As a child, I was a horse crazy girl. All I wanted was a horse. It was not until I was an adult to realize that dream. After 10 years of horse ownership, horse shows and competitions, I was given the opportunity to become a horse professional. My professional career with horses lasted only 4 years, let me tell you why.
I was a horse breeder, trainer and instructor. I had decided beforehand that I would not get into the horse boarding business because I had too many friends that did that and got out of that business fast. Many of them were going broke but most of all they did not like the customers they got. They had boarders that were too picky, would not show up for months on end to even let their horse out of it’s stall/paddock or would go on “trail ride” never to return when they owed back rent/board. The list goes on and on. I decided I could do without that aspect of the horse world.
As a trainer and instructor, because of my location (just on the outskirts of a large sprawling bedroom community) I would end up being more of an instructor than horse trainer. Horse boarding in that area had become pricey. Industrial warehouses was gobbling up farmland. I got the impression from my first customers that they had no inclination to want to own a horse; they just wanted to learn how to ride.
My first customers were 2 teenage boys that their parents wanted me to teach them the basics because they were going on a summer vacation to a working cattle ranch where they would be expected to ride every day. They had about 3 weeks of lessons with me and I never heard from them again.
My next string of customers were also children, all between the ages of 6 and 14, mostly girls. The great majority of them only had one lesson because their parents were trying to satisfy their “horse crazy” wants. I never expected them to return but I did find out they told their friends who came for a lesson or 2.
I was learning fast that my little lesson business was underpriced. People were using me as a quick fix for their horse cravings. I was cheaper than a horse rental outfit (nearest one was over 40 miles away). I changed my prices. I was charging $25 an hour but upped it to $35 an hour. Then I got a big shock.
I got more clients, but these clients were a different kind. They were serious about horses. I got my first adult students. I got horse owners. I got 2 students that leased 2 of my schooling horses long term to go into horse shows. Yes, these clients were different; they were what I was looking for.
My first tip for wanna be horse trainers – don’t under-price yourselves.
My next challenge was when I was approached by the Girl Scouts of America. They wanted me to offer their troops the opportunity to earn their horse badges. I thought, “great, I can do this”, but found out there are some requirements that other local horseback riding places were not willing to do. The number one requirement was for a $1 million liability policy. I already had liability insurance for $800,000 so getting it increased was no big deal for me. It was from asking around that I found out many small trainers and instructors didn’t even bother with liability insurance at all. I thought they were crazy. They sighted the fact that it was too expensive, but they never bothered to really find out how much it costs. How could they risk getting sued and losing everything for just the cost of a liability policy. Thankfully, because of their ignorance and being stingy, I got the contract to provide the Girl Scouts their badges. I would host a troop once a month for 2 days each. At a cost of $25 per Girl Scout and most troops had about 15-20 girls, I was making about $250 a day for just 3 hours a day work.
My second tip – get liability insurance.
The next requirement was to be CPR and first aid certified. That was no problem since I already was.
My third tip – if you want children as clients, get CPR/First aid certified. It doesn’t cost much and looks great on your business cards. I bet your competition doesn’t have that.
I was next approached by the local 4H leader. She did not want me to be the horse group leader but wanted to know if I had any horses for lease for their program. I did and leased out my best schooling horse. The horse stayed at my barn and I made sure the lease included weekly lessons and that I accompanied the horse to 4H shows. The 4H’er decided to leave 4H but stayed with me for 3 years, leasing the horse and showing.
My forth tip – get involved in your local horse clubs and groups.
My business was booming, until something happened that I had no control over, urban sprawl.
When I moved into my little ranch, I could look out over vast fields of crops and hay, and see the community in the distance. That community went from 40,000 people to 80,000 in just 6 years. The fields between the city and me soon became home to huge warehouses and trucking centers.
I got a knock on my door one day from the county. They knew about my business and had to inform me that the zoning had changed for my place. Businesses were no longer permitted to be conducted in a Rural Residential zoning area, we were farmland zoning. The county had changed the zoning without my knowledge or input from the community.
My business struggled for the next year. I was able to do riding lessons out on trails, so that is what I did. I would trailer out for my lessons. I was fortunate enough to find a few clients that had their own places that I could give those lessons on their horses at their places. My biggest incomes from the Girl Scouts and my summer day camps were gone. I was at a low point in what was my dream career.
My heart sank when I saw a large building being erected just 2 miles down the road. I knew then that I had to move.
I said goodbye to my clients, many of which had become good family friends and put our little ranch on the market. It only took 3 months to sell and we left the state. I didn’t like it much when the county could do what it did and the state either ignored it or said that is fine.
We moved to a horse friendly state, but because of that last year of struggling with my horse business I decided not to rekindle that dream career. I let that dream die. I do miss sharing my enthusiasm for horses with others in person but I no longer have to make money with horses. My horses are now my hobby again.
My last tip – plan for your career exit. Your business will not last forever and you need to plan for that.