Hold Your Horses: Bringing Together Equestrians With a Compassionate Approach to Training Horses

Featured in this Story of Awesome:

Launched on Mighty Networks in March 2020, The Willing Equine offers a paid course and groups that give equestrians the tools and know-how to train their horses holistically, with compassion and positive reinforcement.

The Spark: Adele shared her holistic training methods via social media—and got way more attention than she expected.

Adele’s Mighty Moment: Horse people really like to be around their people. So I wanted to be able to create a community for all of us, where we could all support each other.”

Adele Shaw had spread herself too thin.

In her work, she focused on a holistic, integrative way to train horses that considered the body, mind, and emotions of both the trainer and the horses themselves. Then she decided to share those methods via social media.

The response from fellow horse lovers across the world blew her away. It was immediately clear that her methodology was resonating with people.

“It was just this runaway train that took on its own life. And it was the catalyst for me launching a full-scale business, just based on that response that I got.”

As her social media following grew, people started getting in touch with Adele, asking for lessons and training. She started giving back however she could: over email, in one-on-one consultations, and by reviewing submitted training videos.

Then Adele started thinking about what it would be like to put these people in touch with each other:

“Horse people really like to be around their people. They like to be able to collaborate and talk to and support each other. Especially because this method is unusual for some people, and not every horse person works with horses this way. So I wanted to be able to create a community for all of us, where we could all support each other.”

With that, Adele started looking for a digital home for herself and her fellow equestrians.

A Horse of a Different Color: In Search of an All-In-One Platform

She started in a familiar place: Facebook Groups. But because of the app’s inherent distractions, Adele found it hard to keep up with everyone using the platform. She had also started thinking about offering an online course, and was dreading the idea of having to add yet another platform to her growing list:

“I had my emails, I had people sending videos through YouTube, and then I had Facebook Groups. Everything was so separated. And once I started getting this high demand for creating a course, I was looking at adding yet another platform. It was way too much.”

Adele started exploring her options for online course platforms when luck intervened. A fellow horse trainer, who was already using Mighty Networks, suggested the platform to Adele. Immediately, she knew this was the solution she had been looking for:

“Finding Mighty Networks was a game-changer. Being able to offer everything in the same network, I can’t tell you how stress alleviating that was.”

With a Mighty Network, Adele would be able to put all of her offerings in one place:

  • A dedicated community where people could share their experiences and training videos
  • Live Q&A sessions where she could answer member questions
  • An online course that introduced the core concepts of Adele’s holistic training practices
  • And it would all be instantly available on the web, iOS, and Android devices, so Adele’s members could connect to the community anywhere, any time

A Mighty Network would also let Adele put the community component of her membership first, enabling her members not only to connect with each other, but to learn from each other too:

“One of the best ways to learn is to go and teach somebody else what you just learned. I’ve seen that with my members, and I’ve seen it with myself. It changes the whole dynamic, and everything just sinks in really deeply that way. And that’s a huge benefit to the community.”

With everything in place, Adele started recruiting people for her new venture: The Willing Equine.

Listening and Learning from Prospective Members

Adele knew that she wanted to start with a small group—a combination of people she had already worked with, and newbies—with the option to scale down the line. So she started with the folks she already knew, and identified those who were most motivated:

“I wanted to be able to control who was in the group and keep it closer knit. And I wanted people to feel safe and comfortable showing what was going on with them.”

As she got in touch, she also stressed that this membership would be different than anything she had offered before: Because she planned to cap the membership in the beginning, the experience would be more intimate, and she would be able to offer more one-on-one support. Plus, members would be able to touch base with people who were on the same part of the journey.

As she reached out, Adele made an effort to listen to what people were saying: what concerns they had, what they would want from this kind of membership, and what benefits they were hoping for:

“I personally reached out to a lot of people, and I allowed them to have that space to voice their concerns. I thought it was really important to hear them out and try to meet their needs, as far as what they wanted out of the community.”

Her members in place, Adele prepared to launch.

“I Think of My Landing Page as a Lobby”

Today, The Willing Equine is set up as a secret Mighty Network, meaning it’s available by invite only.  This way Adele can protect her community from distractions and enable them to build authentic relationships with each other, setting her members up for maximum success:

“It was important to me that it wasn’t just this open network that anybody could join. Because some people will bring in outside influences, outside experiences, and then they want to share those. I didn’t want them to be coaching and teaching fellow members that way.

I am fairly protective of the process, and the way that I encourage people to introduce it. That’s not to say that I have the only right answers. It’s just that there are some core things you need to understand before you start working with your horse this way.”

Adele personally invites prospective members into her free, secret Mighty Network, where they can learn more about the network’s offerings, which include a paid course and two paid groups:

“I think of my landing page as a lobby or a waiting room. You can go in and see some stuff, but you don’t really have access to it until enrollment is open.”

One way to get an invite is to join the waitlist for Adele’s Foundation Course, which is taught inside the Mighty Network and opens for enrollment every three months. Priced at a one-time fee of $349.99, the course offers a unique, in-depth introduction to training horses with positive reinforcement. The course itself runs for three months and includes access to:

  • 12 hours of real-life training footage
  • Three live online group Q&A sessions
  • Access to ongoing discussion groups
  • Direct, personalized coaching with Adele
  • Monthly training video reviews

Lessons within the course include both written and video content, and give students the opportunity to learn Adele’s concepts, practice them, and then record what they learned. From there, they share their training videos with the group, and Adele watches the videos to provide feedback.

Once students are done with the course, Adele gives them a certificate of completion and invites them to the Student Membership group:

“The course is a lot of work. It’s a lot of information. It’s a lot of change. And I’m a big fan of gifts. So when they’re done, I talk about how I’m so proud of them for getting through the whole thing, and I invite them to continue their journey with the student membership group. And I give them a final exit survey to fill out, just so I can get some feedback from them about the course.”

Speaking of, the Student Membership is homebase for the majority of her community. Adele utilizes Topics to offer her members a number of rich resources, including training videos, monthly training challenges, and more. Priced at $35.99 per month, access to the Student Membership group also includes:

  • Posts organized by Topic, including Troubleshooting, Monthly Training Challenges, Tips on Training and Learning, and more
  • Training content, including the training videos that members share with each other
  • Live Q&As every month

Adele also offers access to educational material within the Student Membership, including over 40 extensive articles about equine body language, the theory, science, and application of positive reinforcement training, and more. She also puts a lot of emphasis on connecting with her members and providing them with feedback:

“I try to get on at least two or three times a week and catch up on everything that’s been going on. I try and personally comment on everything they share. It’s important to me to be as active and as accessible as possible.”

Adele also offers a membership level with more direct access to her, which she calls the Mentorship Group. It’s essentially a mastermind where a smaller set of students, many of whom are working to become trainers themselves, dive deep into the theoretical practices of horse training. Priced at $120.99 per month, membership in this group includes:

  • Direct access to Adele for questions and consults during weekly office hours
  • Exclusive online discussions and live online meetings
  • Two video reviews per month, with the option to exchange for a live video or local lesson as scheduling allows

Because the Mentorship Group targets people who want to be professionals, Adele has a few requirements for prospective members. They have to complete both the Foundation Course and an in-person internship or immersive training with Adele, and they have to have been an active member in the Student Membership for at least 90 days. If they meet those requirements, they then have to apply for entry:

“It’s designed to be a very intimate group. And the people who are in the Mentorship Group take it very seriously. They are interested in being professionals themselves, and that’s really what it’s all about. It’s almost like training the trainers.”

Sowing the Seeds for a Thriving Community

Adele already has a vision to scale The Willing Equine in the future, from recruiting her long-term students in her Mentorship Group to help her teach the members of her Student Membership, to letting more members in during enrollment:

“I have a massive waitlist right now, and it’s exciting to think that so many people want to be a part of this.”

But for now, she’s prioritizing two things: providing a digital sanctuary where her members can build authentic relationships with each other, and educating her members on the tenets of holistic horse training:

“I talk a lot about how important this online community is, and just the fact that I was able to create more than just a program. This is a safe space for people. It’s a place that recognizes that every horse is so different. And it’s a place where my members have me right there to help them.”

3 Key Takeaways from Adele’s Story of Awesome

  1. Start small. You can always scale later. Adele kicked off her membership by recruiting from a small group of people she already knew, who she recognized as the most motivated. This isn’t a numbers game: You can be successful by curating an experience for as little as five or 10 people, and scaling once you have everything in place.
  2. Ask for feedback, early and often. Whether you’re trying to figure out what your ideal members want before you launch, or you’re making adjustments after your launch, reach out to your ideal members and talk to them. Their feedback can be super valuable.
  3. Don’t be afraid to charge for a high-value experience. Before finding Mighty Networks, Adele was offering bits and pieces of her services as people reached out. With a membership in place, she’s been able to monetize her courses and her expertise, offering something so valuable that her members are happy to pay for it.

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