Most boarding and training facilities have resident trainers who hang their hats at a barn on a permanent basis. These trainers have a strong association with their home barn, and either draw clients to the facility through advertising, or rely on the existing boarding population for their business.
But not all trainers—and barns—prefer to go this route. The concept of freelance trainers—trainers of all disciplines who travel from facility to facility rather than establishing themselves at just one place—is a model that is proving successful around the country.
The benefits to barn owners of hiring freelance trainers are numerous, and include a flexibility they wouldn’t have with a resident trainer, as well as providing additional services to clients.
Sherri Kiefner, owner of Transitions, a boarding facility in Manhattan, Ill., likes using freelance trainers because it makes her facility easier to run and more attractive to horse owners.
“The benefit of freelance trainers to me, as a barn owner, is that I do not alienate potential boarders by limiting their training options,” she says. “Likewise, if a boarder chooses to change trainers, it is not necessary for the person to move the horse to another boarding facility to make that change.”
Kiefner also notes that another benefit of freelance trainers is that they are less likely to wrestle with an owner for control of the facility.
“Power struggles between barn owners and resident trainers often create excessive boarder turnover,” she says. “In my experience, the turnover is more organic when dealing with freelance trainers.”
By utilizing freelance trainers, Kiefner says she is able to focus on caring for the horses at her facility and maintaining a pleasant atmosphere for owners.
“Plus, different horses have different needs, and individual riders have their own preferences,” she says. “It is not for me to decide who is a good trainer; I am not the one riding the horse.”
Freelance trainers can also increase business at a boarding stable, according to Janna Dyer, a dressage trainer and owner of Dark Horse Stables in Rocky Ridge, Md. Clients will often follow a freelance trainer from one barn to another, which can benefit the stable if a popular freelance trainer begins working out of the facility.
“This works as long as the freelance instructor pays for his or her own insurance,” she says. “They provide a service to boarders while not locking the barn owner into a particular instructor or having to have a trainer on salary.”
Benefits are many for freelance trainers as well, who have use of a facility without having to deal with the upkeep, says Dyer.
“And if things don’t work out, the trainer can more easily move on,” she adds.
Lisa Scebbi, a freelance dressage trainer based in Southern California, points out that freelance trainers can potentially bring in new boarders and help maintain boarders that were previously established.
“And, if the trainer is well known, he or she will bring clientele not normally associated with the local business base, as people will travel from out of the area for services,” she says.
Scebbi trains out of two facilities, and also travels outside the area for individual clients.
“Having a freelance trainer onsite also creates a safer environment when issues arise with problem horses,” she says. “They can also provide experience in dealing with medical concerns and can help in an emergency prior to the veterinarian’s arrival. Plus, they can bring clientele together by creating common goals.”
Donna Hyde, owner of No Drama Ranch, a boarding facility in Norco, Calif., says she has experienced both freelance and resident trainers, and thinks resident trainers can sometimes get too comfortable and stop promoting themselves. Freelance trainers, on the other hand, work out of different barns and thus have more visibility.
The type of compensation model a facility owner chooses for freelance trainers is dependent on the best arrangement for the facility and trainer. Barn owners have several options.
“My facility does not receive any compensation from freelance trainers,” says Kiefner, who explains that having the trainer at the facility is a service to boarders. She does note that trainers are required to carry liability insurance, which lists her facility as additional insured.
“This helps to reduce my liability insurance premiums, as well as keeping the cost of lessons and training down for those who board at my facility,” she says.
Kiefner also expects freelance trainers to coordinate their training with the stable’s schedule.
“The only other expectation I have of trainers is that they treat the horses with respect,” she says.
Even though freelance trainers don’t spend as much time at a facility as resident trainers, it’s still important to make sure a freelance trainer is a good match to your barn.
“In hiring a freelance trainer, it’s important to have the right combination,” says Hyde. “When a trainer is qualified, responsible, respectful, committed and organized, the combination of those traits and a well-run facility is the substance that will sustain the relationship.”