Tips for a Short Beginner Course
Summer is the best time to get intense horsemanship instruction into kid’s, and since I love getting new riders started I was excited when a reader asked for tips for a one week, 1-2 hour a day class for beginners. I’ve included lots of links to other helpful blog posts at The Riding Instructor, including this one with tips for a summer camp program Summer Horsemanship Camp- 20 Tips for Success
Why is This Type of Course Important?
Your goal may be as simple as giving an inner city child the taste of horses and riding, or it may be as complex as holding a series of week long summer horsemanship camps, either way it will answer a driving question for the student. Do they want to learn to ride?
We live in a time when a lot more children come from families with no horse background than ever before. The one week summer course is a great opportunity for kids to try something that builds character and skills that will help them grow into great adults. Your program may fuel a spark of desire in an already horse crazy kid or introduce a child to something they had never before considered trying. Or the child may decide horses are not for them. Any way you look at short courses the child will practice important decision making skills, and spend time outside in the fresh air with time on the back of a horse. There just isn’t a downside to a short horsemanship course.
Unless you don’t make a plan that best uses your time with the children.
And unless the kids leave your program thinking they are riding experts.
This is where you have the difficult task of keeping your students safe and enthused while making them aware that their is much more to learn. There is a big difference between a child riding a safe lesson horse in an enclosure and a child riding a strange horse at a friend’s house or even on a rental ride. Don’t set your students up for failure and possible injury down the road when they climb on a horse thinking they know how to ride because they took your course a few summers ago.
Lay out all the things you want students to know. Don’t wing it, because if your anything like me, you’ll burn through the hours you have with your students in no time.
Laying out a plan
Be specific. Determine whether you’ll have your students for 1 hour a day or 2 and decide whether this is a 5 day week or a 7 day week. There’s a big time difference between the 1 hour a day, 5 days a week experience (equaling 5 hours total) or 2 hours a day, 7 days a week (equaling 14 hours.)
Don’t run out of time
Focus on safety. Teach safety and require safety. Even though summer is hot, require students to wear boots that protect their feet and ankles, pants (not shorts) that protect their legs from saddle sores, shirts with short sleeves that protects their shoulders (like a T-shirt), and a helmet. I don’t care what kind of riding you teach, anyone who works with beginners, especially children, should require students to wear helmets when they are on a horse.
Build all of your lesson plans around safety whether it is safety on the ground or safety while riding.
Balance your teaching between unmounted instruction and time on the horse. Beginners tend to develop more confidence on the back of a horse once they know how to safely handle them on the ground. But beware not to spend too much time on the ground. You only have a few short hours and your students want to ride.
Know what you want your students to take away from your course.
For more on the importance of having a plan, check out these tips: Teach Riding With A Riding Lesson Plan
Balance your content between education, effort, and fun. Set up situations for riders to feel successful. The following topics are suggestions. Use what suits the age of and situation of your students and add your own ideas.
- what body actions mean
- Terms (mare, gelding pony, horse, etc)
- What to do when you don’t feel safe
How to handle a gentle horse on the ground
- lead at walk
- Lead around cones
- Keep human feet safe
- Keep human fingers safe
- Should you feed a treat?
- Walk around a horse
- What to do when a horse wants to eat grass
- What to do when the horse wants to go the other direction
- cool out a hot horse
- Handle a horse around other horses
- Check out these spatial awareness tips: Teach Spatial Awareness in Your Beginner Riding Lessons
- What to tie to
- what to tie with
- Safety release knot
How to Groom
Grooming provides lots of opportunity for familiarity with the horse. As an example, it may take your students most of the week to accomplish cleaning the hooves alone, but this exercise develops confidence and a feeling of success in students.
- The saddle and bridle parts
- The difference between the halter and a bridle.
- The correct way to saddle and bridle a horse.
- How to identify an incorrectly tacked up horse.
- Show them things to look for in an unsafely tacked up horse, twisted girth or cinch, girth too loose, girth too tight, a bridle with a backwards bit
- Teach checking the off side
For more thoughts on unmounted lessons check out the tips in this article: Horsemen’s Ground School – What’s Not To Love?
My focus for beginner lessons is balance and control for the rider and kindness for the horse. Keep these lessons in a controlled environment and use horses that get along well together. Consider it an added bonus if you can recruit helpers to lead horses for beginning rides.
Correct mounting and dismounting techiniques.
The basic balanced position. A good share of the first lessons will be spent helping the rider align their body and sit correctly with the feet under the seat, their heels down, and eyes looking over the horse. Try the following article for tips on basic position.
Use exercises that teach flexability and encourage confidence, such as toe touches.Teaching Toe Touches in Horseback Riding Lessons
Your week will be spent teaching stop, start, and turn and correct hand position so the horses will respond positively. Invest in a set of cones and use them to mark corners of your arena. Once your students are able to ride their horses along the arena fence line, have them circle and weave cones.
Games of all sorts can be played at a walk and are ideal for getting students to ride naturally and develop reflexes. I’ve included a few simple games at these links.
I teach all students, western or english, to post the trot because inevitably at some point the beginner will be on a horse that trots to fast or bumps them too much. Posting helps them to keep control of their bodies and get the horse under control. If you have very gently easy jogging horses, you won’t need to teach posting right off the bat but I recommend at some point, especially before the student would canter or lope, that you teach posting.
I don’t expect brand new riders to lope or canter in one week but your experience may be different.
It is also helpful to teach students to rate the horse’s speed. Check out this blog post: Rate the Gait-A Lesson Plan For Horse Control
Teach your students what to do if a horse goes faster than they want it to go.
Special tip: Practice safety for riding in a group because most people like to ride in company.
Keep things simple. If your students are old enough to understand leg aids, by all means teach them the basics but don’t confuse the simple elementary turning process.
I like to teach students the basic difference between western and english riding. Once they leave me and have another opportunity to ride, I don’t want them to be shocked when there is or isn’t a saddle horn etc. Even if you are only teaching english riding to your students, show them the difference between neck reining and direct reining. If they ever go on a trail ride at a rental barn they will probably need to neck rein their horse.
Visiting Other Horses
Teach them basic manners and safety around strange horses and at other facilities. If mom and dad take them for vacation at someplace like the Kentucky Horse Park, kids need to know how to act around, and even approach a horse to pet it.
And don’t forget to have parents sign releases, make sure you are covered by insurance, and post your state’s statute sign, if it is applicable..
Special tip: Don’t waste your students’ lesson time by making them clean mud caked horses.
Tips for Ways to Pack in More Value:
Develop hand-outs of the things they will learn in class.
Have one for each day whether it’s a parts of the horse chart, a diagram of the basic balanced portion, or the difference between western and english saddles.
Encourage the kids to use note books:
- Have them include the hand outs they receive at the barn.
- Encourage a section for journaling with notes about their favorite horse and the things they did in lessons.
- Have them organize and keep their notebooks outside of your lesson time but asks to see them once or twice.
- Take a picture of the group to include in the notebook.
The Take Away
- Basic knowledge
- An introduction to horses
- They should finish having had a good experience with horses but at the same time realizing they are not an accomplished horse person after a weeks worth of riding.
- When you are teaching a budding horseman you are laying the foundation for their riding future
- In your short course you may be teaching a future horse owner and forming the basis for the care and treatment of that horse
- If your rider doesn’t continue riding now there is a strong chance they will ride a horse at some other point in their life, either on a rental ride, or a friend with a horse, perhaps on vacation or when they are in high school or college
- Or you may teach someone now who won’t ride again until they have gotten life underway as an adult.
It’s Your Turn
Are there important topics you include in a short beginner’s course that I’ve missed? Please share your tips with us in the comments section.
Here’s to quality beginner lesson programs!
Barbara Ellin Fox