How Amazing! It is to ride a horse! How Amazing! It is to touch a horse! We forget what the barn smells like, We forget how terrifying it is to climb on the back of a creature that keeps wiggling, shifting his feet, maybe even sneezing. . .
This is not a blog on nostalgia, this is not a discussion on how you should dedicate your soul to your lesson program.
This is a discussion on marketing, and bringing more dollars into your business. And as an instructor, as a business person we must never forget, not ever forget. Because while you are selling a skill and physical exercise, and companionship with fellow horse lover’s. What you’re selling is the “whole enchilada”. The magic, the mystique, the mystery of everything, horse.
I am the worst at selling this “whole enchilada”. Each day I think o.k., fifteen kids came in for a lesson and that equals “x” number of dollars. Can I bring in sixteen kids and that will equal more dollars.
I stand in the hot barn all evening, thinking about a beach with cool ocean breezes—
I have to give credit to a creative instructor down in Alabama—Jennifer Alvis Fernambucq who along with her husband, manages Heathermoor Farm. She has been successfully running this show and lesson stable outside Birmingham for about as long as I have had my own stable. We were at a horse show, really my first show for the season—and I was moping about camps and trying to come up with something creative to do with the more advanced show and lesson riders this year. And I was coming up with a complete blank—o.k. do some kind of overnight camp—the kids always love it, but what about something new?
Several years ago I had bumped into Jennifer driving a whole truck full of kids at the Shelby County fairgrounds. And I thought isn’t that funny, that she would bring kids all the way from Alabama to Kentucky for a show. She said she was having her annual Overnight Camp/Show Experience during the Shelby County Fair horse show. The kids all bring a horse, they take care of it for the week and also work together as a team and get their own horses worked and ready to show each night.
While eating a bunch of delicious chicken tacos provided by Jackie Hale at her Southern Saddlebred Show, I kept quizzing Jennifer about the details (The Mexican food is probably where I got the name for the title of this article). And she told me she would go to a different show each year, and that last year she even rented a house next to a lake that the kids and she stayed in during the show.
So I now had some inspiration, but how to put my own spin on it?
And that’s how I got the most crazy idea—Horse Camping with the kids. As a kid my instructor loaded up our lesson horses and drove up into the Smoky Mountains for an overnight stay, we slept out under the stars, and our parents had a huge cook-out. We rode for two days, and it was an amazing experience.
O.k. now how to do this—advanced horse camp, really cool experience, lots of riding and fun—and not have a lot of loose lesson horses running around in the woods?
Well I googled—horse camping in Kentucky—and you know what? There’s a fantastic facility about an hour from our barn, in the Mammoth Cave National Park. I even live in Kentucky, and I know about the cave but I really had no idea that there is a gorgeous National Park also, with horseback trails and trails. So I immediately called Mammoth Cave Horse Camping, and got us all booked up—stalls for the lesson horses, an outdoor riding arena with trail obstacles, bunk-houses to sleep in, a huge gorgeous pavilion, and direct access to more wonderfully taken care of horse trails than you could ride forever.
Not to go into details, but it was an unforgettable experience—for me, my instructors and the kids we took.
We planned it last minute and it was expensive—my overhead was pretty high, but it filled up within 24 hours of my first email—and we did it by invitation only.
Now we are not a trail riding business, I don’t think any of our horses had ever been out on trails like that (they did great). But it was the way I sold it to the families—it would be a life time experience, a great adventure, we would probably get lost in the woods (and yes there were a few miles of uncertainty, I mean we’re probably still in the state of Kentucky, right?), eat food we made by the campfire, take care of your own trail horse, feed him, water him and clean his stall. On the third day we were in the saddle for eight hours and rode almost 25 miles.
Now I’ve never done an event, horse show, or anything—where I already have deposits in to do something a year in advance. We came home (oh, the power of cell phones) and I already had kids and parents signing up for next year.
I have to thank Jennifer for getting me to think “outside of the box”. And the Great Horse Camping Adventure was truly selling the “whole enchilada”.
Just remember you’re not selling a riding lesson, you’re selling a ride atop a magnificent creature with a beautiful mane, who smells like warmth, sun and the earth—you’re selling the opportunity to have a life-long skill that most people never have. Don’t forget!