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How to Operate Your Own Riding Stable

By Kristin Hermann

Horseplay Magazine, 1991

To operate your own small riding stable, one must be dedicated not only to horses, but to sharing the skills of horsemanship with others. A few basic fundamentals are needed, such as school horses, good tack, a fenced arena, professionalism, a system for students to adhere to, and a farm. Fortunately, I live on a 25-acre farm, so when I decided to teach full time, I had only to convert a cow barn into a stable for horses. Additional considerations must be pondered. One must be able to store sawdust and hay; dump and/or remove manure; mow and seed pasture; buy quality feed; pay veterinary, farrier, and insurance bills; plus own and operate a tractor.


Your School Horses


The essence of a small riding academy is excellent school horses. I presently use three school horses to teach approximately 20 students a week. Each horse has a special talent. Feena's walk and trot are perfect; thus, she is used mostly for beginners. Ava, my Quarter Horse mare, will canter in rhythm under saddle or on the longe without breaking stride, plus walk and trot very nicely. Bliss, my Trakehner show horse, does all of the above with a lot of pizzaz - she is more advanced in her training.


Since I offer few horses for lessons, it is important that the novice students not show a preference to a particular horse. They should relish the opportunity to ride any, with the knowledge that each horse has something different to teach them. For example, even the more advanced students ride Feena (the walk-trot horse), because she does good lateral work. I taught Feena lateral work to make up for her lack of a decent canter.


On the days that the horses are not used for lessons, I ride them to stay in touch with their needs and also to enhance their training. In addition, to keep them fresh and alert, they are regularly trail-ridden and are, of course, turned out daily into acres of pasture.


Your Tack


Tack is another important issue. Good tack is vital; it must not break. The instructor must instill in the students respect for the tack to keep it in good condition. At my barn, all students clean the bits, remove the girths from the saddle, cover the saddles, and hang the bridles neatly. Because I mainly teach dressage, all my saddles are dressage saddles, not hunt-seat or jumping saddles.


Your Professionalism and

Business-Like Approach


Professionalism is another key to successful operation of a small riding facility. One must keep good records and stick to the schedule. Of course, changes and rescheduling are expected. Being on time is important for both student and instructor. In order to tack up, students arrive one-half hour before the lesson. They are all expected to be in the arena and mounted at the designated lesson time. I am there to help them tack up if necessary; otherwise, we meet in the arena.


Also, professionally, a teacher should willingly upgrade her skills by attending clinics and/or riding in shows, and should take the opportunity to watch other instructors teaching.


Your Personality


Whether one has three school horses in the back yard or teaches at a 60-horse stable, personality is another important aspect of being a successful riding teacher. Not all successful riders and trainers make good teachers. To be a teacher, one must not only have a thorough working knowledge of what is being taught, but must also possess patience, have good communication skills, and, most importantly, get along well with people.


The instructor operating her own riding stable must be her own organizer and publicist. When I first started teaching at my own farm, I offered free introductory lessons of 10 to 15 minutes. This encouraged people to come out and meet me and experience what I had to offer. Once I got some lessons under way, I had first-time students pay, though I got the horse ready. After this first introductory lesson, students took a grooming and tacking lesson if necessary to learn how to prepare the horse for future lessons.


Right from the start, when people responded to my local advertisements, I sent them a flier that briefly described me and my accomplishments, the prices, and policies. This inexpensive Xeroxed piece of paper helped students meeting me for the first time.

Feena giving a young student a lesson.

Your System


Another responsibility of the instructor operating out of her own facility is to enforce a system around the barn so that all the tack and horses are handled similarly. I wrote up two pages of guidelines for the students in order to keep order, such as everyone hanging all the bridles the same way, closing the gates, and so on.


The Benefits and Disadvantages


There are benefits to operating one's own riding academy, such as being one's own boss and creating a schedule.


A major disadvantage is the continuous work. Giving lessons does not merely entail teaching, but also feeding, cleaning stalls, putting in water buckets, ordering grain, stacking hay... The work day is actually just like the average work day from nine to five, or even longer. But, as one builds clientele, working students make themselves available to help with the physical labor in exchange for lessons. Paying someone to do stalls is a luxury a small academy may not be able to afford.


Will You Earn a Decent Living?


As for profit and income, it may seem that the riding teacher could make a lot of money charging the average $25 an hour. But she usually does not teach every hour of the eight-hour day, and the overhead to operate a small barn is expensive.


Since this is my first year dedicated to teaching and operating my own facility rather than being a freelance instructor, I have more invested than could possibly be returned in a year's time. A future consideration for my farm, also in order to keep the income flowing throughout the year, is an indoor arena. Presently, this is too large an investment, but a sound one when I can afford it. In the meantime, any extra money is used to make repairs or enhance the already existing outdoor arena, barn, and pastures. As we all know, income and output is a continuous cycle that keeps feeding off itself.


To anyone contemplating a venture such as I have described, my advice is not to try to accomplish everything all at once. You have to do the most important things first, like the arena and barn. Then gradually, everything else will fall into place if one actively pursues her needs. As a good friend who advised me along the way persistently reminds me, luck is when preparation meets opportunity.


I enjoy the process of my business growing, not necessarily in quantity, but in quality. The horses get better, the students more experienced, the barn more beautiful, and most importantly, I feel fulfilled because I am sharing not only my back yard, but my knowledge and love of riding horses.

Run Your own Riding Stable Check-List:
Here's What You Need to get Started
  1. Good school horses
  2. Good tack and stable supplies (including safety helmets for the students)
  3. Fenced arena
  4. Insurance
  5. Good bookkeeping system
  6. Guidelines for students to follow regarding care of horses, schedules, etc.
  7. Good communication skills
  8. Patience and a sense of humor!
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