The increasing cost of keeping horses has left many small business owners looking for money-making ideas to keep their lesson programs afloat.
At the same time, rising expenses are making horse ownership prohibitive for many families, creating more demand for riding school services than ever before.
This can be both a blessing and a curse: you may not lack for business, but maxing out your schedule with lessons can be a drain on your time and energy, to say nothing on your hard-working school horses!
If you need to give your riding lesson business a financial leg-up, consider a different approach: boosting your revenue with creative, leveraged activities
Here are eight business-building ideas for you to consider:
How many times have you wished you could dive a little deeper when teaching an equine topic, but found yourself limited by the time constraints of regular riding lessons?
Maximize your hourly income — and cover more educational ground — by hosting a series of focused, unmounted mini-clinics, covering a variety of HorseSense topics such as conditioning, nutrition, equine first aid, training theory, etc.
These 2-4 hour sessions can be scheduled on a quiet evening or Sunday afternoon. Keep fees relatively low to encourage attendance, and work to fill your seats by pitching the clinics as essential for prospective lessees or horse owners.
You might even make attendance mandatory for students who want to lease a school horse, or offer an incentive for students who attend a certain number of clinics.
Charge for Leveling Up
Hold designated Level Up Days, or paid testing sessions, that allow students to showcase their skills and graduate to the next Learning Level.
Invite each student’s family and friends to watch, and conclude the day with a ceremony in which students can receive ribbons with clapping, cheering and photo ops.
You’ll need to be strategic in your lesson planning to make these days run smoothly. Don’t try to test students on EVERY objective in their current Level; instead, review selected skills and help students check off a few final objectives.
Equitation patterns and obstacle courses can be an excellent, crowd-pleasing way to let students demonstrate their skills.
Intro to Horses courses
In an ideal world, all students would take a series of unmounted lessons, covering equine behavior, horse safety and essential ground handling skills, before enrolling for riding lessons.
You can make this the entry point into your program, requiring students to complete a full course before signing up for private or semi-private beginner riding lessons.
Because all the lessons are unmounted, you can accommodate large groups, or teach classes under a roof during inclement weather. You can even offer these courses during off-seasons when it is too hot or cold to maintain a regular riding program.
Teach your students some basic groundwork skills and host a weekly class in which the purpose is for horses and humans to have an equal amount of fun.
Our group classes for children and adults are based on the HorseCentered curriculum and include equine agility, liberty games, trick training, and relationship-building.
Students connect with their horses — and each other! — on a deeper level while practicing important training concepts and problem-solving skills.
A Rising Rider program
If you are good with young children, or have an instructor on your team that specializes in this age group, you can tap into a huge market for “tiny tot” lessons. Offering a program for kindergarten-age children is what initially caused our lesson business to explode!
While these leadline lessons typically work best as private lessons or very small groups, they only take 20-30 minutes, allowing you to stack two or three lessons into a single hour of work.
Rising Rider classes require a very different approach than regular lessons. Get ready to dial up your enthusiasm and adjust your expectations! Lessons at this age are often glorified pony rides, but create a beautiful foundation of confidence and balance that can result in a passionate and skilled little rider a few years down the road.
Fill these sessions with lots of games, obstacles, leadline hacks around the property, and educational barn games. Remember that very young children often like repetition, and will not get bored as long as you keep activities brief and playful.
Excellent ponies are a must; these leadline outings can be a good fit for older ponies ready to step down from traditional walk/trot/canter lessons.
Pony Play Days or one-day camps
Summer day camps are a huge money-maker — ours paid for our winter hay for years — but can be an equally huge drain on your energy and the enthusiasm of your horses.
Get the benefits of day camp with much less hassle by offering single-day sessions during school breaks and long weekends, or on the occasional Saturday.
A typical itinerary would include riding time, unmounted instruction and a craft or artsy activity — but don’t be afraid to be creative.
We have successfully offered six-rider camps using just two horses by scheduling a day full of collaborative activities and horse-sharing friendly mounted games.
Designating a theme for each Play Day allows you to offer unmounted camp days such as Ground Games, Own a Horse for a Day, Intro to Horse Sports, Equine Career Fairs, etc. Students will also be more likely to sign up for multiple camp days if they know each one will be a little different!
Get ideas from this Boss Mares blog post: Six Fun Horse Camps Your Students Will Love.
Network with local homeschool groups and offer seasonal classes that can be run at non-peak hours during the day.
You can try a variety of approaches, depending on your community’s interest; introductory riding lesson packages are one possibility, but you could also teach unmounted classes on Equine Science, or Care and Keeping of Horses, or design a program allowing students to develop math and literacy skills through horsey applications.
NOTE: This is how we fell down the rabbit hole into the horse world, many years ago!
Just keep in mind that many homeschool families are supported by a single income, and may not be able to pay large sums of money for lesson packages. Structure programs in a way that will allow you to accommodate groups, so you can keep costs relatively low.
Use HorseSense Study Guides as “textbooks” for your homeschool programs.
Collaborate with a talented local photographer to offer themed shoots, with a little help from your most patient and photogenic of school horses.
We did a couple of “senior” shoots with beloved older horses and those photos have become priceless treasures. Seasonal shoots can highlight spring wildflowers and fall foliage, or you can add props such as Christmas wreaths or unicorn horns.
This works best when you have a photographer who is horse-savvy enough to conduct safe sessions, and you outline clear expectations, for example, whether or not students are allowed to pose on horseback without helmets. If in doubt, consult your liability insurance company!
Of course, one of the best ways to boost your bottom line is to develop smart business practices
A few general guidelines to keep in mind:
Running a profitable horse business during tough economic times requires some careful budgeting and the willingness to adapt — and to think outside the box
Luckily, as equestrians, we’ve already learned a lot of lessons about flexibility from our horses.
With a little resourcefulness and faith, we CAN make a living doing the work we love — and help a new generation of students learn the same lessons!