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Lesson scheduling, time management, client impressions

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  • Lesson scheduling, time management, client impressions

    Hey everyone,

    I know it is a good problem to have, but I think I am on the verge, if not already, of spreading myself too thin, and was wondering how other instructors and trainers on here handle similar situations.

    I have spent the last couple of years trying to figure out how to fit as many lessons into my days as I could. Last year, I trained up my older, dependable working students to assist students to catch, groom, and tack up their horse. I started teaching more and more group lessons. On a lovely, smooth day, I can camp out in the arena with my drink and sunscreen and can teach from as soon as the first set of students can get to me from school until it is too dark to be in the saddle.

    The challenges are that the property it very small, with only one arena, so no room for a second instructor, and due to lucky circumstance I am the only lesson barn in the area = more students wanting to take lessons that I can take on, and more and more a general feeling that I am not able to give everyone as much time as I think they would like. I am a huge stickler about students riding for the full lesson time, but that often means that by the end of the day lessons are running late. This is due mainly to parents wanting to ask (important) questions, or sometimes when they simply want to get an update of how their kids are doing. I feel rude cutting them off, but then 10 minutes later my next poor student is still walking around on the horse waiting on me while I try to quickly, but politely, end a conversation. Since her lesson started 10 minutes late, we go 10 minutes long, and thus, lessons start running later and later. Last night, lessons ended 30 minutes later than they should have.

    Debating on whether to try to somehow put 5 minutes in between lessons for these type of reasons, or to try to be satisfied that as long as the student gets the actual, full riding lesson times things will just have to be what it is (profit-wise, I really do need to get in as many lessons as I comfortable can; lessons are the only service I can provide). I want parents to know that I am always available, but not at the expense of either their kids' time or anyone else's!

    So, do I need a policy, that parents have to call or e-mail me to talk about their kids? Come up with a polite phrase to tell them I don't have time right then to talk about it? Or continue as I have been, and hope everyone understands?

    Thanks everyone for any thoughts!
    Last edited by eastendjumper; Mar. 12, 2013, 05:12 PM. Reason: spelling

  • #2
    Are there students who can start to warm up on their own? Can they warm up/start an exercise while you are still half talking to the parent of the last student? If you stand there and half talk to the student while half talking to the parent, the parent of the last rider may get the message.

    You are dealing with a mathematical problem. One of you versus MANY of them.

    If there are parents who want to ask questions, I would include that as part of the lesson time.

    Think of it this way, even public school teachers have a parent/teacher conference night. Parents can't just take up the teacher's time after every class every day.

    I would recommend that parents email/FB you if they have questions. OR, you could have a conference night type of thing.

    You can say "Hello Mrs Brown it's so good to see you and Molly did well today. I have to hurry on to my next student so please feel free to email me if you have any questions. Or we are having a barn party/open house on this date, if you want to talk then."

    And good for you that you've got so many people!!
    "Friend" me !



    • #3
      50 minutes per group lesson. 10 minutes for the kids to get off, the new group to get on, and you to talk to parents, get a drink, etc. 25 minute privates for the same reason.


      • #4
        It's good business to take time to talk to the parents after a lesson. I would schedule the extra 5-10 min between lessons for this. If parents are not chatty on a particular day then you get to finish early!

        Patience and Consistency are Your Friends


        • #5
          I wouldnt mind as a parent if a trainer spoke with me while their child is walking down the horse. I would think in an hour lesson at least 10 min is cool down so at that time ask the parents if they have any questions or concerns. Parents get 10 min to talk while kid is still on but really walking cool down there isn't much to teach so you could talk.
          Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


          • #6
            It's okay to officially make lessons 50 minutes and then go over if things are well. My daughter's teacher will engage parents a bit while the kids are walking. If you can make yourself accessible by email for long talks that helps.

            It can also help you to have a signup place for people to leave you the most ordinary types of notes. Like: Suzy will miss her lesson next week, or asking to take an extra lesson, or where the kids request a particular horse.
            If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


            • #7
              As a customer, I'd say plan for group lessons to run for 50 minutes. On days where a student is really struggling, you can use that time to help them end on a good note. Other times you can give parents a quick update on happened during that lesson with their child.

              Since most of us are in office jobs with days full of meetings and interruptions, clients should be very comfortable setting up a time to talk on the phone. Make sure you tell them that what they want to discuss is important and that you want to set up a time when you can give them their undivided attention, then be certain you're available at the agreed upon time.


              • #8
                The other thing you can do is set up your lessons to overlap a tiny bit more, depending upon how you're set up. If your helpers are dependable, they can be helping the kids from the previous lesson get off while you're helping the next lesson get on their horses, all in the arena at the same time. Or your helper may be able to get kids mounted in the center of the arena while you're finishing up the previous lesson.
                If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                • #9
                  I think you really need to have lessons scheduled so that you have some time in between. This is a buffer that allows you to give your clients extra personal attention when necessary and to stay on schedule. Plus, you probably need a quick bathroom/drink break here and there too. Oh, and you might need to make a quick phone call to a vet or give some instructions to a worker about something, text a hay supplier, etc. You don't want to be dealing with distractions during your lessons.

                  From a client perspective, it is important to me that an instructor is ready to begin at the stated time. I think that making lessons 50 minutes is a good idea. I also think it is a good idea to instill in your clients that they should (if appropriate) be mounted and perhaps starting a warmup at the stated lesson time. I would also consider setting your phone to "ding" about 10 minutes before the lesson is over so you can get things wrapped up on time and then have a few minutes to spend discussing things with a student/parents, etc. (especially if you see parents hanging around eagerly ringside). I do not see a problem at all with you telling people, "I'm sorry, right now I have another lesson scheduled, may I call you at x time to continue this discussion?" That's very professional and I think your clients will respect that.


                  • #10
                    I agree that if this is an ongoing issue, you need to adjust your lesson plans to allow for this time out.

                    It is also a good idea to teach your students an appropriate "pre lesson" warm up routine, which you may coach or may just supervise if you are having to talk to a parent.

                    My students at the very least have to walk each way around the arena, circle/turn each way, and do a halt transition to make sure their horse is listing. As they get more advanced, I advance their warm up routine. Having time on their own to ride is a good way to get them thinking for themselves.
                    Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                    • #11
                      At my barn the capable riders, including children, warm up themselves before the lesson time. So, if your lesson is at noon you should be warming at 11:45. Maximizes your lesson time and lets the trainers smoothly wrap up their lessons and talk to parents. Same with cool down. You can wander around the ring as long as you need to after a lesson, just stay out of everyone's way.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thank you so much everyone for your time and replies! I will take all the advice here into consideration, as it all make perfect sense. I have such a wide mix of abilities in students; most can and will warm themselves up when necessary, and others I don't trust or expect to go off on their own yet. My working students are pretty good about keeping lessons flowing; we usually trade off students in the arena, with me getting students in the saddle and the w.s.'s keeping an eye on those cooling off and finishing up. Tip to anyone who also uses this type of arrangement; buy each of your w.s.'s a watch for Christmas!

                        I think putting in a bit of a buffer between lessons is a good idea and clearly necessary, and I will put a notepad in the barn for folks to leave notes, too, especially for the simple stuff.

                        I added a policy this year that essentially says that when I am actively teaching, I'd like to not be interrupted unless it is an emergency, as I found that some parents/students passing by the arena would take my "Hello!" as an invitation to start a conversation (everyone was told to not take it personally if I basically ignored them as they passed). It is the between-lesson time that was getting hard to manage and the tips here should help with that. Thanks again everyone!


                        • #13
                          Most lessons have some sort of a lull, say after the first W/T/C and before the reverse or between the flat warm up and the jumping. If you are concerned about "parent chat" time running into the next lesson, use that time to chat with parents of the current group. Walk over to the arena gate or ring fence and open the conversation. If they know that the conversation is taking you away from the lesson THEY are paying for (rather than the next rider's lesson) they are more apt to be quicker about it.
                          Topics that need more discussion (I'm interested in leasing or I'd like to invest in a saddle for Susie...) will have to take place at a time when you are not in the arena with students.
                          If a student's parent wants to discuss the child with you it should be during their riding time, not the next client's.
                          F O.B
                          Resident racing historian ~~~ Re-riders Clique
                          Founder of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique


                          • #14
                            Maybe it would be good to have something like an office hour or two per week when parents know they could speak with you--a time where you really are available. I don't think most parents really want to take time away from others' lessons; it's just that some busy trainers don't make time and so the parents grab for the moment when they can. Some trainers can make parents feel like their concerns are idle or unimportant. Then the trainers wonder why their clients leave when maybe it's just a matter of scheduling moments that are more convenient for both parties.


                            • #15
                              Gaps between things are good in anything one is scheduling. My suggestion would be 50-minute lessons with 10-minute gaps and an 30-minute gap every few lessons (if you can swing it). Send out an email that explains the new scheduling and that you may be available for conferences in the gaps, but suggest that they email if there's no time or to set up a conference time.
                              The Evil Chem Prof


                              • #16
                                From a client perspective, it is important to me that an instructor is ready to begin at the stated time.
                                I think this quote also brings up something that most trainers should address: set expectations that you will try to have lessons start on time, however, there will be times when it is not possible and flexibility is appreciated. It's also okay to remind the client that it goes both ways...there may be times that they are running late and you wait a bit for them.

                                I also don't like the idea of a "50-minute" lesson. Lessons should be "up to 50 minutes." This will also manage parent expectations while teaching valuable horsemanship skills to young/beginning riders. Lessons end when the horse/rider has reached their best for that day...not because the timer is out of sand.

                                Originally posted by poltroon View Post
                                have a signup place for people to leave you the most ordinary types of notes. Like: Suzy will miss her lesson next week, or asking to take an extra lesson, or where the kids request a particular horse.
                                LOVE this idea. All those pesky details that take time and brain power to remember get written down in one place for trainer review AFTER lessons are over. I might mention this ti my trainer as it would be a huge time/brain power save.
                                Keith: "Now...let's do something normal fathers and daughters do."
                                Veronica: "Buy me a pony?"


                                • #17
                                  As a rider and a parent, I want time to chat with my instructor every day at the end of the lesson. I don't need a ton of time but would like a minute or two to say hi, how was everything, see you next week. If a trainer was too busy or backed up for this I would be frustrated. I think it's important to make time for the client to ask questions.


                                  • #18
                                    I few suggestions.

                                    1) a small gap 5-10 minutes between lessons
                                    2) maybe a progress report for the parents/students once a month.
                                    3) the beginning of each lesson can be used for a few minutes of engagement with the parent while having the students post without stirrups at the walk in both directions or standing in the stirrups at walk in both directions. two point at the walk in both directions. All of those things don't need as much supervision and can give you a chance to breath & talk to the parents if you need to.
                                    The Love for a Horse is just as Complicated as the Love for another Human being, If you have never Loved a Horse you will Never Understand!!!


                                    • Original Poster

                                      I was teaching a lesson last summer, a semi-private, and both of the student's parents was observing, and when we were taking a walk break one of the dad's came over to the fence to ask a specific question about his daughter. I was doing the whole, turn to him to say something, turn back my eyes to the students, back to Dad thing, and right when my head was turned away from the riders, the other students' horse spooked and almost unseated the rider (this was her own horse). I asked her what happened, if she knew what startled the horse, checked out the corner it happened in to see if there was anything there, asked if she was okay, (said and seemed like she was fine, no worries) and I didn't think anything else of it until at the end of the lesson, when the other student's mom reemed me for letting my attention go away from the rider's . Later that night, a get a call from the Dad and get chewed out again. Had these been quirky parent's to begin with I may not have worried too much about the matter, but they are generally very reasonable people. Their daught also rode in Pony Club and they mentioned that the instructors there never chatted during lessons. Reasonable or no, this was the start to the new policy that I won't be available for converstaion during lessons, although I agree having these talks while kids are taking a breather or warming up would be a good time to fit them in without affecting others.

                                      Part of the problem too is that a lot of students get dropped off, and the parent's come to pick them up/talk with me either very close to the lesson end time, or right at it. I think the idea of office hours is a great one, just for additional opportunities, because being able to talk to your train for a few minutes at the time if the lesson should be expected, but not necessarily the time for an in-depth conversation that really should be scheduled for another time.

                                      Progress reports are a great idea! Maybe I should start having the kids list the goals they would like to accomplish that month, with my advice and assistance, and we can both make notes after each lesson that they can take home and share, if they like. We verbally discuss goals and progress at each lesson already, but it would be a good idea for everyone to have something written down, especially for the kids whose parents don't sit and watch the lesson.

                                      Thank you all!


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Linny View Post
                                        Most lessons have some sort of a lull, say after the first W/T/C and before the reverse or between the flat warm up and the jumping. If you are concerned about "parent chat" time running into the next lesson, use that time to chat with parents of the current group. Walk over to the arena gate or ring fence and open the conversation. If they know that the conversation is taking you away from the lesson THEY are paying for (rather than the next rider's lesson) they are more apt to be quicker about it.
                                        Topics that need more discussion (I'm interested in leasing or I'd like to invest in a saddle for Susie...) will have to take place at a time when you are not in the arena with students.
                                        If a student's parent wants to discuss the child with you it should be during their riding time, not the next client's.
                                        This is a very important point.

                                        I suppose I should admit it is a huge pet peeve of mine, but my lesson time is precious to me; I find it incredibly rude when parents/other clients feel free to co-opt the time I've scheduled and paid for to have a chat with my trainer. And I say that even though I have been riding for decades and most people would probably say that I am perfectly capable of "warming up on my own."

                                        That's really not the point, IMO. Generally, I try to do a bit of warm up on my own before my lesson begins - so I am ready to go to work at the scheduled time. But even if I've just mounted, I think I deserve the trainer's attention; isn't that the point of taking a lesson?

                                        Of course I totally understand if something emergent arises; if a horse gets hurt or someone has a big problem or maybe the trainer has been waiting to hear back from the vet all day and they happen to phone just as I'm getting on. That's MUCH different than Suzy's Parent wanting to deconstruct her kid's lesson, or discuss the upcoming horse show/possible pony lease or whatever... or the other client that has now finished up with her horse and just wants to hang out and chat with the trainer while I ride.

                                        I am always impressed by trainers who manage these situations well. Many of them deliberately include a "wrap up" period during the cool down portion of the lesson where they ask if there are questions, or make themselves available to discuss issues, say for the last ten minutes of each hour time slot (which is a nice way of converting those "hour long" lessons to 50 minute sessions without making a big scheduling change which some clients might regard as giving them less for their money, BTW.) Cultivating a habit of recapping the points made in the lesson, perhaps giving the rider some "homework" to focus on during the week when they are working alone, and that kind of thing is a great way to reinforce whatever you've been teaching them, while also building in some chit chat time for those that want it.
                                        We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.