Horseback riding lessons are the foundation of learning how to ride. The instructors that teach them can leave a lasting impression on us and can impact our riding immensely. Leesa Massman has mastered the art of instructing and is what some call a legend. Leesa started giving lessons when she was 18-years-old and never looked back. She puts a major emphasis on Arabian horses, amateurs and youth. Throughout her instructing career, she has coached 168 national champions in five different breeds, instructed a variety of disciplines from Western to Driving, and back to Saddle Seat, and she has been a coach of the Michigan State University Stock Seat Team for a total of 20 years. She is now the owner of Massman Stables in Mason, Mich. where she still gets to pursue her passion of instructing. With a career of teaching for 42 years, she has a lot of tips for those who are just starting in the instructing world and those who have been around the block a few times.
“Connecting horses and humans is definitely my passion,” Leesa said.
There are two main types of programs that you can run when instructing. One type is in-house, which is when you give lessons out of your barn that you own. The second type of program is the traveling instructor. This type requires the instructor to travel to the student to teach. Leesa Massman explained within these two, general program ideas, each type of instructor can be broken down into four segments:
Segment One: Independent traveling instructor
This segment is exactly what it sounds like. The instructor travels to people to coach at their barns. The pros of this segment are that the instructor has minimum overhead costs because they do not own a barn that requires maintenance. Some of the costs involved with this segment are gas, insurance, phone, and car maintenance. With this method you can also choose your clientele and knowing your target audience will help you be successful with this method. Segment one allows you to control your own schedule and work as much or as little as you would like. You get out of it what you put into it, which means you can get paid every day if you choose to run your schedule like that. The bad news is that your taxes at the end of the year could be significant because you are similar to an independent contractor.
Segment Two: Traveling to a specific barn
Segment two is very similar to segment one, but the largest difference is that you are contracted by a single barn. The barn would hire you to come give lessons at its facility. This is similar to a house contractor in that if you have a project, you hire a specific contractor to work on your house. Instead of a house it’s a barn and horses. Most of the time the payment works by you and the barn owner agreeing upon a price, and the barn owner taking a portion of your fees to cover the use of their barn.
Segment Three: Employed by a specific barn
This biggest advantage of this method is that you could receive benefits and a salary, which makes this one of the most stable ideas. You have a predictable schedule that can be more consistent. This also gives you the opportunity to have back-up people work for you. If you are sick or can’t make it to a show, someone else at the barn can cover for you that day. The con of this method is that you can’t pick your clientele. You are stuck with what target audience is at the barn by which you are hired. If it’s not the discipline you want to work with, then maybe looking for another barn would be your best option.
Segment Four: Use an arena for a fee
The fourth, and final, segment is renting an arena to give lessons. Sometimes the arena you are renting also has horses that you could use for a fee. If you have horses to provide to people, you are going to be able to reach a wider audience that includes people who don’t own their own horses. Most of the time this is the beginning horseback rider that needs an avenue into the equine industry.
If you have decided that owning your own lesson barn is the best path for you, Leesa has a few tips on what to look for in a facility:
Make a budget and stick to it!
Learn how to run a business.
Check local zoning ordinances for the number of horses allowed on your property.
If you can design and build your own facility that is great, but if you can’t, make what you have work. If there is a will there is a way!
Have plans for a variety of weather (especially if you are in Michigan…)
Make sure to have good footing that will withstand whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at it.
Consider partnering with someone. Sometimes this will make things run more smoothly, but always make sure to evaluate your situation and do what is best for you.
No matter what type of instructor you are going to be, Leesa suggested to always carry professional liability insurance. If you are an independent instructor, you will most likely have to provide this for yourself. If you have decided to be employed by a certain barn, the barn may get it for you. Having insurance can help save you in sticky situations.
For those of you that are looking at getting into the teaching world, Leesa has a few tips for you, too. Find an established instructor that teaches your target audience and create a relationship with that person. Shadowing him or her is a great way to see how it’s done. Sometimes the instructor may take you on as an apprentice, so you can learn first-hand how to be a successful instructor.
“Find key people who are not only highly successful in that target market, but also have some longevity in it,” Leesa said.
Reputation can be everything in this industry, so making sure that you are always professional is important. There is no required certification to become a riding instructor, but having training will certainly help you. It not only will make instructing safer for you and the rider, but it also will promote the equine industry by having educated people teaching. Word of mouth is huge in the equine industry, as most of you know, so this is another reason to keep a good reputation. Your clients can be your greatest advertisers.
Leesa has a special place in her heart for the Arabian horse. She has mainly worked with them throughout her career, but has experienced success with a variety of breeds. Leesa believes that instructing with Arabian horses is a great way to advertise how fantastic the Arabian horse is. This can be especially true with lower level horses that can be successful at local shows. It is a wonderful way to hook people into the industry.
“People tend to fall in love with the breed and type of horse that they are first exposed to. This is the perfect situation to market a barn of horses,” Leesa said.