By Julie Goodnight
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “clinician” as “a person who conducts a clinic,” with “clinic” defined as “a group meeting devoted to analysis and solution of concrete problems or to the acquiring of specific skills or knowledge.” After decades as a horsemanship clinician and thousands of clinics worldwide, I think these definitions make perfect sense. In the horse industry, a clinician is an expert trainer or instructor who travels to various locations—regionally, nationally or internationally—to teach horsemanship on a one-time basis.
To me, being a clinician is not a career in and of itself but rather the result of a successful career as a horse trainer or riding instructor. And it can help diversify your revenue streams.
To be a successful clinician, you must have:
• Expert ability
• Exceptional communication skills
• Years of experience training horses
• Years of experience teaching horsemanship to people
• An established reputation in your field
• Business sense
The purpose of a clinic is to teach, correct any issues, and to improve the performance of the horses, riders, and handlers involved. With experience, you’ll learn which techniques, business models, and clinic structures work best for your teaching methods.
Some horsemanship clinics involve group lessons while others teach back-to-back private or semi-private lessons in front of an audience. Some clinics are discipline, breed, or ability-level specific, while others are open to all niches. Usually there are spectators and auditors.
Administering the clinic requires organization, communication, and attention to details or the clinic will fail—no matter how brilliant the clinician. If your organizational skills aren’t up to par, consider outsourcing.
Here are some ways to structure your horsemanship clinics.
• Find a clinic host that will foot the bill, pay you a flat fee per day, or guarantee a minimum number of riders or a percentage of the profits. The host provides the facility, promotes the clinic, recruits attendees, collects all the money, and—after paying you—makes all the profit (or may take a loss). Pro: This model is easy—just show up and teach. Con: If the clinic is well-attended, the host may make more money than you.
• The clinician foots the bill, rents the facility (or trades for spots in the clinic), promotes the clinic, registers attendees, collects the money, and accepts all risk for profit or loss. Pro: This is the most profitable if the clinic fills and you have total control. Con: More work is involved, and there are no guarantees.
• Combinations of any aspects of the above could be used to structure a clinic, as well as bartering for services, partnering with a promoter, and non-profit or philanthropic partnering (e.g, you teach a 4-H clinic for free in exchange for being able to host a for-profit clinic for adults).
However you structure your clinic, make sure you consider all expenses, including travel, advertising, liability insurance, care of your horses at home, and labor at home and at the clinic. Before you price your clinic, ensure the profit will adequately compensate you while you are away from home.
It’s up to you to convince attendees to take your clinic, but the marketing tools below can help.
• Website—Include all the information people could want or need on your website, such as your bio, your teaching techniques and philosophy, what a clinic is like, policies and procedures, your calendar of events, and registration information. Enter your clinics on free online event calendars (e.g., Eventbrite.com, Wikido.com), and link to your website.
• Social Media—Social media—especially Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube—can raise interest in your programs. Keep your brand active, share your training philosophies, spend time visiting relevant online horse groups and chat rooms, and allow people to get to know you.
• Horse Expos—Speaking at horse expos is the easiest way I fill clinics because it gets me in front of an audience who will then come back a few months later for my clinic.
• Flyers—I send a flyer to be printed at an office store near where the clinic will be held. Then a local volunteer will pick them up and post at places horse people frequent.
• Newsletter—We always include informative articles plus a list of my upcoming clinics and expos. Staying connected to your customers is key.
• Word of Mouth—Followers of your training methods are happy to spread the word if asked. Sometimes we offer a discount off a rider’s own tuition for each rider they sign up.
No company is eager to invest in a clinician unless they will get a nice return on their investment (ROI). You will have to work very hard for them if you expect to get a deal and maintain the relationship. What you have to offer is influence over the buyer and things like media exposure, arena banners, wearing their logo, product placement, a trailer decal, website exposure, social media posts, etc. The sponsor will want evidence of how your efforts impact their ROI.
It’s important to get a feel for the landscape of sponsorships in the horse industry and to distinguish between readily available product trades and harder-to-come-by cash sponsorships. Product trades should offsets your costs. Some companies may only offer a sales commission, which may or may not be lucrative because you must repeatedly close a sale.
Don’t forget to protect your brand. Taking on too many sponsors, changing sponsors regularly, or endorsing fly-by-night products could devalue it and repel bigger sponsors. One big cash sponsor may be better than a bunch of product trades.
Some categories of products are highly competitive for sponsorships, so sponsors will want exclusivity. Supplements, feeds, tack, saddle pads, pharmaceuticals, and apparel are categories with many brands competing against each other and areas where horse trainers have a lot of influence with the customer.
Tread carefully with exclusivity, because this rules out having other sponsors in that category. To me, exclusivity is like getting married to that company. Think about the long term. Are your values compatible? Is it a brand you can use and stand behind? Can you positively impact the company’s sales and conduct yourself in a manner that the sponsor wants you to? Can the sponsor make a long-term investment in you, or is this going to be a one-time thing?
It’s important to develop the traits mentioned above to succeed as a clinician. Developing horsemanship clinics can be rewarding and lucrative. Find ways to stand out from the crowd. Develop a loyal following at home, decide on your business model and marketing, and then take your show on the road!
International trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight is the international spokesperson for CHA and a CHA Master Instructor. JulieGoodnight.com.