How to Build a Successful School Program: An Interview With Jessie Richardson January 13 2015

Creating a successful school program can be the foundation for a Saddlebred barn's success

A successful school program can be a barn’s foundation for success. This is certainly the case at Kierson Farm in New Jersey, where the farm's founders have built such a successful school barn that 90% of their customers have come up through their lesson program. We spoke to Jessie Richardson, who founded Kierson Farm with her husband Michael five years ago, about how they’ve built such a strong foundation.

The Jodhpurs Company: You have an extensive school program at Kierson. How do you know when a rider is ready for the next challenge of moving into the A Circuit?

Jessie Richardson: We always say that we can take any rider from the first day they walk in the barn to, a year later, having them on a show horse and ready to get in the ring. I usually like our kids to show academy for experience for one or two seasons and keep moving.

TJC: When you’re looking for a horse for a customer, what do you feel are the most important factors in finding the right fit?

JR: With the kids and adults that come out of our programs, it’s not so much about trying to fit the right horse for the customer, but the right horse to our program. Our kids are versatile; and we’ve found a very specific type of horse and stride that we feel works best for the greatest number of our riders. Our ideal horse should be versatile, and able to fit with a lot of different people.

TJC: How do you determine what is enough of a challenge and what is too much in the level of the horse and the rider?

JR: I don’t like to challenge our riders too much at the start; we want a horse that will build a rider’s confidence and give the family a great experience. The kids are oddly more resilient – they understand they are learning and progressing and they get when mistakes are their responsibility. We try to find something that will give the family confidence and a good experience; if the rider outgrows their horse in a year then so be it!

TJC: A lot of people say “you know, when it’s right”…. What are some things that clue you into that “you know when it’s right” moment?

JR: I don’t really agree with that. I feel that no horse is right the first time you ride it. I prefer to evaluate the horse, what job I want it to do, and then decide if I can train the horse to do that job. Sometimes it doesn’t work; sometimes you have to see through the horse and figure out if it can do that job in the training.

There’s always a time when you see a horse in a show ring and it strikes you and you think “man I want that horse, it would be perfect”, but it’s not for sale or I don’t have a buyer. Recently I had a buyer that wanted more horse and one came to mind immediately. People had always said that this particular horse couldn’t be ridden by a 10-year-old rider. But when I got on the horse I really felt that it had the willingness to become what we needed. We purchased it and it’s had great success so far!

The biggest thing is the importance of the foundation we set with our clients. It’s rare that a new client will find their dream horse right away, and so for many of our customers, it takes time to develop the understanding that we’re going to find them a horse. A lot of people will want to move elsewhere to get something better. So it’s our job to gain the trust and confidence of the family so we can give them the dream horse that they want. While you can’t always predict how a horse will respond to training or develop, we still feel very responsible for delivering the dream we sell to our clients.