I am going to be speaking directly to how to organizing a horseback riding coach or instructor’s schedule here, so it will include barn setup, tack organization, ally placement as well as scheduling lessons and training slots but most of these concepts could be used for any appointment based business.
This post will also include the extra organizational steps I have taken post COVID-19, to ensure everyone is safe and has peace of mind while still keeping the flow of lessons relatively the same.
Before I start I want to make a little note for the new instructors and coaches out there. People are always going to complain, you will always have someone that thinks you should customize your entire company structure to fit their needs, I see this so much in this industry. Because clients see us as individuals more than a “school” they respect rules and systems a lot less.
Find what works for you, and stick to your guns. People will adapt. If you want to make changes to an existing client base, do so gradually and warn them about it, be open to feed back but also don’t scrap ideas that you know will make things smoother for you just because one person complained.
Here we go!…
Scheduling App and Online Shared Calendars
There are many calendar and schedule apps out there, but one major down fall is quite a few of them have some pretty bad glitches when it comes to recurring events.
All of my lessons used to be on a week to week basis, meaning clients would call me, or I would call them to setup a new lesson each week. Do not do this! It seems fine when you first start out but you will start to burn out fast on all of the stress of constant schedule changes and lack of consistency, not to mention the shear amount of time and energy it will take to manage that kind of schedule reduces your business unprofitable very quickly. Don’t forget when you are working for 2 hours while watching Netflix on the couch you are still technically “paying” yourself, so if you only made money of one 1 hour lesson that day, your profits just disappeared when you spent that extra time working.
The best app I have found so far is Google Calendar, it offers a stable mobile app and web based version, it can be integrated into your website, used with other apps and is easy to share with others.
It is also stable for reoccurring events, now my schedule consists of weekly or bi-weekly recurring lessons that repeat automatically in my calendar.
My calendar is also shared on my website on a private page for my students, and they can add it to their own schedule using an invite I provide them.
I have 4 different calendars that I maintain within Google Calendar for my business, which seems like a lot but it makes my life and work so much easier. The first is my own personal work one, all lessons get scheduled with in it, I mark the student’s name, and the first 3 letters of the horse’s name, as well as the address of the barn.
The second calendar is for my On-site students, which includes the same information as above, except no address and I add when the preparation time starts, as the scheduled time is always the start of the “arena” time.
Ever since I experienced a bug with iCal (before I moved to Google) and lost all of my appointments I have been using a Paper planner backup. I use the Simplified Planners (Weekly version) from Emily Leah which can be found on Amazon.
Each week I fill out what’s in my digital calendar and add any to-do’s for the week as well. As most of my appointments are weekly this gives me an extra level of security in case my data is lost.
Scheduling System Chart
This is an important one, even if you only us a paper planner or digital calendar and not both, you absolutely need a Scheduling System Chart to keep track of where lessons are.
Now a little caveat here, do not, under any circumstances take personalized appointment times! This will make it so hard to organize and optimize your time and people will constantly expect more and more flexibility from you. I did this for my first 3 years of teaching, and the bigger I got the more of a nightmare it became.
Instead now I have scheduled class times, I have set days, and time slots that students can pick from. I do get new clients sometimes complain that there isn’t one that works for them, but that is ok. The majority of people think it makes perfect sense, because this is how it works everywhere else in the world.
I have a chart that displays the empty chart without who is scheduled in it for insult ration purposes, then I have another that has everyones name in the slot they chose. This is not a schedule, but rather an organizational chart so I can see where everyone is supposed to be if they happen to have a lesson that day. This system is great after a long break like we just had from the confinement. When we had to close I deleted all my recurring calendar entries for lessons, by the time where where allowed to open back up I could not remember when any of my lessons should go, so I just referred to my chart and started rescheduling the same lesson slots I had before as my clients became available to start.
I also use a similar chart to organize the rest of my life, and make sure a schedule I am thinking about will actually fit with the existing one.
All the resource pages! Even if you give each student all the information they will ever need when they start their lessons, they will lose it, forget about it, not read it, or claim you never told them. This is especially frustration for things like cancellation policies when people refuse to pay because they claim they never new.
So my solution for this is resources pages, I have multiple and most of them are contained within the Client Zone of my website, which is for current clients only. I also have another one that is dedicated to the changes post COVID. This makes it so much easier because when you get asked questions you can just refer them to the page. Mine have everything from integrated schedules, videos, signup forms, instructions, external links for purchases etc.
Social media is great, especially for creating a sense of community amongst your students and their parents. I am still working on this, but in essence I have a Facebook page, Instagram account, YouTube Account and a Facebook group. Sounds like a lot but mostly I just make one post and it’s posted across platforms.
I also use Facebook ads and have had huge success on boarding new clients with it, I do targeted ads for people within reasonable driving distance of the farm.
One mistake I see a lot of people make, and makes it look really bad to potential clients, and that’s making your own personal profile into your business page by changing “your name”. This looks so, so bad, it’s unprofessional and looks shady to say the least.
I know this habit mostly comes from a lack of knowledge, and the task of making a business page seems daunting but it’s actually just as simple as making your own profile on Facebook, which if you are changing your name they you already know how to do it!
When choosing the platform you want to use it’s important to understand the demographics attached to it. You may already feel comfortable with one or the other, but you could be inadvertently singling out only half of your potential clients or even the existing ones.
Facebook is primarily adults, most teens and some kids will have accounts but they don’t use them actively like they do Instagram, TikTok or SnapChat. I personally don’t have SnapChat or TikTok, I am just not a fan of those platforms, but if you are comfortable with them then they would be good platforms to have if you have a lot of teen students.
It’s a great way to distribute information, I send emails to all my clients but I also post that information on social media to make sure everyone sees it.
When I first started using email for most of my client correspondence I was just sending regular emails and adding the 30 or so emails to the list manually each time.
The issue with this is, one it’s tedious and annoying and leaves the potential open to miss some people but also it isn’t very private because everyone on that list can see everyone else’s email address, and if they hit reply all by accident everyone see’s their response.
I tried out a few different emailing services and landed on MailChimp as the best free platform on the market. It’s easy to use, the free version has a lot of functionality and allows for a large client base before having to upgrade and is consistant.
A big added bonus to using Mailchimp is that it tracks who has opened emails, if they went to junk and if they didn’t make it to the client at all. You can also resend an email to only the people who did not open it.
I have had some not so great clients in the past try to manipulate me by saying they never got my emails, and once I switched to this platform I could see that they did in fact open it and at what time. So it’s better organized for everyone but also adds an extra level of security for me, so that people can’t lie as readily.
I spoke about this a bit in the section above about my scheduling system, but I wanted to get a little more in-depth about how to use time blocks.
Time blocking is the scheduling technique where you set aside a certain amount of time just for a task, but it’s not necessarily a task that needs to be scheduled, it could be the kind of thing we would just say “oh yeah I need to work on that when I have a minute”. When was the last time you actually did that? Got to a task you said you should get around to?
That’s where time blocking comes in, for example this morning as I am writing this I am coming to the end of my time block for writing on my blog which I scheduled this week for Thursday between 4:30 and 5:30am.
The way this helps with lessons, is I see a lot of people that schedule their lessons back-to-back with no time in-between, this can work but there will inevitably be delays and you will never end up finishing up your day when you think you will.
Personally I would much rather plan for a slightly longer day, then think I had a shorter one and constantly be disappointed!
So I have two kinds of lesson blocks. With prep help and without prep help. The lessons with help have 30 minutes between them and the one before, and lessons without help start at the same time the previous one ends. I keep with help lessons for smaller or less experienced students who need help catching or tacking their horses, and the without help for autonomous students.
Chalk Board Schedule for Day of
This is one of the simplest parts of how I organize my schedule, but the most crucial. I used to get a lot of texts and phone calls of my students forgetting what time their lesson started (even after they arrive) and what horse they are supposed to get. Most barns have this or a similar system already in place, but if you don’t you will want to!
Before students arrive, I mark the start time of the lesson, the student’s name, the horse’s name and where they are supposed to prepare their horse.
This is an idea I had to help with managing post COVID protocols. The barn where I work as 6 options for where to tie a horse. There are two hitching posts at the front of the barn and 4 cross ties inside. I printed large numbers out, laminated them and stapled them to the walls.
This is another added precaution I implemented post COVID but will likely keep going after all restrictions are lifted. I provide spray tack cleaner and shop towels to wipe down tack after each lesson. Students are asked to do this instead of sweeping, in exchange I sweep after the lessons are done.
After Lesson Disinfection
Again, Post COVID protocols, but I will likely continue to do this, as I have realized this is a very good practice to have, even just for avoiding the common cold. I have aerosol Lysol spray and walk the barn after everyone has left and disinfect all commonly touched surfaces. Light switches, door handles etc.
Equipement for Clients to Purchase
As another sanitary precaution I have asked my students to buy their own brushes and halter/lead rope sets. This lightens the burden on me for disinfection, and adds another layer of protection for my students.
Horse Work Load Rotation
Lesson horses are saints, they really are! They get a bad rep sometimes because they can be persnickety but for good reason, they have to deal with a lot!
They have a very monotonous job, that takes an extreme level of patience, that sometimes supersedes my own!
Its important to know your lesson horses, what they can handle and what kind of work they excel at. I have some horses that do best if their lessons are back to back, and then they are done for the day and others that do best if they have a break. Some do well with a bigger work load and others with lighter. And if I have horses that start to show signs of needing a break, and alternate them with horses that need a little more work.
When I first started out, my lesson plans where very complex and detailed but eventually that is not necessary anymore. When I was learning to become a coach I was told lesson plans needs to be structured in a way that any other coach could temp for you. But that is really not a situation that would ever arise in the place I work, so is a bit of a waste of time.
Instead I make lesson plans like this one, just basic structure for what I want to focus on that month and why. I also add in monthly homework assignments and a monthly project that is presented in a zoom meeting.
The first two years I taught I didn’t have very many students, and at the end of each year I went back through my calendar and wrote down each lesson I gave and the amount etc for my taxes and to give to the barn owner for her records.
This painstaking process took hours, and was annoying to say the least. Now I have a simple system where on a a lesson-by-lesson basis I enter the details of each lesson into this log…
Then monthly I take those entries and put them into a log for each student. I use numbers for both, and in the long term log I have a tab for each student so the break down for end of year receipts is easier.
Master Coach Document
That brings me to my pride and joy of my organizational skills. My master document. I have a one-stop-shop document with all the information I need to give a lesson. Lesson plans, homework assignments, temporary logs, emergency contacts and more.
When my students signup for lessons, they are asked in my Google Forms signup form to list a few emergency contacts, I then put those in a grid with the students name and the emergency contact information after. That grid is the first tab on my Master Document.
I use technology as much as I can, it makes my life a lot easier and my students benefit from the organization as well. It also allows me to maintain a larger client base without burning out.
Here are the main programs I use…
- iCloud – all my documents are stored here, so I can access them from all my devices
- iPhone – I use this to access my documents during lessons
- Numbers and Pages – For making grids and documents
- Google Drive – For storing documents that will be distributed to students, so I can easily share a link to those students as well as making forms for signups, registrations and surveys.
- Google Calendar – I have multiple calendars as discussed above, I have one of my own, one for on-site students, one for off-site students and one for the boarders at the barn I work at the most.
Of course any equivalent programs from other brands would work as well, but I find Apple and Google to be the most reliable, easy to use, and most easily shared across devices.
I also now have a speaker and headset and they are amazing. Minimal cost, but they make projecting my voice to the end of the arena so much easier.
If you are using technology or even just relying on the cell phone for emergency calls you need a backup battery pack. This is a small device that you charge at home and can plug into any person device to charge it.
Keep hardcopy and analogue backups of everything. Just in case. Technology is great, but it doesn’t always work.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
I now have reusable masks for myself, as well as disposable masks in case a student forgets theirs. I also have hand sanitizer and an aerosol can of Lysol in my teaching bag at all times for students to wash their hands on arrival and departure and for me to disinfect the commonly touched surfaces after lessons.
Hope this was helpful, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask!