We are making several changes in our lesson program. There are a lot of reasons, the most important being the health of the horses and the safety of the riders.
We will not be able to take on any new beginner riders for lessons on our horses at this time. Why is that? A few reasons:
1. Horse’s Health
Think about entering a relationship with someone who speaks a different language. You’re trying to get to know them, understand them and communicate with them. How would you feel if they try out the relationship for a week, you put in that work to learn their language and never see them again? So now you enter a different relationship the next week, completely different language, you do the work to understand and communicate with them but they don’t commit.
Imagine doing this over and over again, attempting to learn a new language every week to find out the other person isn’t coming back. We can’t do this to our horses. They put in years of work being trained to understand correct cues from experienced riders. This is what makes them great teachers. When the student learns the horse’s language, the horse responds in the desired way. When a potential lesson student is not committed and doesn’t have a lesson at least once a week, it is not fair to the horse. Not to mention, the whole rest of the week where students can be teaching themselves by reading and practicing the work we give them.
2. Rider’s Safety
Why is this unsafe for the rider? Horseback riding is a dangerous sport. If you’ve had one lesson, I’d like to assume we are now on the 2nd lesson and can start where we left off. Unfortunately, there is a lot to remember both mentally and physically. 30 minutes of riding once a month will not build the muscle memory needed to ride independently. You need more time in the saddle to develop the feel of the horse and how it responds to your body. You need more time on the ground with horses to understand how they react to you and external stimuli.
3. Profit/Loss as a Business
You might think $60 is a lot for a one hour lesson, but it is not enough. The general breakdown is 1/3 to the facility, 1/3 to the instructor, 1/3 to the horse. So we’re talking $20 to me as the instructor. My experience and qualifications for this job should put me at $100k/yr minimum. If I was an employee at someone else’s business and putting in time that’s about $48/hr. Keep in mind, beginners don’t go catch their horse, get their tack ready or put the horse away after the lesson. Instructors spend at least 30 extra minutes for a beginner lesson. On to the horse: cost of vet, farrier, dewormer, medication is all increasing greatly. Horses are limited on how many lessons they can give each week, I prefer to keep them to 10 maximum each. Here in ND, we lesson 6 months out of the year, but the horses still need care through the winter. I know other people do more. If we had more advanced riders, the horses condition would improve with rides rather than needing more support from unbalanced riders. An article at equinehelper.com written in spring 2023 states the average expenses for each horse is $4k per year. Of course, each situation is different, but our lesson horses are the most cared for and we add extras in their care including additional supplements, alfalfa cubes, and body work such as chiropractor and massage. That would put their hourly fee at $15 minimum, which is close to the 1/3 fee. Most arenas set a $10-20 arena fee on lessons so we just spent the 1/3 facility part for use and maintenance of property. I’m not sure where business overhead is included, or business assets. These would be insurance, website, scheduling, the thousands invested in tack and equipment, and ongoing education and training. I’ve never heard of benefits or paid vacation in this industry, so we should add on medical insurance and maybe include some mental breakdowns in the schedule. I'll leave that off for now.
4. Price to Rider
So $20 facility, $15 horse, $75 instructor. That is to pay the instructor and not quite break even as a business as we didn't include overhead. Would it be realistic to charge $110/hr for a private lesson on a lesson horse? I would guess that we would not have any beginner lesson students anymore. This is not a cheap sport. You can imagine, most of us who run our own equine business are paying all the expenses and making almost no income just to do this labor of love.
*Many Benefits to Horsemanship and Riding Lessons
I love teaching kids. I love horses. I want to support good horsemanship and developing relationships between kids or adults and horses. My horses get the absolute best care I can reasonably give them. My students learn so much more than how to ride. They learn about assertiveness, boundaries, safety, communication, relationships, responsibility, and compassion. They spend time outside, care for animals and each other, get a little dirty, clean the horses, work their muscles, work as a team and independently, and gain confidence. They experience frustration, jealousy, passion and desire, aim to accomplish goals, competitiveness, winning and losing, good and bad sportsmanship, support towards and from each other, failure and success, and most of all Love and Friendship.
*My knowledge is deep and continues to expand
However, my time is valuable. I am not an amateur, it isn’t easy and I have put in near a lifetime working and gaining the experience and education to be here. If I was earning a degree, I would have a triple PHD and it probably cost that much too. My parents invested in my education as a kid and I worked my rear end off to succeed. I have worked countless hours in different horse barns making less than minimum wage to gain experience and connections. I continue to invest in my education and it is expensive as an adult! I continue to take classes in different riding disciplines, as well as equine body work and biomechanics. I read ridiculously dense textbooks on lameness and anatomy. I am now learning to be a horse show judge, which is beyond what I ever imagined for myself. I travel hours to give and take clinics, attend horse shows, look at clients' potential horses before they purchase them. I give loads of advice, information and feedback for free to people because I want them to do better for their horses. I even spend hours on research to give them the correct answer.
I have also failed many times in my career and still stayed committed. My experience puts me in a position to see beyond the surface what is going on with the horses, and I try to put it in words for the students to understand horses on a deeper level. I don’t think the value of what I offer is understood by many people that are just entering the horse world. Once you’ve put in the time, energy, and money to get your child (or yourself) started and make the commitment to good horsemanship, you will understand that what I’m offering is a lot more valuable than what it seems on the surface. I will never stop teaching, but I am at the point where I need to focus on my strengths. My time is better served in the arena than on the phone scheduling and rescheduling for every hour each week. And my horses deserve better too.