The Business of Teaching

Credit: Pam MacKenzie

By Melanie Huggett

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success” — Henry Ford

You’ve decided you want to be a coach. You’ve researched and learned the skills you need. You’ve mentored with a successful coach and learned much from them, taken appropriate courses and gotten certified, and you’re ready to teach. But have you thought about the location you are going to coach from, how you are going to gain clients, and how to maintain and upgrade your skills?

While you may be turning a passion into a career, it’s also important to remember that coaching is a job, especially if you plan to support yourself completely on it. For that reason, it’s a good idea when starting out to make a business plan. Figure out not only what you want and are willing to invest in the short-term, but what your goals are in the long term. It may seem overwhelming or unnecessary at first, but preparing in this way will ensure you have a viable and sustainable business, and that your passion won’t turn into a financial burden. Deanna Phelan, a coach, trainer, and owner of Geary Hill Stables in Geary, New Brunswick, suggests taking a small business course to learn the skills needed to avoid financial troubles. There are many courses available at local centres and colleges, as well as books dedicated to the subject that can help you form a concrete plan.

Where to Teach
Part of your business plan should include where you are going to teach. Do you plan on running your own schooling stable, being hired by a stable or camp, or driving to various students’ locations to teach? Each situation has their own set of benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to figure out what will work best for you both in the short and long terms. One of the major considerations is how much money you have to invest at the outset.

Horse Coaching Equine Competition  Equestrian Riding Schooling Training

Running your own riding facility and providing student horses requires significant financial and time investment. A business plan is the first step towards a successful and rewarding coaching career.

Running your own teaching stable can be very rewarding and allows you total control, but requires substantial financial and time investment both in the short and long terms. You must not only acquire adequate facilities which include stabling and an all-weather riding ring, but you also have to provide your own horses and your own insurance. The number of students you plan on having will dictate how many horses you need. Remember to include the cost of feed, hay, and veterinary and farrier care. In addition, you may need to hire help to do barn chores or other jobs on your farm. “If you opt to own your own facility, location is so important to have a consistent customer base,” says Phelan. Before building, buying, or leasing your dream barn, ensure there will be enough students in the area for you to teach, and that they can afford it.

For those who don’t wish to take on the financial investment or liabilities of running their own barn, being hired on as a coach or instructor at someone else’s facility is an option. This could include riding stables, camps, clubs, or holiday trekking centres. “Your income will not be as lucrative, but you have no risk or investment,” says Ruth Fowler, a coach of 30 years who lives in Cochrane, Alberta, and Master Course Conductor for BC and Alberta.

Another option is driving to various locations to give lessons to your students — either at their property on at a public or rented riding ring. In this case your transportation is your only overhead, but you will need to be flexible. The price of gas can fluctuate, and your work may be seasonal if your students’ riding rings won’t hold up to winter weather. You will also only be able to work with students who have their own horses, which means less opportunity to teach new riders and younger children and youth.

Finding Students
Once you have established a place of work, you can begin accepting clients. How you are going to do this should also be outlined in your business plan. After all, you can’t call yourself a teacher if you don’t have any students!

Fowler suggests that word of mouth recommendations are perhaps the best way to get new clients. However, when just starting out, you may not have a large enough client base to gain as many recommendations as you need, so a little more effort may be necessary. A little advertising can go a long way. Work out who your target market is, and then think of a way to reach them. Be creative with your marketing plan.

For example, you may consider making up some business cards and dropping them off at local tack shops, or handing them out to potential clients. If you are looking to attract beginner students who have not ridden before, an advertisement in the phone book can also help, as this is often the first place that brand new riders will look.

It’s also a good idea to invest in a website which explains honestly what your services are, how much they cost, along with any other information a client might wish to know before signing on with you. “When you are new and just starting out, it is certainly a help to be able to advertise that you are certified,” says Fowler. If you are certified with Equine Canada (EC) or another provincially recognized coaching certification program, contact your provincial equestrian association to get listed as a coach on their website. There are also many printed equine directories, such as the BC and Alberta Horse Community Guides, which offer listings to instructors for a small fee.

Horse Coaching Equine Competition Equestrian Riding Schooling Training

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Showing can be a great way to market yourself. Make sure to always look professional to give potential students a good impression.

Marketing yourself can also happen in other ways. Fowler suggests promoting yourself by taking students to shows and having them be successful. “If you do not have students yet and are just looking to start as a coach, showing your own horse or someone else’s horse that you have trained is another good method,” says Fowler.

“Success in the show pen is great advertising.”

Always present yourself in a way which will promote your business. Even if you are just relaxing by your trailer after a class at a show, future students may be evaluating you, so look professional! Building a good reputation is the key to success.

Another consideration when beginning to accept clients is how much to charge. It’s a good idea to figure out what competitors in your area are charging as this will give you a good market reference point to base your costs on. You should also work out exactly how much it costs to put on a lesson. Your experience, certification level, the type of student you are teaching, and whether or not you are providing the horse and/or facility will all play a part in how much you decide to charge.

Horse Coaching Equine Competition Equestrian Riding Schooling Training

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Interview potential students or their parents before the first lesson to make sure there is an understanding of what is expected by both parties.

When accepting clients, you may wonder if you should accept all students or be picky. If you are supporting yourself solely or mostly on lessons, then you may not have the luxury of being picky. Once you have a larger client base, or if you have another means of income, you may decide to limit the number and kind of students you accept.

However, “if there is one [student] who does not match personalities with you, or their knowledge base is not one you are comfortable working with, then it is best to encourage them to try a different coach,” says Fowler.

Regardless, it is a good idea to interview each prospective student, or their parents if they are a child or youth. “Client relations are usually kept smooth if there is a clear understanding in the very beginning of what both parties expect out of the working relationship,” says Fowler.

Phelan suggests taking the time to interview each new client to find out what their goals are, do two to four lessons, and then review with the student whether you are both happy to go forward. This sort of preparation will stop much of the confusion and assumptions that may lead to unhappiness by either party later on.


Further Learning
Like many fields, equestrian is constantly evolving with new techniques, technologies, and trends. “Coaching theories change constantly; new ideas and techniques are being introduced continually,” says Wendy Sewell, Coaching Administrator at Horse Council BC. “Keep an open mind… and keep using and learning from mentors.”

“Coaches should always be participating in updating and clinics from different clinicians,” says Jessica Paul, Coaching Administrator at the Alberta Equestrian Federation. “It is important to always be learning and growing as riders and coaches.”
It’s important that coaches and instructors continue to ride and learn in order maintain their level of skill and knowledge of the sport. In addition, by continuing to improve, coaches gain valuable knowledge that they can then pass on to their students.

In fact, many coaching certificates require updating in order to keep their current status. EC certification, for example, requires English Instructors and Coaches to submit 20 hours of upgrading every three years, which can include clinics, mentoring, volunteer hours, courses, apprenticing, and more; EC Western Instructors and Coaches must attend a Western Update every three years. EC Coaches are also recognized if they obtain more than the minimum number of upgrading hours. The Certified Horsemanship Association also requires recertification after three years by submitting 25 hours of continued education or work within the industry, or by attending another certification clinic. As coaches continue to develop, you may also wish to upgrade your coaching level certification along with your skills. For example, as your skills increase, you may wish to upgrade from an EC Instructor to an EC Level 1 Coach; upgrading your certification level also gives you access to more students.

Upgrading does not need to be a complicated process. Simply continuing to take lessons with a more advanced riding coach is a good idea. “I still take weekly lessons and compete,” says Phelan. “One can never stop learning and then I pass this on to my students. You are doing yourself and your students an injustice by not continuing to develop.”

“If you plan to take your students to horse shows, you should be attending shows to stay up to date with the present trends and styles,” says Fowler.

In addition to equestrian related upgrading, you may also wish to attend non sport specific courses. These can include courses on sports psychology, fitness, nutrition, or others. “Learn from other sports,” says Sewell. The National Coaching Certification Program, run by the Coaching Association of Canada, offers many courses at local colleges, as well as a diploma program. For more information, visit

Successful coaches have more than a passion for horses and teaching; they also have the skills and motivation to run a sound and sustainable business. They are students themselves and continue to mentor, ride, and gain knowledge of equestrian and sport. Coaches play an extremely important role in the equine industry, and have the opportunity for a lengthy and rewarding career if the proper steps are taken.

Main article photo: Pam MacKenzie - Attending clinics is a great way to upgrade your riding and coaching skills.


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