A good friend and "horse mentor" once told me that "horses will always take the path of least resistance." Until now, I didn't have a good way to expand on this concept. Then my husband showed me this article. I would call this a must read for anyone who owns or rides. After reading this myself, I think "path of least resistance" can also be characterized as a horse's innate desire to take care of itself.
Many of us grew up with a romanticized and humanized version of the horse. I remember reading and re-reading Black Beauty, thinking how terrible he must have felt living that life, and then feeling relieved when he finally rediscovered peace. How many other stories can you remember where horse and human shared a struggle, and the pair triumphed because of the perseverance and love of that horse? You'll remember scenes where the horse openly displayed gratitude to its human, intentionally interrupted potential human tragedy, or showed bravery that surpassed even the toughest soldier. So many of us that now own horses are seeking that bond, that behavior....
Now rewind to the days of open ranges, the Wild West, cowboys and their horses. It's a much different horse we see in those scenes. Sure there were the few famous horses like Trigger and Silver. There was even Mister Ed. But the movies were primarily filled with a more utilitarian version of the horse. The emotional bond between man and beast was less explored. However, it was clear that every man knew and understood horses. Riding, training, caring for their animals was an essential part of western life. It wasn't a "nice to know", it was a "need to know".
Which brings me back to the article... The take home message is we need to think like a "science-based horseman"; and maybe that's more like the cowboy in the western, than the 10-year-old re-reading Black Beauty. Acknowledging a horse is a horse, and will take the path of least resistance, may open us to consider that we have a great deal of influence on their behavior, both good and bad. A horse can't be wrong because it is always doing what's right for itself! But we can be wrong in communicating what we want. And we can sometimes forget they are horses!
My other "horse mentor" is my husband. He LOVES his animals. Yet he doesn't lose sight of their horse-nature. When his horse performs well, you will hear him say, "she was a rockstar!". When the performance doesn't go well, he will say "I wasn't making it happen." The horse is never wrong. You may have heard his take on training: "you have to make the bad things hard and the good things easy." So, you need to lay out a path to your goal, that is also their path of least resistance. I'm still so new to this journey, but slowly it's starting to make sense!
Read Is It My Horse, or Is It Me?, inspiration for my blog post. And if you like this topic and have time for some more thoughts around horses and emotions, read the post Horse Emotions from David Ramey, DVM.
Before getting into this equine industry, I had a small retail store. I would often get asked “Can I get the Friends & Family pricing?” I used to joke by replying, “Sure, you can pay 10% more! I’m family after all!”
The reality is I did honor a friends and family discount in my retail store. I could do that because there was no trade off… I wasn’t losing out on anything and I would just replace that inventory.
But services are far different. And a boarding and lesson program is even further from the retail norm. Here’s the reality of a horse farm:
Which brings me to cancellation policies…
Why 30 days notice when you no longer need a stall? Why 24 hours notice for lesson cancellation?
Well, both are ways to share business risk with your customers, which allows prices to be lower. By giving 30 days notice, there is less risk that the stall will sit empty. If we didn’t share that risk, we would have to factor the carrying cost of empty stalls into our board.
Lesson cancellations are probably an even touchier subject. Most “last minute” cancellations are due to circumstances beyond control: a sick kid, a demanding boss, a broken car. On top of that, you are told you have to pay for a service you didn’t get!
Let me offer an alternate perspective… I often tell prospective customers that they are really paying for the lesson spot, not the lesson. Once we sell that lesson spot to you, we can’t sell it to anyone else!
A lesson program guarantees you a weekly spot at a set time and day. If you aren’t there for that spot, no one is there to step in. We know there will be vacations, school events, and life stuff, so the program is set up to accept the risk of cancellations with advance notice. With 24 hours, the instructor has a chance to find someone who needs a make up lesson, wants a second lesson, or perhaps offer a trial to a prospect. They are not always successful, and that is their revenue loss (risk). With LESS than 24 hours, they are nearly guaranteed a revenue loss. Like the boarding example, if we had to factor that into our pricing, everyone would pay more. Instead, that risk is borne by each individual. While it is an unfortunate cost to you when it happens, we believe it more fair and likely less total cost over time, than us trying to factor that risk into our business model.
I know this journey has given me a different perspective on service providers. I now understand why my chiropractor charges me if I miss an appointment. And I understand why my doctor overbooks herself, often making me wait when everyone does show. I no longer feel like someone is taking advantage of my misfortune. Instead, I realize that I am simply bearing the cost of my life’s risks. I’d rather do that than pay a higher price to factor in everyone’s risk!
Michelle Thompson is a self-proclaimed, self-taught mom of a horse lover. Now a Barn Owner that provides boarding and lesson services, she uses this blog to "pay forward" the good advice she has received over years learning the hard way!