Two or three years ago, Pam Roush (Avalon Stables in Florida) called me asking if I had any beginner lesson horses for sale—anything that could carry a beginner—several of them.
“Several?” “Who need several beginner horses all at one time?”
For her new homeschool program, she told me.
Now for several years, thinking now probably decades—I’ve always had a handful of homeschool kids who have been in my riding program. And the super coolest thing about homeschool kids is that they can come and ride and fill in the earlier hours—when other kids are in school. Heck, I even have an Early Bird rate just for them of $25/lesson.
I said to Pam, “Well how many kids do you have in this homeschool program?”. Pam replied, “50 or 60”.
She probably won’t remember but I was absolutely speechless.
She kept on talking, about how great it was and how much money it was bringing into her program.
And I was silent. Awestruck, would be a better word.
Now I have had homeschool open houses, homeschool field trips, homeschool weeklong day camps, homeschool one day camps—and while I may have 30+ families show up, especially for an open house (which was probably free of charge) and I might have 6-8 kids show up for a camp. I never had those kind of numbers like Pam was talking about.
So I thought o.k., here’s the “kicker”—how much are you charging these families per child/rider?
She said, “Almost $400/session”.
Well what are they getting for $400? Pam’s program is based (if I remember correctly) is based upon a 6 to 8 week program. Each session is 2 hours in length, and they ride and they also work on horse management skills and stable management chores, while completing a Horse Science book. She also is running on a very small staff—an instructor and a volunteer or two. Volunteers are paid through work credit in her stable, so no cash outlay.
So simple math, $400/session per 8 weeks in session. She is getting $50/kid/week.
Yes she is spending 2 hours per session, but she’s able to keep her staff expense low. And you might say well–$25/hour/kid, isn’t so great. I give a 30 minute lesson for $35/kid.
But let’s look at the bigger picture.
Pam has 50 kids paying her $400/8 week session. So at some point at the start of each session—Pam is taking payment of $20,000 every 8 weeks or so.
$20,000 is not chump change.
So I mean I’m motivated—I have $$$$$ floating in my head.
Here I go again—field trips, open houses, camps both one day and week long camps. I mean I’m putting it all out there. I talk to people, I ask people questions. Heck, somehow we even got to take ponies to a Homeschool Festival for two years. But I just wasn’t getting the response. And even those dollar signs dancing in my head—slowly faded away.
And then a couple of years ago, I was making phone calls to riding instructors to get guest speakers on my panels for the upcoming Riding Instructor WorkShop (YES, the plans are in the works for an upcoming WorkShop—coming this January, 2018!! Stay tuned for more info!)
And I reached Maura Dalton of Creekwood Riding Academy in North Carolina. I was asking her what she thought her strengths were and what she could share as a Mentor on our panels at the WorkShop. Immediately she said, “You should ask me about my Homeschool Program.”
“My homeschool program has revolutionized my lesson program”, she said.
Revolutionized? Whoa, that’s a strong word.
I said, “Yeah, I’ve done homeschool programs for years and years and have had so little success in getting in a decent number of kids and making it work financially”.
Another point to remember with Homeschool families, is that in order to homeschool you have to remember that usually there is only one parent bringing in a paycheck—so that the other parent is at home. And this can make things financially challenging when it comes to extras like, horseback riding lessons. So many families are tight on how they use their discretionary income, especially when there are 2-3 kids in each family.
So at this point, I’ve been fairly skeptical of how to get a profitable revenue stream from my homeschool families.
So I said, “Tell me about your program”. (I do want to give a shout out to both Pam and Maura if I’ve made an error, as now these conversations have been a few years ago, and my memory has been shot a long time ago!).
Maura realized that she had students that could come in and not only ride, but they could do more. Here’s these able-bodied kids, so eager to learn—not only riding but horse care and stable management. So her basis is the skills and effort that are learned through working with the horses and in the stable. And while program is different than Pam’s, Maura did mention that she had several homeschool kids who came out of her homeschool program who went on to join her regular lesson riders, go on to compete and purchase horses.
So here’s these able-bodied kids, who can come out earlier than her other clients. And she has barn chores that need to be done, and lesson horses that need to get ready before any one else can get to the barn. So her program is all built upon unmounted work ethic. Now the kids do ride each and every time they come, but in the beginning of each semester—they may only ride for 15 or 20 minutes. As each kid in the group progresses, then more riding is added. And she has no staff expense, she is the only one who works in her homeschool program.
Her kids learn to catch the horses, bring them in from the field, groom the horses, clean their stalls, water the horses, load the hay, tack up their horses, and help each other. They lead each other on the horses, and wait their turn to ride.
So as the program moves on soon, Maura has some pretty good horsewomen and men. And she’s got not only riders, and the income they bring in—but she’s got her early afternoon staff and her lesson horses ready for when the next round of riders come later in the afternoon.
Maura said her program is always full. In fact she usually has a waiting list of people wanting to join in.
Okay, I decided there has to be a way to make this Homeschool thing work for my program.
So I called Pam, and tortured her for details (yes, the program is still running—it is still huge and very successful). I harassed her so much that she finally sent me a detailed financial report, her scheduling and a copy of her Horse Science book (her kids also have homework that they take home each week, COOL!).
I decided with all the info I had received on a program, that I think would work best in my program. But now I needed to get the kids. So I turned to our handful of current Homeschool kids’ moms and dads for help. If you’ve ever tried to reach out to a homeschool group you will pretty quickly realize that they are a very tight knit group. And it can seem almost impossible to get in and get your word out about your amazing new horseback riding program that you are offering to Homeschool kids.
So I offered each of my homeschool moms, the same offer I give to my Equestrian Club sponsors. In this post, I am not going to give out the full details of my Equestrian Club Sponsor program, due simply to the length of this post already! I will try to sit down soon and make another post on it.
But basically a group/school/club has a sponsor (a parent, or even better a teacher) and they work within their group or school (emails, public announcements, flyers) to get the word out about how their kids can come out to the barn and ride and learn more about horses. And these sponsors are rewarded for their efforts. For every 6 kids who ride each week, from their Equestrian Club, the sponsor receives a free riding lesson. Currently I have 5-6 sponsors who are drawing in new riding students and receiving free lessons.
The program I am currently offering is Homeschool and Horses. It is a five week program. The kids (ages 7-15 years old) come 9:00 a.m. until noon. I have an instructor, myself and 2 volunteers (the 2 volunteers earn a free riding lesson for their work each time). I had 10 kids sign up for this program, and they all came from my current homeschool base of parents, who posted notices on online homeschool sites. The plan is to have a two week break and then offer another five week session. The cost for this program was $225. They do get to use a riding helmet and also got a Horse Science workbook.
Currently all of our kids have little to no experience with horses. We do catch the horses and have them in our tie stall barn before they get to the barn. But they are learning to groom, tack up, lead the horse to the ring, tighten the girth—then they take approximately a 45 minute riding lesson—take their horse back and groom/bathe, put their tack away, also learn to pick out the tie stall barn, and hopefully learn to turn their horse back out into the field. With ten kids we are splitting the kids into two groups (right now by ages, as the bigger kids are able to work faster in their Horse Science workbook). With all of this going on, it makes for a really fast day.
Since this is a relatively new program (I will tell you that I did try a similar program last fall and it didn’t fill up—and it was a little less expensive—and it was only an hour and a half), my instructor and I have been discussing that we could have 15-16 kids in the next semester. And I will say that I do have 8 horses that are safe enough for a first or second time rider to do a little “horse train”. We call it a “horse or pony train”, if you’re paying attention to my horse’s personalities, you can put them all in a row, and they will basically follow each other around the arena. We put the instructor in the front. We do have the volunteers leading the smallest and most timid of the kids.
Another note I want to put in here. Is the last program which did not fill and was only an hour and a half, didn’t really allow the parents to drop off their kids and go run some errands or go back home and take a little break. The two and a half hour program seem more popular. And with this session we are currently offering, the majority of our parents are dropping their kids off.
Okay, if you think—“Yeah, Yeah, it’s probably not worth the effort or headache—I mean I can teach a group lesson of three kids for 30 minutes at $35/kid and make more money.” You are correct. But you have to remember that these homeschool kids can come out and ride at a time, when none of your other riders are able to be out at the barn.
And remember, $20,000 is not chump change.
Also don’t forget the upcoming
RIDING INSTRUCTOR WORKSHOP