How Do We Grow Horse Sports?

So this post was inspired by a post that was submitted as part of the HN Blogger Contest by Carson Nelson. In the post, she hypothesized about why people don’t get into horse sports. The number one answer she found – money.

However, I am not sure I buy that. I have looked into how much it costs to join a yoga or pilates studio… I have seen the cost of barre classes and crossfit memberships. The truth? They aren’t a lot cheaper than riding lessons. Throw in a cheap pair of paddock boots, a barn that has helmets, and yoga pants (or even jeans you already own!), and you are about there in terms of clothing. Again, not much more than a yoga mat and appropriate clothing.

Please be aware, all of the below is a HUGE generalization of the horse market, and it is not directed at any person, barn, or organization. It is just my observations as a member of horse sports in, arguably, two of the most horse-dense areas of the country (excluding NYC).

Horse Pop
Chart from The State of the Animals IV: 2007. Highlights mine. 

Websites

I think it is terribly confusing, difficult, and discouraging to try and find a lesson barn as an adult, ESPECIALLY as a beginner. We no longer live in a culture of phone calls to strangers. We live in a culture of email, contact forms, and online scheduling. Farm websites tend to be clunky, not mobile friendly, and lack even basic SEO to show up on google searches.

As someone who moved to an area and knew no one, I know how much power your website can have. For a beginner adult – they are looking for something that looks approachable. Unfortunately, most websites either show an amazing plethora of small children, with no adults, or they show shiny show horses and only people in full formal attire. Neither of these things is likely to resonate with someone considering taking riding lessons.

img_0543
Is this relatable to the average person? Maybe?

Price Transparency

Farms can also have a nasty habit of hiding costs, leaving outdated prices on their website, or telling people to “Call for Pricing.” Pricing is readily available for nearly any product we could want, and we can pay for almost anything with a credit card. Therefore, it can be a bit off-putting to not find the real price of a service on a farm’s website.

How many times have you heard of someone being burned by a barn, including experienced people, because they weren’t made aware of other charges they were incurring? It goes from something as innocent as “would you like us to tack up your horse before your lesson?” (no mention of it being $15 extra) to THOUSANDS of dollars worth of charges at someone’s first competition. Nothing quite like having to shovel over some of your savings to make you want to quit a sport.

Trainers – have a rate sheet. Hand it out. Post it online and in your barn. If you don’t know how to do this, I can guarantee you that someone in your barn does.

Horse riding would benefit as being sold as a form of fitness, as much as a hobby. Then, maybe, people will be more likely to devote a portion of their budget to this “new kind of classes.”

Diversity

Let’s face it. Horse sports fall pretty far to the bottom of the diversity spectrum. We lack diversity in race, ethnicity, body types, and socio-economic status, among other areas. At the lower levels, the only Olympic sport where men and women compete against one another also lacks gender diversity. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but let’s just say that being friendly, welcoming, and promoting a sense of inclusion at barns would probably help keep everyone more involved.

It is scary enough to join a new sport as an adult. As for me – how many classes have I taken in sports/classes I am not already familiar with, alone? (None). If you are an average sized woman or man, are you going to call the barn that only shows very slim riders in white pants in their photos? Or no one that looks REMOTELY like you? Didn’t think so.

Beginner Adult Friendly Barns

Where are the Mimosa Rides? or the Wine Wednesday Evening Lessons? I will admit, both of these things appeal to women more than men AND serving alcohol with horses is a terrible business idea. However, there is just about no marketing barns do to encourage adults to come try riding lessons. In contrast, I have seen “Back to School Specials”, “Spring Break Sessions”, and “Summer Camps” for the under 18 crowd. Let’s try material that is targeted for the adults. Hey, it could even be “Back to School Specials” with special lessons during the day for stay-at-home adults.

Most adults don’t want to lesson with children. We learn differently, our bodies react slower, and our muscles don’t grow as fast. Trainers need to offer private and semi private lessons to accommodate adult schedules. AND have the horses to accommodate them.

Ridiculous outfit
Hilarious photo of May as a “lion” and me as a “lion tamer”… This is a fun facebook pic… but probably doesn’t below on your barn website. 

I am sure I can go on, but I think this is a good start. Is there a market for this? Honestly, I think there is. Plenty of adults lacked the funds, time or access to horses as kids that  might be able to try it out now. MANY adults are bored, and open to trying something new.

I don’t think large membership campaigns, such as USEF’s “Join the Joy”, have made any significant strides, especially outside of the already established horse community. Growth will have to be the grassroots kind, and, as tough as it is, that starts with the trainers and riders with their boots already planted firmly on the ground of their communities.

What do you think? What can riders, trainers, and organizations be doing to help grow new interest in horse sports?

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29 thoughts on “How Do We Grow Horse Sports?

  1. OMG SO TRUE. I am right now trying to find instructors for dressage and jumping and seriously word of mouth is the only way I have gotten anywhere!! It is ridiculous. I wish more places did things like you mention.

    And everyone that bitches about costs for riding (Hello Dad my dad has bitched for years and I am 52 years old now LOL) i want to see how much soccer is, gymnastics, dance, etc. ) And most kids do more than one sport. I only took lessons and I did stalls for more lessons too! you can’t tell me those parents aren’t paying a lot more.

    great post and topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! You can be the best trainer in the world, but if I can’t find you, I can’t pay you!

      As for the cost, SURE you can spend MILLIONS a year if you wanted to… But you could also just take a weekly lesson or half lease a horse for significantly less. However, no one outside of the horse community knows what “half leasing” means hahaha. Lots of hurdles to cross for newcomers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pro horse people NEED to learn to Internet. When I got back into riding in 2013 only one out of five trainers I emailed got back to me within a week, and that trainer’s website was the only one that happened to have 99% of the pertinent info needed for someone like me. Three never replied and one replied two months later after a follow up phone call. Thankfully the first one was honest about everything and it worked out for me long enough to get into the swing of things but what if it had sucked?? I cringe knowing now where else I could’ve wound up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly! When I first came to KY to look, I had VERY LITTLE notice that we were moving and only a weekend to look at barns. I CALLED every number I could find the whole week before going… and very few called me back before the weekend was over. If people have to hound you to get you to call them back, they assume you just don’t want the business.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i honestly don’t know what I would have done if i hadnt had a barn ready for Remus in my back yard. I looked at boarding options since the fence needed repair and no one got back to me or they were all an hour away. SO home he came LOL! it is scary at times in this day and age how few horse people use the internet (and not just facebook people!)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Right. Facebook is fine, but I want a real website to look at. I want somewhere the posts your prices and has relevant information about experience/clientele/show opportunities etc

        For the record, my current trainer has a great website.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG this whole post makes me that much more grateful for my trainer haha. She has a pretty good website (which means it’s lightyears better than most farm websites), is up front about prices, has tons of ammies that like to do fun stuff together at different levels, and all ages and types. She’s a unicorn. I always joke that I found the world’s best barn through a Google search, but I feel like more barns should really hear that. Through a Google search. On the internet. There could be an incredible facility with gold-plated water buckets, but I’ll never find them unless they pop up when I search “hunter jumper barns near me.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup! I got VERY creative with how I have found barns, but really, should a potential customer have to go through that much work to find your business? Probably not. It’s probably no consequence that some of the best barns I have been at have also had the best websites.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes! Yes! Yes!! Something I would add. Take into account that horse riding takes money and for that most people need to work. It is really hard as a full time working adult to find a place that offers evening or weekend lessons. I get that trainers go away on weekends to shows too, but I can’t lesson Mon-Fri 8-5 because I work. My current Trainer does late evenings for me and lets me schedule last minute when I have something come up. A package of 10 pre set lessons is nice for them to know they have the money, but with work and a 5 year old I can’t guarantee I can make the same time every week for 10 weeks and if I only get 1 reschedule I won’t do it as I know I will lose money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I completely agree with this too. I was lucky to find a trainer who teaches most of her lessons after 4PM, so it isn’t an issue to get on the schedule. However, I have had issues in the past with trainers that would cancel on ME if traffic made me 10 min late… Definitely frustrating.

      Like

  5. For some reason I really dislike phone conversations, so I’d like email or all information up on the website please lol. It really is so true that most have no clue about the internet. And I feel like EVERYTHING in the horse world (aside from online shopping) is like “call/email for pricing” and that nonsense. I agree and just wish that there was a lot more transparency with this too. Hidden fees certainly turn people off, and I agree with the “amazing” photos that can turn people off too. Just the other day I was talking with a receptionist at my PT facility and she kept saying how she absolutely loved horses and really wanted to ride one, and she said “I’m just too heavy to ride one right now.” I just about died when I heard her say that because she was absolutely NOT heavy! I tried telling her about a few facilities around town, and ones that had beginner programs that she could bring her kids too as well. It just really really really broke my heart that she thought she was too heavy.

    Plus, I also agree that these after-school sports are just as expensive if not more than riding lessons. Your own horse probably IS more expensive than those, but simple lessons probably cost less than gymnastics or barre or soccer. And that doesn’t break down EXTRA costs like – as a part of a soccer team for 4 years when I was younger – every player had their “week” of bringing the game food. So there’s a lot more to it, and in that sense, I sort of feel lessons are pretty cheap in comparison lol. I don’t have any other ideas on how to go forward, but I agree with you that it starts with the established trainers and people, as well as someone just hiring a freaking web designer so people can find you at least to call you and figure out prices ;P lolol

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, I agree that most barn websites ARE TERRIBLE! Even if you have an active Facebook account that is better than nothing people! But I also think the business model of a trainer keeping a barn full of lesson ponies that are capable of packing around beginner riders is getting more and more difficult to maintain. Only ONE barn in my area has a decent number of lesson horses available for people who don’t already have their own horse. Every other barn, even ones with full time trainers, only offer lessons on your own horse. That makes it extremely difficult to get started in this sport unless you already know people who have horses. If you’re a complete newb who doesn’t know anyone in the industry already and maybe just want to dabble your toe by taking a weekly lesson? Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point too! Those that do have lesson horses, typically have older or smaller horses/ponies for lightweight kids. A regular sized adult would probably be a bit much for most of them everyday.

      I have 0 idea how you solve that problem. The barns I know that do have lesson horses typically depend on them being at least partially leased out each month to lesson students.

      Like

  7. Yes, yes yes. I actually love building websites for barns/trainers but unfortunately a lot of them don’t have budget to pay someone to do it (and I don’t have time to do it for free!). The lack of quality content and searchable websites is one of my top gripes about the industry. It definitely affects the ammy-centric barns and businesses, but even some of the pros have an awful digital presence. I wish I could convince more people that the up front cost is worth it. For a business, you must have a good online presence. LET ME HELP YOU, PEOPLE.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I think that a lot of trainers are great at the “horse” part of the horse business, but maybe not so great at the “business” part. AND, like I said, I can pretty much guarantee any trainer that SOMEONE in their barn knows how to build a half-decent website. Barter is a thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have yet to find a barn with an informative website. So frustrating! I do think one of the problems with lesson barns, is that there aren’t enough instructors. Our instructor is turning people away left and right. She just literally doesn’t have the time to do all the after school/work lessons…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you there. Apparently there are 11 LARGE barns back in the area i rode in Ny/NJ that are looking for instructors right now and can’t find them. And these are teaching/riding only jobs – no barn chores. It’s getting a bit discerning.

      Like

  9. Equestrian websites are the worst. It drives me insane to have to call someone in this day and age. I think the real problem is interest though. I never meet adult women who don’t already ride who reveal any interest in trying. I’ll mention I ride, they’ll say that’s cool, ask some questions about my horses, and then move on. No “I’ve always wanted to try that” or anything.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As crazy as it seems, some people just aren’t huge animal lovers. Even people that like their pets like dogs or cats, just don’t really have any interest in other animals. Which is a bit unfathomable to me, because I’ve always been obsessed with all animals, and especially horses, but I guess some people just don’t have that feeling.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah. I suppose it is difficult to get into any sport later in life, and riding is probably especially hard. Which (to me) is a tragedy, because who wouldn’t want to at least trail ride when they’re WAY OLDER than you.

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  10. One of the great things about my trainer is that she actually caters to an adult ammie crowd. She has a select group of young’uns, but really takes the time to accommodate and teach adults. We do in fact do the wine nights, the “paint and ride” outings, and spend a lot of after lesson time sitting at our favorite nearby bar. BUT, she also tries to find us schoolies and lease situations when we need them too. It’s much appreciated in my area that happens to be very kid – orientated in riding.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As an African American in this sport it is appalling the lack of diversity so much so my friend and I are working on a public campaign about it (hopefully get things in gear real soon). Though I have to say it’s gotten better but its not reflective of our society as a whole (what is anymore I guess). As someone who is not a beginner, owns a horse, shows, but wants to change barns it is so freaking hard to get a hold of trainers, even with all the contact information in the world it’s hard to pay people if they refuse to get in touch with you.

    Liked by 1 person

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