Rhonda Arza is a born teacher. She confesses that she could teach pole vaulting if she knew how to do it. But track and field isn’t her specialty; horses are her game.
“The first time I walked into the ring and taught a lesson, I thought, ‘This is what I should be doing,’” says Rhonda, who owns Forest View Farm in Wadsworth, Ill., north of Chicago, with her husband, René, and business partner, Julie Vincent.
In January 2002, the Arzas and Vincent purchased Forest View Farm, a 57-stall facility with a 72-foot-by-205-foot indoor arena, two outdoor arenas and a clubhouse. Staffed with a barn manager, four riding instructors and three dressage trainers who lease space, Forest View is a bustling operation, taking in 50 to 70 riding lesson customers a week, in addition to hosting summer camps, informal monthly schooling shows and rated dressage shows.
Before assuming ownership of Forest View Farm, the Arzas had instructed and trained on their own for more than eight years, leasing space at other barns. Purchasing Forest View with Vincent was the couple’s first venture into running their own stable.
“My partner Julie and I worked diligently to develop programs, fun schooling shows and summer camps to help us out in our first year,” says Rhonda. “As we worked, we constantly tried to come up with innovative ways to set us apart from our local competitors.”
Forest View’s new proprietors pursued traditional avenues such as advertising and promotions; they took extra care to ensure that their facilities were immaculate, yet warm and inviting. René, who works with the horses more than with the students, fine-tuned the 14 lesson horses on site. Rhonda, the born teacher, felt Forest View still lacked something in the riding lessons department, and it would prove to be the most difficult hurdle in the farm’s transition under new management.
When the Arzas and Vincent took over in January, the lesson instructors operated separately from each other, each taking in their own clients to teach the foundations of horsemanship and riding. If the students showed the desire and the instructors were satisfied with the students’ progress, the students went on to more advanced instruction with the Arzas.
According to Rhonda, the students inevitably adopted riding skills that varied in technique and methodology from one instructor to the next. Sometimes the philosophies behind the techniques directly contradicted those of the Arzas. Consequently, Rhonda found herself “re-teaching” things like feet positioning or seating to bring consistency among the students once they came to her and René for advanced instruction.
“They were all good teachers,” she recalls, “but I felt we could do better. We needed to be on the same page and doing the same thing.”
The Forest View Method
Longtime student Carmen Brown, who helps with the accounting at Forest View Farm, planted a seed in the Arzas’ minds that eventually led to a solution. In listening to their dilemma, Brown thought of her 12-year-old son who attends a martial arts class. She knew that he learned through a series of standardized tests, each of which covered a specific set of skills. Why not standardize Forest View Farm’s lesson program in a similar manner?