In an ever-evolving world, the Arabian horse industry has experienced significant changes over the last ten years. With the rise of social media and decline in hands-on physical activity, trainers have faced new challenges in acquiring and retaining clients.
One newer barn with a thriving program is Debut Arabians based in Combine, Texas. Trainer Jennifer Buenrostro and Owner Lane Williams have a unique, and effective approach to marketing and outreach. They bring the Arabian horse to local youths and make riding and showing accessible to create clients for their barn, and revenue for our breed shows, on a local and National level.
Their program uses horses from larger farms that are ready to be retired or are no longer competitive on a National level, as well as younger horses that are in need of a career change. Before they are incorporated into their lesson and starter show program, Jennifer evaluates and retrains them to a more suitable discipline if necessary.
Despite the changing climate, Debut Arabians is growing steadily and gains about five new lesson clients a month on top of the regular 50 students they see each week. So far, they have introduced well over 300 families to the Arabian horse through lessons, competitions and sales, since their opening in 2015.
"I feel the biggest influence of change in the industry has been the use of social media." Jennifer says. "Instead of taking ads out in local papers and magazines, I am able to advertise sales, lessons and training to people of various socioeconomic backgrounds both locally and abroad. This has enabled me to introduce the Arabian breed to hundreds of families through my lesson and show program, not just the dozen or so who would find me in the phone book a decade ago."
Aside from the challenge of generating clients, retaining them can also be more difficult in a world with so many competing sporting, academic, and financial demands. Debut Arabians has a strong customer service ethic and Jennifer believes this is the base of their success in retention. "People choose to spend their money on a hobby they find emotionally valuable. Because of this, I teach using a positive attitude, respond to calls/emails/texts as soon as I am able, and create individual lesson plans for each of my riders.", she shares.
In addition to trainers working to introduce people to the Arabian horse community, the industry itself also has a part to play in welcoming newcomers and proving itself a worthwhile place to invest time, money, and hard work, so they will stay. Jennifer touches on the importance of this. "I hope the industry continues to be a welcoming place for new junior and amateur riders, and their families. Because the majority of my clients are just getting started on their Arabian journey and compete on school horses, this will always be my first wish. So far, I have not been disappointed."
Our trainers work hard, and they are often the first point of contact and act as ambassadors for our breed. Training and running a program can have many challenges and requires a level of dedication, commitment and passion for the Arabian horse that goes above and beyond. Jennifer shares what makes it all worthwhile for her, "Honestly, it’s seeing the progress of my riders. Having a client go from never touching a horse, to being introduced to an Arabian and learning how to walk, stop and change direction, to attending their first walk/trot schooling show, to entering their first Class A competition and successfully getting around the ring, is incredibly rewarding. I absolutely love it and hope to continue training for many years to come."
Another trainer with a very successful program is Wendye Gardiner of Solstice Training Center, Aubrey, Texas. Wendye is well known throughout the industry and trains across disciplines. Her horses and clients compete in Main Ring, Sport Horse, Working Western and even Endurance and Competitive Trail.
Having trained seven National Champions, and 10 Reserve National Champions, as well as being named Totally Tops Trainer for Sport Horse for four years consecutively, Wendye is both accomplished and experienced. She has written for numerous publications and helped over 40 horses each year since 2009 find their perfect homes, facilitating the sale of 55 horses in the year 2017.
Her perception of the changes in the industry begins with the economy, and shifting ideas. “In the last 10 years we have seen a big change in the economy. More amateurs are moving into the Sport Horse and Working Western disciplines where they perceive that they don’t have to keep their horse in training and have a better shot of still placing well on their own. We have seen new disciplines emerge such as English Trail, Western Dressage and Ranch Riding, along with adult Equitation and Showmanship. These classes give owners more things they can do with their horses at the shows and opportunities to be rewarded for their hard work. Finally, with the popularity of social media, everything has changed - from the ability to get advice quickly, to the idea that we want results five minutes ago.”
Wendye writes, “As a trainer I feel that we need to adapt to this new and exciting world that’s opening up to the breed, and embrace it- support the do-it-yourself amateur with lessons, clinics, articles, and good advice. Open up to perhaps learning new disciplines and ideas that may be outside of the box we are used to standing in.”
Despite the obvious changes in the Arabian industry, Wendye doesn’t feel she has had to change her program immensely in order to continue attract and retain her clients. “I’ve always had the desire to teach the do-it-yourself amateur anything they want to learn and share the knowledge I have gained over the years. I am where I am today thanks to trainers who gave me a chance to work hard and compete, despite the perceived disadvantages I might have had. I feel that everyone should have that opportunity if they so desire. I keep my fees low, especially show and travel fees, so that the average income person can show their horse.”
With the rise of new disciplines and interests within the breed, Wendye also keeps her services varied. “I open up to several disciplines - not just show but Endurance and Competitive Trail- encouraging everyone to have fun with their horse even if they don’t want to show. I have studied people’s needs and wants and the markets opportunities and have tried hard to offer a way for people to sell their horses and find those horses great homes where they match in desire of both the horse and the person for long-term success- happy horses make happy people.”
Speaking about her hopes for the industry going forward, and how the changes in lifestyle and economy may affect it, Wendye shares, “More people are going to want to have a nice horse that can do several classes, making their vacation time worth taking,
the fun worth having, and the expenses a bit lower without high trainer fees. Such a horse can do Western Dressage, Ranch Riding, Trail, Horsemanship, Sport Horse and Showmanship all at the same show, and be competitive in all of these classes. The owner has gotten to have a busy and fun weekend and be competitive - and they didn’t need a trainer doing all the work. I think we will see more and more of this and we need to be ready to support these people, as they are the heart of the industry.”
With the rise of the ‘do-it-yourself-amateur’, and this groups role in continuing to support our breed shows, Wendye notes “We need to be open minded to offering more disciplines and opportunities like these new classes, as well as Amateur-Owner-Trained classes. It doesn’t mean they don’t need trainers. It just means we need to change the way we think. Trainers will always be relevant, as most people simply don’t have the time to go it alone. But, supporting those who do, or helping those who only need a little bit of help or guidance, is going to go a very long way toward making our breed and shows more affordable and popular. I hope that more trainers will embrace these up and coming disciplines and ideas.”
Thriving in an ever-changing, ever-evolving industry takes passion, perseverance and a determination to succeed. Wendye has endured the test of time, and helped hundreds of clients and horses achieve success, find the perfect match, and enjoy our breed. For her, all the hard work is well worth it. “It’s all worth it to me when I make that perfect match of horse and rider and 5 years later still get photos and letters of how amazing the horse has been. Or when someone writes to me and tells me one of my training articles or clinics helped them so profoundly and they achieved some success with their horse. When that light bulb goes off and they suddenly realize why they needed more leg, or why outside rein is important and the horse takes a sigh of relief that the rider finally got it and the rider is giddy with excitement at the sudden feeling of perfect partnership with their horse. And it’s worth it to me when I’m with a lovely Arabian horse, listening to the birds and seeing the happy ears and soft eyes of a horse who truly enjoys its job.”
More information about Jennifer Buenrostro and her program at Debut Arabians is available on their webpage, http://www.debutarabians.com/
More information about Wendye Gardener and her program at Solstice Training Center is available on their webpage, http://www.solsticetc.com/