Replying to my own topic with my own expanded thoughts from above:
The Pricing Challenge:
When I started riding in 2001, group lessons were $40. Full care board was $300. Currently, group lessons are $70 and full care board is $650. The price has basically doubled, and I have no idea how we can continue down this trend. Most median earners and solidly middle class families cannot sustain this. I understand the cost of absolutely everything has gone up - feed, insurance, land, etc. But I feel like - especially with lesson prices, our industry is shooting ourselves in the foot - because if we can’t bring in new riders, how do we plan to keep our businesses afloat when the existing rider pool retires or quits? Has anyone really thought ahead to figure this out?
The “Pay to Play” Challenge:
The other big change I’ve recently noticed is the lack of movement without money. What I mean by that, is that this industry has monetized absolutely every aspect of this sport. I actually inquired with one of the like, two, lesson barns near me yesterday. (Which - lack of lesson programs is another issue entirely.) I’m feeling frustrated because I do not have a horse capable of jumping right now - my up and comer is too young and too green to go over fences. She is in full training (at a price of $1,500 per month), but I’ve been supplementing with school horse lessons 2x per week to keep myself fit and keep my eye over fences. Every barn around me has adopted a policy of “no jumping over more than cross rails and cavalettis unless you’re in at lease a half lease”. Excuse my french, but how in the fuck are riders supposed to have a desire and a drive to push forward if we never let them experience what that’s like? I completely understand saving a horses legs and not over jumping. 1,000%. Full stop. But, if we’re to drive interest in the market - shouldn’t we say - every once in a while, we’re going to put the last fence on the course up to a 2’ or 2’6’’ vertical or a low oxer just to give people a taste of what that’s like? In my mind, it makes more sense for Susie to jump a slightly elevated fence once a month and maybe have a lightbulb say “WOW that was fun! How do I work to do more of THAT?” instead of permanently leaving people doing the bare minimum unless they fork over more cash. I understand not over jumping horses, and I understand that it’s harder on horses to jump bigger fences - but if you never let people experience it, even if just for a moment every once in a while - how do you expect them to want more out of their experience and out of themselves? It boggles my mind that multiple barns around me have all adopted this strict black and white rule.
The Selfishness Problem:
Last but not least, is the one we all talk about. Where instead of creating horsemen, we create riders who are dependent on trainers for everything. Trainers don’t want to share students, even if it makes them better riders all around. Grooms tack up horses and riders simply get on and off without actually caring for the horses. How do we as an industry get riders hooked on these animals when all we let them do is interact with them as a tool? Is it just that society is changing and they don’t want to spend hours at the barn doing absolutely nothing while their horse munches on lunch? Or have we just completely eliminated that as an option? How do we allow new people to experience the joy of horses, without necessarily the financial commitment that exists right off the bat? Do barns these days allow students to come early or stay late just to groom or hang out with their lesson horse? I feel a lot of times like I’m being shuffled in and quickly shuffled out because we’re all so busy that no one has the time to slow down and just enjoy the horses.
As an aside, there is a rule change that’s going nuts on my personal social media with some of the breed show (AQHA and APHA) stuff I’m involved with. They’ve proposed that amateur coaches could be allowed renumeration, so long as coaching doesn’t occur at a horse show. I think that’s an interesting hail mary – we’ve always held that earning money makes you a pro; but if we’re bleeding ourselves dry to the point we allow amateurs to teach lessons, I don’t know how we come back from that as an industry. Kind of a pandora’s box situation.