Back to School

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A good strategy for attracting lesson customers is through adult institutional programming. To boot, this type of programming is a great way to fill your fall, winter and spring weekday riding times, which are often otherwise slow, with students who are both bright and athletic. Specifically, when I say “adult institutional programming,” I am referring to university programs.

During weekdays, most adults are working at their day jobs, and students from grade school through college are in school. What’s the perfect solution? Instead of competing against educational institutions for students, join them. Fill your weekday, daytime schedule by including horseback riding as a part of an educational institution’s curriculum.

Academic riding programs teach English or Western riding classes for academic credits. In colleges and universities, these classes can be offered to students through the physical education department (also known as the Kinesiology department), the animal science department or through adult continuing education.

Because students can earn academic credit in a class they consider both interesting and enjoyable, demand can be, and usually is, enormous. We teach college courses every weekday and on Sundays. Each class is full with 14 students, and we teach more sections than any other accredited Kinesiology class at the University of Minnesota.

In addition to the large number of students, which translates into in­creased profits and a large pool of potential customers, advertising is free and the university registers students on our behalf. The first time we see a student’s name is on the class roster, which we can pick up at the university, or download off a secured Website. We sell nothing directly, saving us time, money and energy.

Since academic institutions prefer using only one subcontractor to provide this type of service, we have a monopoly within a defined marketplace. Students choose us automatically by virtue of our agreement with that institution.

So, how do you go about setting up a program with your local college or university? Based on our experience, here’s what you should do:

Step 1: Identify colleges, universities, community colleges and vocational schools in your area (within a 45 minute drive or less).

Step 2: At each of these schools, identify the department best suited to make your proposal to. It may be the physical education department, the animal science department or the adult continuing education department.

Step 3: Once you’ve determined the best department or departments to contact, research the institution’s academic structure, length of term and grading system through the institution’s class schedules.

Step 4: Develop a course program and a proposal based on the information you’ve received from the school, either through the school’s written materials or through discussions with staff members. In your proposal, outline your qualifications, the benefits the institution will enjoy by providing riding classes, possible concerns and, finally, how classes will be run. In addition, include any supplementary material that supports assertions you have made.

Step 5: With your proposal complete, schedule a future meeting over the phone with the department chairperson. Explain your interest in providing a class that will enhance their programming. The chairperson of course will ask, “What type of classes are you talking about?” Your response will be, “horse riding classes.” This will raise more concerns, from increased liability exposure to “how the heck are we going to teach riding classes?” Explain that you have a complete proposal that will address opportunities as well as their concerns, and that you would appreciate the opportunity to submit it, preferably to the chairperson personally.

Step 6: Schedule a meeting with the department chairperson to deliver your proposal, and don’t be surprised if he or she asks some of his or her subordinates or superiors to join in. While your goal for this meeting may be to close the deal with them, don’t be too hasty. This is a long-term process. Be methodical and patient. Keep in mind these people have responsibilities to their institutions and their students. It is their job to ask tough questions and to play devil’s advocate. Furthermore, institutions consistently operate in the long-term. While you may expect and may be accustomed to meetings ending with specific results, they often leave meetings open-ended. And, if you don’t know an answer to one of their questions, simply say, “I don’t know the exact answer, so I’ll get back to you.” That response reveals your willingness to take their questions seriously. Make a note of each question, find the answer after the meeting and respond with a letter within a couple of days.

Let me give you the same advice one advisor gave me before I met with my first institution. “Be personal, not formal. You are not applying to an institution. You are applying to a person who happens to work for an institution.” Therefore, don’t dilly-dally. The best way to relieve someone’s concerns is to address them head-on.

With these institutions, which typically have deep pockets, their primary concern is being sued by a student involved in a riding accident while taking your class. Your job is to ­convince the school that your teaching ­procedures, facilities, horses and equipment are safe. This shows your commitment to avoiding problems in the first place.

Since the institution you’re applying to has been, probably currently is, and likely will be involved in multiple lawsuits, your good intentions will only go so far.

Therefore, your next step is to point out legal liability protections. This may include state laws that limit liability to them and you, called Inherent Risk Laws, and often apply to horse activities. Liability can also be reduced by contractual agreements with students by way of a Rider Release form.

Finally, you can ensure their protection and virtually eliminate exposure, for both you and them, through insurance. Provisions can be added to your policy, typically at no extra cost, to include the institution as a co-insured, if they like. As co-insured, the institution will be covered under your insurance and will be notified by the insurance company prior to cancellation of your policy for any reason.

Those are the negatives. Let’s now look at why an institution would benefit from these programs:

1) They provide a wider variety of educational opportunities, which increases the institution’s course offerings.

2) Students’ tuition fees for the class provide revenue to the institution, as students often pay per credit. If you accept the additional activity fee paid directly by students to you as your payment in full, the institution has almost no cost in providing the class.

3) The department receives additional revenues. In all public and most private institutions, departmental funding is based on aggregate participation levels. Higher participation means more money.

4) Horse riding classes provide an unusual recruiting opportunity for the entire school.

Once their fears are alleviated and benefits are clarified, in your first meeting or in a subsequent meeting, it’s time to make a formal agreement.

What they want in the agreement varies from school to school. What you want is for them to accept your proposal, thereby allowing you to teach for college credit. Second, you want them to publish your class in their course offerings book. Finally, you want, if possible, to have an exclusive contract, in which only your facility provides these services.

Once the institution accepts your proposal, you will be ready to teach classes. Offer fewer classes at first, so things run as smoothly as possible. We started with only seven sections of 14 students each. You can always add classes later as you feel more comfortable. Create a methodical plan of action for teaching your classes.

Paperwork will include class rosters, provided by the school and a syllabus you provide.

Remember, these students will be slightly different than those you’ve taught before; they will be graded. Tests may include both a mid-term and final or possibly a final only. Create your own tests based on your teaching. Tests can include short answer, fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice and true or false questions. You can also design a riding test to be given on the horse.

With thorough research and a proposal packed with information, you might find that your local institution would jump at the chance to offer a class in all things equine.

Thomas F. Soderberg owns St. Croix Lesson Center, Minn., and is the author of “When Horses Are What You Do.” For more information about the book, call (651) 734-9015.