Your summertime days at the barn probably consist of 16 hours of schedule-busting, usually fun, and—thankfully—profitable work. As daylight hours wind down, however, income tends to do the same. The kids return to school, adults take fewer vacation days from work, and suddenly, your barn aisles are quiet and empty from 8 to 3.
Stable Management talked with six barn managers, trainers, and program directors about how they keep their marketing momentum going when the big yellow buses get rolling again. The key is consistency and creativity.
At Winslow Therapeutic Center in Warwick, N.Y., young students are involved throughout the summer with “Summer Adventures.” These two-week camps give seven- to 12-year-olds the opportunity to ride, do crafts, assist with barn chores, and learn about horse care.
“Because they’re here for two weeks, they progress, riding-wise,” says Leslie Fisher, who does Winslow’s marketing and PR. After children—not to mention their parents—see the results of regular riding, they tend to continue with weekly group or private lessons. In addition, Winslow hosts a program during the school year called “Day at the Barn.” Scheduled in conjunction with school breaks and holidays, Day at the Barn is essentially a one-day version of the Summer Adventure.
“It’s just a fun day for them on their days off,” says Fisher—and a profitable day for the riding center. They’ve run Day at the Barn for four years, and the program is usually full. Likewise, Castle Rock Arabians in Walnut Creek, Calif., does camps all summer, and two-day Holiday Camps that follow the local schools’ schedules during the year.
While working with school-age students during camp and lessons, Castle Rock Arabians owner Nancy DuPont realized parents wanted to get in the saddle, too. Some parents—mothers, in particular—had horses when they were younger but stopped riding because of family or financial commitments.
“They don’t believe they can give themselves permission to ride,” DuPont says.
So she grants permission for them, and every Thursday does a “Mom’s Class” in the morning, followed by lunch. It keeps them involved, and it fills the daytime hours.
DuPont also fills daytime hours by offering busy professionals the chance to ride on their lunch break. She has a horse ready when they arrive so they can do a half-hour lesson and be on their way again.
Says DuPont, “You have to look at people’s lifestyles. There are a lot of people who want to ride if you can find them the time. “We already know we can’t teach everybody on Saturday.”
LaFleur VanEss Stables in Verona, Wisc., is a busy place with boarding, training, lessons for all levels and ages, camps, birthday parties, and horse shows. Riding instructor and assistant trainer Sarah McClintock finds summertime to be a little slower than the rest of the year, with families going on vacation. Still, she keeps a strict schedule all year long.
Public lessons—for those who don’t have a horse boarded or in training at the barn—take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They’re a half-hour long with 15-minute intervals in between for talking with students and parents and for dealing with horse issues.
“Give yourself a buffer of time in between; it helps a lot,” she says.
Mondays bring private lessons only for people with horses boarded or in training. On Saturdays, lessons are scheduled on the hour, and she only does Sunday lessons when necessary. Mornings are usually reserved for Sarah to ride the horses she’s training as well as to work with the students who have horses boarded and in training.
Having segmented days like this presents a professional image to clients. It keeps McClintock running on time and reduces confusion and missed lessons, as everyone is aware of her schedule.
When Marissa Walker started Horse Play Rentals at Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., in March 2006, she hadn’t intended to offer an after-school program. She was busy with birthday parties and public trail rides.
After parents sent their children through her week-long clinics last summer, though, they requested that she provide a way for them to continue riding. Now the after-school program consists of two group sessions per week from 3:30 to 5:30 for three weeks. Now the kids can progress in their riding skills on a variety of her school horses all year long.
Packaging lessons into program blocks helps to keep students committed to returning week after week for their riding.
MacNair’s Country Acres in Raleigh, N.C., offers blocks of lessons that vary from eight to 12 weeks, and one block progresses into the next. At the end of the fall semester, the stable hosts a horse show for students.
“They get to show off for their grandparents, and we make a big deal of it,” which makes everyone feel good about the kids’ riding experience, says owner Caroline MacNair Carl.