How to Make Serious Money Hosting a Clinic
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
If you run a horse barn chances are you’ve hosted a clinic or two. Perhaps it went well and you made a little extra cash and perhaps it did not and you lost money.
If you have boarders it is smart to bring them some fresh input on their training, and for your own lesson students some reinforcement of what you have been teaching them can be helpful. So just how can you ensure that your clinic is full, and that you make some serious money when you go to the trouble of hosting a clinic?
Over 25 plus years I have hosted many clinics with a variety of trainers from a myriad of countries. In the early days I lost money and put that down to an expense of furthering my own education. Eventually I figured it out. In the last ten or fifteen years, my competition experience and knowledge has been put to good use and I operate on the other side of the fence too, as a dressage clinician with my husband Paul. We have both competed successfully at Grand Prix internationally, and we give clinics together. Paul works alone with more basic riders, who would be overwhelmed with the input of two clinicians at the same time. For the more experienced riders we work in tandem. We’ve also given symposiums for the U.S. teams on international air transport and provided symposiums in conjunction with other Grand Prix coaches to advanced students. Based on all this experience, here are some tips to help guide you through the world of clinic hosting that will hopefully garner you some extra cash! It is very hard to make money in the horse business, but this is a route that can help.
Choosing and Liaising with the Clinician
When you choose your clinician you don’t need to look for the biggest name or brightest up and coming star to make your clinic a success. Names that are in the spotlight will be harder to book and more expensive. Many clinicians that operate at the top of the sport, will require certain facilities too. So if your equine property is not in the multi-million dollar range, those clinicians may not be interested in coming to you. Furthermore, the elite clinicians will often want to vet the entrants to the clinic via video in advance, and will only accept the most elite horses and riders.
While a big name will draw a big crowd of auditors, you will also find a good clinician with a great reputation for getting the job done in a harmonious and kind manner while not having the power to draw large numbers, will still make you money.
It is always smart to audit a clinician if possible, before you book them, even if it is just by watching their You Tube channel of previous clinics they have given. Always ask for their rates in advance, and request their travel and accommodation fees.
While you may have free accommodation available at your farm for the clinician, be aware that some clinicians may prefer the down time and privacy of staying at a hotel. Teaching for eight plus hours straight and socializing in between times with the attendees is extremely tiring, so don’t be surprised if once the day is done the clinician wants to take off for the hotel.
When Paul and I give clinics we generally stay for a wrap up party or meet and greet after the first day, and are happy to chat with everyone during lunch breaks. But do not assume that your clinician will feel the same way. Always ask them in advance what they prefer. I have been at clinics where the clinician goes off to eat with the barn owner in private and reappears in the afternoon, and who never socializes at all with the participants. To each their own.
Some clinicians will quote a daily rate, others will offer you a per hour rate with a minimum number of rides required. Expect to pay a deposit to book the dates. The advantage of the per hour rate, is it gives you some flexibility on the number of riders participating and if you can only book 6 on one day, you won’t be paying the full 8 ride fee.
Whatever the rate be certain you add at least $40-70 per ride for your barn fee. Clinicians don’t care much what you charge on top but can definitely guide you as to what range their hourly clinics can generate. Also ask about their rate for auditors. Again you can add to this rate and make some extra cash. If an auditor sits for 8 hours taking in a wealth of information they should expect to pay for the privilege and charging at least $40 a day isn’t unreasonable. Auditors are a keen source of revenue. Auditors can also become new customers as boarders down the road. Don’t be shy to meet and greet them all, and make yourself available to give them a tour of your facility if they ask. Keep flyers promoting your barn handy and include them in any gift baskets or door prizes.
If you are charging auditors it is important that they can hear the clinician. It is a good idea to set up a microphone and PA system for a clinic so that everyone can hear. Additionally post the times of rides, names and level of riders participating in advance of the event, so that people can come in to see what they most prefer if they haven’t got all day to spend at the clinic. Many clinics begin the day with the more basic rides and develop through the day to the more advanced riders/horses.
Try and have a specific topic for the clinic too. For example, our clinics are often based around ‘Get Your British Dressage On’ as we are both British and have trained with Brits and with British based Olympic riders. Other clinics have been workshops framed around developing the young horse or working on the three ‘p’s of pirouette, piaffe and passage. Jumping clinics might focus on small course jumping or keeping the line, and event clinics might focus on certain types of fences or keeping your horse forward.
Also consider offering a series of clinics with the same clinician. This encourages loyalty to the program and creates a following. It is smart to at least offer regular clinics, so that riders can work on the material they have learned at one clinic between dates and bring their questions to the next and have some continuity in their training methods.
It is always smart to issue a cut-off date and to have all participants pre-register with their payment and horse and rider details. You should have them sign a waiver with their pre-registration and issue a clear policy regarding refunds. Generally you would refund if the clinic was cancelled for any reason, or if the rider or their horse became sick or unable to participate due to injury. It is reasonable to request proof of this, such as letter from their vet.
If you have spare lesson horses available, you can also offer riders an opportunity to take part in the clinic on one of your horses for an additional fee. You can also require riders that would like to take this option to take 2/3 lessons with you beforehand, so that they are familiar with the horse and you are cognizant of the areas of which they need to focus on to improve their riding.
Also encourage auditors to pre-register and charge a fee for lunch. You will need to provide lunch for the clinicians and riders anyway, so requesting auditors to pay a lunch fee to cover those expenses is a smart way to go. Remember auditors are one of your best sources of revenue. You can offer them the chance to just show up and pay on the day, but charge a higher fee for that access, as it requires you to monitor the door, collect the monies and have waivers signed.
You don’t need to provide chairs, simply ask folks to bring their own. If you don’t want to provide lunch, then do the same and tell them to bring a sandwich. It is prudent not to serve alcohol and certainly never charge for alcohol as this presents a legal liability issue.
Get The Message Out
All too often barn owners book clinics based on a quick head count of interest in from their own boarders. That’s a good place to start but don’t let your efforts end there. It is smart to ask the clinician if you can provisionally book a date well in advance without making a deposit, advertise it and then see how the response pans out. Many clinicians will help you with spreading the word through their own network. Remember unless you have actually booked the clinic, those dates are tentative too. So once you have a grasp of the interest on a particular date book it and confirm the date.
If you book a clinic last minute, possible participants may already have other plans. This is particularly true during the show season, so try and avoid conflicts with major shows in the area and consider offering a Friday/Saturday option instead of just weekend dates. While many riders work full time many can manage a day off for a clinic.
Paul and I host clinics both here in the USA and abroad, and sometimes they are held weekdays and sometimes weekends. Both work well though auditor numbers are definitely higher on weekend bookings.
It is no good just broadcasting an event on Facebook and hoping it will fill. It is important that you liaise with other trainers in the area, and let your local community know that the event is going on. Contact regional magazines and post the event so that you reach a broader audience. Be certain to include an email and telephone number in your advertisements or free listings on their event calendar, and to monitor and answer any inquiries promptly.
Preferably have a website too, where folks can go and download all the registration information. This saves you a lot of work! You may be able to add a Paypal payment option so they can register online if you have the skill set to add it to your website.
There are many online options for free event listing. Ask your boarders to broadcast the event too. Horse people generally know other horse people and they are a great resource.
Involve Other Businesses
A great way to build revenue for your event is to offer pop-up vendors an opportunity to market their wares at your event. You can charge a fee for the space, and ask them to help advertise the event through their social media channels.
You can also ask businesses if they would like to sponsor the clinic, exclusively or with other businesses. Most sponsors will require they be the only sponsor from their class e.g. don’t try and book two tack shops at the same event. Be certain that you give good press to the sponsors! It is a great idea to accept banners and post them at the event and take pictures of the event to send to them afterwards if they are not present at the clinic. In return for their sponsorship that helps underwrite the costs, offer something concrete in return. Announcements throughout the event, PR/Marketing and push of their brand through your social media, name added to the event and on the registration materials, banner at the event etc. Get creative!
You can also combine your clinic with a charity fundraiser. Silent auctions, raffles and other means of fundraising can help broaden your audience and encourage more participation.
For example: TheHorseStudio.com online tack shop, have sponsored many of the clinics Paul and I have given. They have sponsored food and drinks for lunches and wrap up parties, provided door prizes, rider awards, tack and equipment for raffles for charities and helped broadcast news of the clinics.
Complementary service businesses such as saddle makers/saddle fitters, book signings from equestrian authors, equine art displays for sale, massage therapists or acupuncturists, other health professionals for horse or human may be interested in attending and offering their services at your event. This type of networking will help grow your business and you can request reciprocal help with spreading the word of the clinic. You can also request a commission fee from outside vendors based on what they earn at your event through sales.
During lunch break you can also invite someone to come speak on any given topic. E.g. a local vet to chat about vaccinations and show season tips for stress reduction for the horse, a motivational speaker to help with the mental side of competition.
Video and photography services can also be offered at your event. Many clinicians will not allow auditors to take videos or photos at their events generally, but most are quite happy for a professional to take videos or photos for the rider’s personal use.
Some of the clinics Paul and I have given and hosted in the past have been live-streamed thanks to one of our wonderful past students and now training colleagues Tina Hammond, who is a whizz at all the technological media side. We have also provided demo rides on our horses at the beginning of the clinics, and offered closed session rides usually early in the morning for competitors that don’t wish to share their training experiences/issues they are working on with the general public or other competitors. Do whatever works for your clientele and clinician.
Remember the more folks you have involved in the event, the more people you will reach overall through their channels.
Worries Over Privacy and Clients
It is common for a barn owner to worry that incoming trainers or even clinicians, will attempt to poach their boarders or lesson students. A good clinician will never back solicit your clientele. You can request this in writing when you book the clinician if you are worried.
Incoming trainers that may sit in chairs and audit, and then loudmouth their superiority over you, the clinician or just generally be a pest at the event can be downright annoying. It is your property and your event, if they are being obnoxious ask them to step outside for moment and ask them to please keep their comments down or to leave altogether if necessary. Usually a simple remark thrown their way by you asking them to ‘hush please’ is all it takes to set them straight.
You have to trust that your boarders are with you because you do a good job. If an incoming trainer is evidently trying to lure them to their barn, simply ask that trainer to leave and don’t be shy to tell them why.
Privacy and access to your stables/barn and property can be limited by simply placing a rope or tape across an aisleway, keeping doors closed and providing access to only one outside entrance. If you expect a lot of people to attend consider an outside portable toilet for the event, this saves you the necessity of providing access to your barn bathroom, which may be close to your office or tack room.
In conclusion, when you host a clinic you may think of it as a way to provide added value to your boarders equestrian life, which it does. But it is important for you to take the opportunity to publicize your business and its presence in the community and to make some additional cash. Clinics from both the hosting side, and the participation side either as clinician or rider are great fun. Keep it fun, happy and harmonious and find clinicians that work well for you.
About the author: Nikki Alvin-Smith is an international Grand Prix dressage trainer/clinician who has competed in Europe at the Grand Prix level earning scores of over 72%. Together with her husband Paul, who is also a Grand Prix rider, they operate a private horse breeding/training farm in Stamford, NY.