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The Tech Equestrian

Welcome to the new normal. Technology is everywhere and effects everyone and everything.  To keep up with the changes and information that impacts the equestrian world, I hope you will enjoy the stories, profiles and insights that this blog will feature. In addition, stay connected on social by joining my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages!

HEELSDOWN.COM: Digitizing the Riding Lesson Program

HEELSDOWN.COM: Digitizing the Riding Lesson Program

When Betty and John Messina wanted to do something special to celebrate their wedding anniversary they didn’t step onto a plane to go to a vacation destination or take a seat at the table of an expensive restaurant, instead they decided to sit in the saddle and take a horseback riding lesson. However, what they thought would be an easy, seamless experience of finding a nearby stable in Westchester County, New York turned into a two-month long process of emailing and phoning stables with sometimes no replies to their outreach. “The whole experience was very discouraging,” recalled Betty. They finally found the right stable, took their lesson and when they finished the lesson, they took out their credit card. “There was an awkward moment when the instructor asked if we could pay by check,” Betty said in dismay. In the age of subscription services and a multitude of ways to pay for goods and services digitally there had to be a better way. “It soon dawned on us, with our combined knowledge and technology backgrounds, we could solve this problem.”

The Tech Equestrian recently caught up with Betty and John at the Longines Masters of New York held at the Nassau Coliseum in April to get an exclusive interview on the features of their web platform and soon to be released offerings. 

Seeing the Opportunity
Both John and Betty come from the business and IT worlds and quickly realized the potential of an online platform after interviewing riders and trainers and uncovering a way to change the archaic ways of paying for riding lessons. “It was kind of scary, because we found some stables had people that didn’t pay and that cash was disappearing or checks bounced,” said Betty and added, “there was also no easy way to track lessons.” Armed with the pain points and knowledge of IT, they started to design and build the system. 

On October 17, 2018 Heelsdown.com was launched. Now nearly seven months post launch Betty not only is fully committed to the company, she has made it her full-time job. “I’ve been driving to stables to meet everyone personally and to share what our service can do,” she stated. “Our goal is to help stables grow their business.” The beauty of the solution is that there is no cost to the stable to post information on the HeelsDown website. They do add a small fee for customers to book lessons. Betty has started out locally in the tri-state (CT, NY, NJ area) with the goal to become nationwide. “We also have farms signing up on their own,” she added. 

Heelsdown.com Founders Betty and John Messina: “Our goal is to help stables grow their business.”

Heelsdown.com Founders Betty and John Messina: “Our goal is to help stables grow their business.”

Booking a Lesson
To book an English or Western lesson or leisure trail ride, you simply type in the heelsdown.com address and at the very top of the page there is a search box, you can either search by location, farm or trainer name. By clicking on the farm, it brings you to a dedicated page with a description of the farm, hours of operation, a list of amenities, photos, map location, and a list of trainers. Then when you click on a trainer, you’ll see their picture, pricing and description with the option to ‘book a lesson.’ In order to proceed you will need to set up a log in and password.

Profile Building to a Better Database
As the team gathers data and information on stables across the nation it will become a powerful resource not only for equestrians looking to book lessons, but for stables looking for trainers and trainers (and/or riders) looking for horses. The opportunity is vast in terms of the use of data and capturing information that can not only inform but build a profile on successful farms, trainers and more.

(from left to right) Farm Search view, Trainer Profile and Trainer Reviews.

(from left to right) Farm Search view, Trainer Profile and Trainer Reviews.

“Our profiles feature not only incorporates the stable itself, but we profile trainers and horses in heelsdown.com,” explained Betty. “We want everyone to benefit and make it easy to train and ride.” The tool can also help stables pair up riders with the right horse before they even show up for the lesson. “We’ve built into the program the ability for the rider to get notification from the trainer.” Betty and John are new to riding and are completely hooked, “even we use the product every time to book a lesson and we get excited to find out which horse we will be riding,” she shared. They train with Grand Prix rider, Angelo Danza, at AD Sporthorses in Brewster, NY and are very active and involved in the equestrian community.

Riders have the ability to add to the system their riding background along with their demographics and other details to help the trainer assign the right horse. “Parents can also create a master account and then create sub-accounts for their children, for easy booking and payments.”

Stable Insights and Reviews
As a farm owner an internal dashboard is created to view payments, trainers and number of lessons booked. This provides stables full visibility on the lesson program even if they are away at a horse show. “The information is available in real-time and our product is mobile-friendly,” Betty said. 

Riders have the ability to review and rate their lesson and can do that directly on the website. The ratings are based on 1-5 stars and serve as an accountability metric (something that has never really existed before in the industry). “We encourage good and bad reviews,” said Betty, “trainers can respond to the review.” They are hoping this type of feedback will help raise the bar on training and keep an open dialogue between trainers and students.

“Even we use the product every time to book a lesson and we get excited to find out which horse we will be riding,” said Betty.

“Even we use the product every time to book a lesson and we get excited to find out which horse we will be riding,” said Betty.

It Starts with One Lesson
As technology becomes more prevalent in the horse world, Betty and John hope it opens more doors and attracts more outsiders into the sport. “We developed this platform to help facilitate an experience that is easy to manage before and after a lesson and to provide equestrians with details to educate their ride,” stressed Betty. As they continue to gather more feedback from stable owners, trainers and riders they will start to add additional features including creating a mobile app. “We are very excited about the future especially with providing tools that are designed to simplify the day to day.”


Facebook: @HeelsDownApp
Instagram: @heelsdownapp
Twitter: @heelsdownapp

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