Everyone, including instructors, is busy these days and too many of today’s riding instructors “wing it” when they teach. Each time a student arrives at your barn for a lesson, they are investing. They invest time, money, and effort in their riding by spending all of these things with you. When was the last time that you had $45 or $65 or more to wager on a craps shoot? Probably not in the recent past. So why should you treat your student’s investment like one?
Between training, riding and running the barn, horse professionals are very busy people. Many don’t think they have the time for “in depth” lesson preparation. Or perhaps they’ve taught for a long time and think they have all of their lessons “in their head”. Experience shows that the longer you “teach out of your head” the more stale and redundant your lessons become. When this happens, students no longer progress at a satisfying rate. They become discouraged and dissatisfied. They either leave or are drawn away by an instructor, who is not necessarily better, but is more willing to give the student their money’s worth. Don’t let this happen to you.
Good Lessons Require Good Preparation
Even if you have a solid set of standard lessons that you teach, planning ahead, making preparation, researching new ideas and thinking about new ways to teach old topics, will keep your lessons fresh and exciting. Have a goal for the lesson. What do you want your student to gain? Do you want your budding jumper to learn about bending lines? Will you work on ways to develop an eye for the spot? Develop a lesson plan that is geared toward your goal.
Put your lesson plan on paper. Not only does this help you to organize, it gives you a great record of what you have taught your student. When you keep a record of lessons you can be certain of not falling into the habit of redoing old lessons over and over again. What activities will help your student accomplish the lesson goal? Break the segments into time slots so that you can be sure to cover all of the material and provide plenty of actual “try it” time. Incorporate a related warm up as well as a positive finish for your student. Offer suggestions for follow up reading or media viewing to develop continuity between lessons.
Whether you’re going to teach grids or weaving poles, set things up before your class. Make sure materials are on hand at the arena. Material on hand will prevent you from last minute searches for jump cups, pins or other tools. Measure distances and set poles so only minor alterations are necessary during the lesson. Your undivided attention during lessons is important to your student. Not only do students set time aside to learn from you, they trust you and believe that you are prepared to help them reach their dreams. Instructing a student to warm up while you set a grid wastes the student’s time. If warm up is part of the lesson the instructor should be involved in the process using exercises and activities that prepare the student and horse for the entire lesson.
Lesson preparation insures that your lesson has a beginning, middle and end. Any good gym work out has a warm up, intense work period and a cool down. Let’s face it, riding is a work out for both horse and rider and a lesson should incorporate all of the muscle conditioning and precautions included in an athlete’s work out. And pre lesson preparation will help you to save precious time by keeping you on track and on schedule. The good instructor demonstrates professionalism with preparation.
Be able to adapt quickly, or “Roll with the Punches”
Flexibility is a key word when teaching. Lessons won’t always go the way you planned. Stress effects all ages. A child is effected by how he was treated at school, just as the adult is effected by how the work day ended. And remember, riding is unlike any other sport because two very different personalities, horse and rider, must interact well in order to reach success. 2 personalities increase the chance that one might not be at its best on your lesson day. Have an alternative. Have a plan that steps any activity down to smaller challenges. Review the goal for your lesson and seize difficulties as new opportunities to help your student progress. Develop multiple ways to achieve the same goal with your students.
In a nut shell, talk less, encourage more. Unless your student has difficulty focusing his attention on you when you speak, the less time your student stands still for instructions, the better. Students come to ride. There is nothing more ineffective than a riding instructor who talks on and on. Keep your stationary explanations short and simple, not more than 10% of your lesson
Teach your student on the move as much as you can. The Good Instructor is able to teach the rider through the process. You should be able to talk through the aids and help produce the momentary success that your student needs in order to experience, not just hear, the lesson.
Know several ways to explain the same thing. Notice when your explanation is producing the wrong results or no result at all and change your approach. Different people have different learning styles. Develop several approaches for the same topic.
Make positive comments whenever you notice a small improvement or accomplishment. Encouragement goes a long way toward empowering your student as she progresses toward her goal. You’re the mentor. Encouragement and positive comments from you to your students are like giving your lesson a B12 shot.
Make it Interesting and Fun
Even the stodgiest students love to play games and have simple challenges, once they get started. Games are also a great way to add to the social aspect of riding. Plan ways to get students into action through games and exercises that build on your lesson plan. An instructor with a good imagination can think of simple games for all levels of horse and rider, even if they are advanced students. For instance, the beginner can practice navigation by riding her pony to the fence to remove a colored cloth. You can use this same exercise for the more advanced rider by requiring that the last few steps toward the fence be done in half pass and then requiring the horse stand quietly while the cloth is untied. Call it a game for the 9 year old and an exercise for the 29 year old.
Collect a set of props for games and activities. These don’t need to be expensive. Look for diving rods and rings in the pool department at Wal-Mart or Target. Purchase a set of soccer cones, usually about $5. Look for colorful bandanas to tie to fences. Games and activities that provide new challenges for students and their horses are only limited by your imagination. Activities create a challenging and fun learning environment for all ages of students.
Break it down into small pieces. Start with the simplest skills possible for the level of your rider and increase the difficulty as your student becomes proficient. Small steps provide more opportunities for your student to achieve success.
Wrap up the Ride on a Successful Note
Plan to end on a good note. Normally this is accomplished by reviewing something that you know the horse and rider can accomplish well. Beware of introducing new material toward the end of a lesson. If the new material is not well received by your student or his horse, you’ll more than likely end on a less than successful note. The good instructor’s goal is for the student to have a sense of “gain”. Students should gain knowledge, understanding, accomplishment or practice from the lesson that you teach to them.
A good instructor prepares ahead and lays a foundation to help their student succeed. The thought and effort that the instructor puts into a student’s lesson is directly reflected in the quality of the lesson. Students come back for more when they accomplish their goals, have a good experience and feel important to their instructors. Planned lessons produce success. Instructors that “wing it” don’t produce a logical training progression for their students and frequently miss simple basics that are important for their students’ long term success.
Make sure that your student leaves the lesson “energized” and enthused about returning. Give them a little “preview” of what you’ll be working on at the next lesson and build on the successes they had today. Let them know that their time with you is just as important to you as it is to them. Let them know that you are investing in them and enjoy being part of their success. Give them something to ponder during the week. Ask a question that they must find an answer to. Suggest a show to attend as a spectator, another lesson they might benefit from auditing, or a YouTube video they might watch. Finding a way to develop connection and continuity between lessons will reduce your number of lesson cancellations.
Give my ideas a try. You won’t be disappointed. Your lessons will improve and so will your students. Your students will excited for their next lesson and they will remain clients for twice the amount of time.
To read more about planning your lessons read Teach Riding With A Lesson Plan. And if you’d like a lesson plan with instructions, just sign up for The Riding Instructor News. There’s a handy subscription form in the top right hand corner of this page. It’s free, so is the lesson plan.
Thanks for reading!
Barbara Ellin Fox