and clients, but when I got back it was clear she's really come into her own with the guidance of those two older pros. (Much more confident, gives clearer instructions in lessons, more willing to delegate to WS, billing etc. very organized compared to before)

                  My trainer also makes a big effort to clinic as much as possible. She's told me before that training with many different people is a huge key to success as a trainer - she gets to see as many techniques in use as she can and then just cherrypicks her favorites.

                  As a client myself, I agree with what's already been said - just by asking these questions you're heading in the right direction. I always appreciate a trainer who is dedicated to improvement. We as clients don't need or expect perfection, just a willingness to put in the effort!

                  Comment

                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    Thank you thank you thank you everyone! I am brainstorming already with the ideas/input posted on here so far...I do have a business plan in place but time management/prioritizing tasks is a challenge, and I have roughed out an excel sheet for a day schedule that I can refer and stick to, great idea there, for keeping myself on track.

                    Here is a specific question:

                    Yesterday when I taught it was warmer and milder than today. Today it is cooler and we have 15 mph wind gusts, have a winter storm blowing in, and they just started construction on the property next door with quite a bit of commotion. I myself chose not to ride the green horses but worked them in the round pen instead. I had 2 lead line lessons and an intermediate group lesson scheduled that I cancelled after longeing the lesson horses that I was going to use and then leaving them turned out in the arena, and seeing them jump and be silly when gusts came up. Am I being overprotective? March through November (no indoor arena), if we don't ride we do a horsemanship lesson in the barn, but I don't require students to participate in indoor lessons over the winter and today all students elected to pass. Should I have been tougher than this and stuck to the schedule, or liability-wise am I doing the right thing (better safe than sorry)?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by eastendjumper View Post
                      Thank you thank you thank you everyone! I am brainstorming already with the ideas/input posted on here so far...I do have a business plan in place but time management/prioritizing tasks is a challenge, and I have roughed out an excel sheet for a day schedule that I can refer and stick to, great idea there, for keeping myself on track.

                      Here is a specific question:

                      Yesterday when I taught it was warmer and milder than today. Today it is cooler and we have 15 mph wind gusts, have a winter storm blowing in, and they just started construction on the property next door with quite a bit of commotion. I myself chose not to ride the green horses but worked them in the round pen instead. I had 2 lead line lessons and an intermediate group lesson scheduled that I cancelled after longeing the lesson horses that I was going to use and then leaving them turned out in the arena, and seeing them jump and be silly when gusts came up. Am I being overprotective? March through November (no indoor arena), if we don't ride we do a horsemanship lesson in the barn, but I don't require students to participate in indoor lessons over the winter and today all students elected to pass. Should I have been tougher than this and stuck to the schedule, or liability-wise am I doing the right thing (better safe than sorry)?
                      Always play it safe. I worked at a barn that didn't encourage us to cancel lessons if weather was bad. I taught in a covered arena during hail storms where students couldn't hear me if they were 10 feet away and I was yelling. Horses got loose, riders fell off, and (not in my lesson, thankfully) a student fell off and fractured her pelvis. It's not worth it.

                      I rode in bad weather once and it resulted in me hitting the ground and fracturing transverse processes of L2 and L3. I was out for a month and a year later am facing PT and lots of chiro visits for numb legs.

                      Always cancel if it feels dangerous. Financially it's tough but you'll make the money up in summer. And think up ways to make the horsemanship stuff interesting - USHJA does a horsemanship quiz/competition that maybe your older students would be interested in.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        If you think that your students are likely to die in the environment you have available to teach, you do not teach that day.

                        If the students had owned their own horses, then (speaking as a client, not as a trainer) I would have preferred you to give the students the option. Call and say "Here is the situation, here is my concern. How would you prefer we handle your lesson today?" However, it sounds like these were primarily your own lesson horses and you made an attempt to get them accustomed to the environment, but were not confident in your ability to provide a safe working environment for your students. I don't think a decision made in the interest of safety is ever wrong. Maybe your lead-line animals would have been fine with you standing right there with them; maybe one of them would have had a bad spook.

                        With 15mph wind gusts I don't want to ride either. It's unpleasant for me and I can't imagine it's terribly pleasant for the horse.
                        "I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep." - Harry Dresden

                        Amy's Stuff - Rustic chic and country linens and decor
                        Support my mom! She's gotta finance her retirement horse somehow.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Everyone is giving you good advice about finding mentors!

                          Also, continuing your education is the best way to keep people coming to you!

                          Oh, and we had 40mph sustained winds today... I let the advanced kids who I KNEW wouldn't have issues with their ponies ride. Rode a couple of my own who I knew wouldn't mind the wind. Bagged the rest.

                          If it's unpleasant or tense circumstance for you to teach in, don't feel bad about canceling!
                          Big Idea Eventing

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            In regards to your Q about today, I think you have to do what you are comfortable with. I have taught lessons were the students had to get off 20 min in because the horses reacted to the wind. If your horses are spooky with the wind, and the students are not at a level to handle it calmly, I think you made the correct choice.
                            Kids learning to be scared of riding when the weather is not ideal because they were put in a potentially unsafe situation is not what we as instructors want.

                            As for the original question, I think you have received a lot of great feedback. Having a mentor, business plan and mission statement are great ways to stay on track with how you want things to go.
                            Good luck!!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              In regards to both your initial query and your specific question, start learning to love uncertainty. Even the best riders on the planet get horses and clients yanked out from under their butts on a regular basis. Edward Gal can't keep his best horses under him. Jumper riders regularly get whole strings of horses yanked.

                              Heck JANE CLARK just dropped her job so she can have a BRITISH KID ride her freakin' horses... http://www.dressage-news.com/?p=17999 (Shoot me in the fracking head already...)

                              Or maybe you get los your favorite horse right after a BIG show. http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/...s-hf-part-ways


                              In addition, even the best riders in the world have horses fritz and fry on them at the most important times. Dressage horses have melt downs at the Olympics. Top riders come off in the warm up and break themselves. Top horses trip coming off the van and they are out of the World Cup.

                              Or maybe, your trailer crashes and all your top horses croak. http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/...s-three-horses

                              No matter what you do right or wrong you are going to get your butt handed to you at some point. So just do what you can and don't stress about it. No matter what you do, somebody can come back and tell you they think you are wrong and Goodbye. So do what works for YOU.

                              You could just as easily decide to cancel lessons on account of the wind and construction (a good idea IMHO) and have some client leave you because they feel you are not 'serious' about them as a student....
                              "Friend" me !

                              http://www.facebook.com/isabeau.solace

                              Comment

                              • Original Poster

                                #16
                                Feeling much better about today, compromised and rode all the lesson horses, no spooks of course but thats the way it goes, and know now they have a little extra experience. Thank you everyone for your support there, turned out the construction was a couple of teenage boys with sledge hammers taking down an old building, carrying big pieces of it away along our property and arena fence-line. Glad I didn't find that out with lessons going, with stormy conditions to (the kids were really getting into the destruction!)

                                Please keep the advice coming! I really appreciate all the input i can get.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I teach in most any weather, but if it's going to be uncomfortable/miserable for the riders, I don't teach. For instance, yesterday here it was REALLY cold (wind chill of about 20 degrees and 15-20 mph wind), plus the arena was soggy from snow the day before - it was miserable outside, I didn't want the horses OR the kids to work in that and when we called to cancel everyone was really relieved!!
                                  Teaching Horseback Riding Lessons: A Practical Training Manual for Instructors

                                  Stop Wasting Hay and Extend Consumption Time With Round Bale Hay Nets!!

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I am a young trainer too. Right after college, I joined the American Riding Instructor Association and got certified as a hunt seat instructor. The network is great and they produce a magazine that is full of info for instructors. Every year there is a convention in Florida. At the convention you get a chance to talk to other instructors (without the whole "your my competitor" vibe). I highly recommend looking into it.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      I am a not so newish trainer with many titles and accomplishments to hang on my office walls.
                                      The first thing I would recommend is to find another business , this one is full of dissapointments and frustratons that are not on business school paradigims.
                                      This is not aways a business of reward based upon results.. in a sales oriented business you will be rewarded when you acheive a number of units sold, today your "sales" might be noteworthy but are inconsequential next week.
                                      We are mercandising things that have merit based upon the user. Our best assest may be very valuable for a certain market and worth nothing for another buyer.
                                      If there is a method of tracking user satisfaction /results based on an open market scale of supply and demand those results are

                                      Comment

                                      • Original Poster

                                        #20
                                        Alligory, I appreciate your honesty! The thought constantly crosses my mind, especially during slow winters and whenever I feel disrespected or unappreciated by clients, which happens a lot (but I realize too I need to callus up and put on thicker skin!). After joining COTH, too, and reading all of these threads about horse drugging/mistreatment, and others posting about crappy client situations, I think "what the hell am I thinking?" But then I have good, sometimes great days, and remind myself that every job can be crappy, at least I really love what I do (maybe will have a true change of heart in a few more years).

                                        I will look into ARIA; several years ago I looked into it and then the idea just went out of my head. The huge benefit there is that there is only a couple of other trainers in my state certified. If I got certified, it would be a huge selling point, and the chance to go to Florida and write it off as a business expense doesn't sound too bad, either. Thank you for brining up that idea!

                                        My gameplan, up until a few months ago, was to get as much experience and miles under my belt as I could on my own for a few more years, and then see if I could relocate to a BNB and work in either a trainer or assistant trainer role. Now Im not sure if I want to go that route, or to stick with my small time position here. SNT, or BNT? Can anyone strongly advise one way or the other?

                                        Thank you all, again!

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