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Time is Money

Those who make a living by teaching lessons to riders understand that there are only so many hours in a day to earn a living. But what you do with those hours and how you charge can make a big difference.


“Don’t be embarrassed to charge what you’re worth,” says Lisa Derby Oden of Blue Ribbon Consulting, LDO, LLC, in New Ipswich, N.H., whose expertise is “the horse business” ( “I have fairly strong feelings about this subject,” admits Oden, who reminds clients that instructors are not a nonprofit.

Oden counsels to “evaluate your costs and what the competition gets for lessons.” Where you live will always play a role in pricing structure, with more affluent geographical areas or those with many trainers and horses usually commanding more money.

Current economic conditions impact trainers, too, says Oden, like the high price of gasoline. If you drive to clients now, you’re paying more at the pump, and you can pass that on. “Even if you raise prices because you feel it’s time, some clients may not be able to stay, but if you’re worth your salt, you may step into a whole new discretionary market segment…those who can afford you and will.”

Consider that status rules—many people like to pay more. Oden remembers pricing a great hunter too low, and a colleague remarked, “Tell anyone that price, and they’ll think something’s wrong with the horse.” The price was doubled and a successful sale was completed.

And, don’t forget your public relations efforts, such as spreading the word when you have success with horses and riders.

Time-wise, for lessons, Oden likes 45 minutes because it allows enough time to “get one concept across.” For a quick brush-up or fix-it, one-half hour works, but Oden warns that, “Half-hours consume more of your time.” Oden suggests charging $70 for a full session and $40 for a half-hour. And you will hear of some trainers who command much more, but be realistic. “Someone who’s charging $80 to $100 has notoriety,” says Oden. “But with some work, that person can be you.”

Oden shares additional valid business basics: Lay out lesson policies ahead of time, specifying start times and whether preparing the horse is included. Obtain money up front and sell monthly packages, with discounts if you wish. State cancellation rules: “When I taught, I asked for 24 hours’ notice, or the make-up lesson was my prerogative,” says Oden. “When –people pay ahead of time, they’ll think twice about an invalid ­cancellation.”

Dr. Jessica Jahiel is a noted author—she’s written several books on training and riding—and a lecturer and clinician based in Champaign, Ill. “Maybe someone’s dream was to teach four hour-and-a-half privates a day,” she says, “but unless someone else is supporting them, it may not work. Instead, they may find themselves teaching six group lessons daily, charging what they think the market will bear: It’s a very individual thing.” But first and foremost, Jahiel recommends, “Ask, ‘What do I really need to make a living?’ and go from there.”

She also favors 45 minutes to an hour, “unless you’re teaching a very young child with a short attention span.” When it comes to groups versus privates, Jahiel advises, “Beginners and very advanced really benefit from one-on-one, but in the middle range, members of that large intermediate group may learn from watching others.”


Not everyone teaches Western in Whitesboro, Texas or English in Wellington, Florida—places where the nation’s top trainers make a name for themselves…and a very good living, too. Riding lessons are impacted by the laws of supply and demand. Lots of people booking lots of lessons mean trainers can charge more. Not so much business? Lessons likely cost less.

In the small town of Delta, Pa., near the Maryland line, Julianne Broyles teaches hunt seat at $40 for 45 minutes; the going rate in her neck of the woods is $40 to $60. Within a 20-mile range of her, plenty of nice facilities exist for riders and horses.

Broyles carves out the entire hour, however, when booking the lesson. “Forty-five minutes means the horse doesn’t get so tired out,” she says, “but we have 15 extra minutes to end on a positive note. It also provides a ‘buffer’ to ensure you’re always on time.” She no longer teaches big groups, but will coach three students in a semi-private.

Carolyn Heaton of Cedar City, Utah (pop, 20,000) specializes in recreational riding and stock seat. For lessons, “I try to stay competitive so I don’t undercut myself,” she says. “Time is a valuable commodity. I evaluate who charges the most and I match that, but I always do an analysis.” Her price is $35 for an hour, private.

Top reiner Lance Shockley of Loveland, Colo., doesn’t have to look too far for clients in his area. He doesn’t do more than two lessons per day, for which he charges $50 an hour per person. “We’ll run over if we’re working out a problem,” he says. Shockley feels that too many lessons means he has trouble getting everything else done. For his lessons, Shockley teaches two or three non pros together. “It allows people to see what something looks like and to hear me talk to someone else,” explains Shockley. “Often, they’ll start picking up on smaller details as well.”

Dean Bogart of Conyers, Ga., specializes in Western all-around, and figures that in his area, near the 1996 Olympic equestrian venue, “anywhere from $25 to $50 an hour is the going rate.” With 25 horses in full training, he provides two lessons per week, often with six students, and otherwise, he rides the horse. “Most people take one lesson per week,” he says. And as for how long a lesson should be, Bogart likes an hour. “More can mean you lose perspective, and with kids, you do lose that focus.” For his school horses, he charges $35 per hour.

Angie Bean freelances outside of Philadelphia, Pa., primarily in dressage. In that discipline, she feels that “45 minutes is the standard, as are private lessons.” But Bean observes that “95 percent of dressage riders do own their own horses.” She has no overhead and charges $45 per lesson within a 20-minute range of home. After that, she includes a $20 per hour travel charge.

Bean does teach children and says, “I rely on stable managers to let me teach in their facility. Some barns charge a fee, but that’s the responsibility of my student. I have to provide insurance to get in the door.”

In the Arabian field, Linda Leslie owns Twin L Performance Horses in Cave Creek/Scottsdale, Ariz., where she instructs saddle and hunt seat, pleasure and reining. Her first lesson is free. “We want to meet you,” she explains. After that, lessons are

priced at $30 per hour, and contain not more than three riders…except when she does a “show prep” lesson with 10 students “to learn about traffic and positioning yourself in the ring at a show.” She is not planning price increases any time soon, although “the price of removing manure” could potentially motivate a higher charge.

The best way to figure out lesson pricing is to call around your area and see what the going rate is. Compare that to what you offer and what you need to make a living. Perhaps, too, you will find that it might be time to raise your prices. A $5 increase can have a big impact on your profits.