One of the things I remember most vividly about my Dad was his desire to earn a pilot’s license so he could fly the Cessna 150 and 172 fixed wing planes. When I was in high school I used to sneak to the air port to watch him practice take offs and landings with his instructor at the practice field. My Dad didn’t talk about his lessons but I knew it was an achievement to land smoothly. Later when he was permitted to take passengers, I was the only family member who would fly with him, not because he wasn’t a good pilot but because I loved seeing my Dad participate in his passion. I never had a rough landing with my Dad.
Getting his license had been a goal for many years and there were a few starts and stops, due to family issues but he didn’t give up. He had a large, very official looking, notebook that contained his lessons from ground school. Ground school covered all of the subjects he needed to know in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot. He spent hours studying outside of the cock pit in order to become his best in the cock pit.
Unmounted lessons are another name for the horseman’s ground school. In my riding program I use the term ground school in memory of my Dad. I love to teach ground school because students are focussed on a subject they love and I enjoy getting a group of students to work together.
I use a wide variety of topics for ground school and make them age specific. Some topics can be covered completely indoors and are great substitutes for mounted lessons during bad weather. I use videos, lesson boards, hand outs, and games. Ground school is especially good at this time of year when we experience the cold temperatures that cancel riding lessons and you want to maintain the continuity of lessons. I keep ground school lesson plans prepared and ready to go for those days when the temps get below 25 degrees.
Other ground school classes require the use of a horse or pony. I use ground school for kids to practice haltering, leading, tying, grooming, trailer loading, braiding, grooming and clipping. Several kids can share one pony for ground school.
I use ground school in lots of settings. I include a ground school in my lesson packages. So for example if I have a lesson package of 4, I may add 1 ground school class. I might decide that every 4th Tuesday from 6-8 is ground school and have kids pitch in for pizza or assign someone a turn to bring something or have everyone bring their own sandwich for dinner. In this type of ground school I may combine the riders from 3 or 4 different group lessons or 8 or 9 private students, or I might combine groups and privates. I like to get the kids to mingle and know one another. I try to keep my ground school classes close on age, so kids will bond.
I also use ground school as a basis for a holiday party, sticking more to games, such as Horseman’s Jeopardy, labeling the parts of a horse, or a race at bridle assembly. I may give small prizes.
School breaks are a good time to get some intensive study in and since they open up hours that are not normally filled with lessons, it doesn’t effect your schedule as much. I may do a ground school marathon for half a day or more. Or I may do a sleep over or mini camp, with sleeping bags. In any case, this type of ground school would involve team work, hands on, knowledge, videos, and also some form of games.
Or I may have an invite a friend day with ground school where kids can bring a friend for a nominal fee. This is a great way to introduce kids to your barn. It’s also a good way for kids who are not ready to ride to experience a little bit of horse culture.
Ground school will take a little work and planning on your part, but the pay offs are good. There is no limit to the ways an instructor can use ground school. You can add a little bonus to your lesson program, increasing the value added factor. Or use it to get kids together, creating cohesiveness at your barn. You can open your doors to the possibility of new riders. But most of all you are adding to the general horsemanship knowledge of your students and that will cause them to become better horsemen, faster.
Ground school feeds the inner horseman and in my book, that makes it worth the effort. Give it a try and let me know what you put together. Or if you already hold your own style of ground school, it would be super if you’d share your ideas with readers at The Riding Instructor.
Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!
Barbara Ellin Fox