There are a lot of challenges that come with inclement weather as a horse business, especially if you don't have a covered arena. If that's your situation, you aren't alone. We operated much of our first year in business with only an outdoor arena and run-in sheds. Two great things came of operating our program in the mud and rain: We got really good at running a successful business quickly (sink or swim) AND We got really good at customer retention.
So how did we do it? First of all I think you have to hear our voices to really understand the passion we have for what we do. (Listen in at The Practical Riding Instructor Podcast Free on all podcast platforms). But if you're content to read my disorganized ramblings I'll fill you in here too.
Create a culture of gritty students. Sure keep hand-warmers in the tack room, offer the students hot chocolate, whatever makes your cozy winter heart happy, but promote grit. We ride rain or shine because we are true equestrians. As long as it's safe to ride (no we don't rain in thunderstorms or extreme winds) but a fine soaking drizzle never hurt anyone. Most of our students are beginners doing walk trot lessons as this is the biggest pool of profitable students. If you don't have these riders in your program you should consider them. Not only are they the future of the horse industry, but they're our best customers and keep the lights on every month.
Keep a strict cancellation policy. There's no excuses when everyone's smart phone gives them an hour by hour breakdown of the weather! We don't cancel unless weather is unsafe, if a student cancels they must give us a minimum of 4 hours notice or they will not be provided a make-up and make-up lessons are at 4:30pm the last Saturday of every month (you bet it's a group lesson) as horse people we tend to forget that this is also a business. It's ok to love your clients and also expect them to treat you well.
Group Zooms. If you've followed us very long you know we keep it real here. So in all truth we haven't had to implement this one yet. However our friends in states with much more inclement weather said they plan educational zoom calls in lieu of lessons and that nobody complains!
Give them something to look forward to. Make a riding school calendar available to your clients and put events or shows on it. This can also help students feel motivated to progress in the curriculum and dedicate themselves to their weekly lessons.
I can hear you now, that's all well and fine, but how will I get my clients to pay for their lessons when they are no showing or we are doing zoom calls! Well friend, I'm not going to sugar coat it for you, if this was a thought that crossed your mind you're long past due to change to an automatic monthly invoicing system for your clients. We charge the same amount every month and provide one weekly mounted lesson and one group (all students)un-mounted lesson per week.
Much love from your fellow riding instructor here. Best of luck to you in growing the horse business of your dreams-