The amount of preparation you put into your lessons ahead of time can make a vast difference in their success and safety, especially if you teach beginners.
The preparation I had in mind with this post happens well before your lesson, maybe even before you begin your teaching program. How do you prepare your assistants?
You may call me on the carpet about now saying, “Assistants? Lessons cost students enough already. I can’t afford help.”
You Can't Do it Alone, at Least Not Well, unless …
If you teach lunging lessons, have one student in a round pen, or have the world’s most trustworthy lesson horse, you may not need an assistant. However, you can’t give a good lesson while leading your student’s horse. It’s awkward to see a student while you are leading the horse. You can’t check their balance position, or whether their heels are down. You can’t see if they hold the reins correctly or if they are getting the beats of the post. Nor can you tell if they are losing their balance, and you can't watch their facial expression for fear. To give a good lesson, you need to see your student.
Plus, unless you are giving a basic pony ride lesson, you can’t go past a walk for long unless you are in great shape, because talking while running is difficult.
Prepare With Assistants
But you CAN find assistants to help for more riding time or for an extra lesson. The barter system works well for everyone. What you trade, or how much you trade, is your choice, of course, but you’d be amazed at what people are will trade for.
Train them ahead of time.
This applies to all of your lessons, not just the rider’s first one. It’s a good idea to have a helper even when your students can ride on their own. The helper can “help” adjust stirrups, set up trot poles, fix rails on jumps. And they can run and fetch…
A Safe Instructor
Safe instructors don't walk away from students for any reason once the students are in their care for a lesson. It leaves them vulnerable to accident and leaves you open to lawsuits for negligence.
It also makes you look unprepared and unprofessional and breaks up the flow of your lesson.
Prepare You Assistant
Explain how you want to do things such as off-side leading, and which quick-release knot you prefer. Helpers need to understand the difference between helping and doing things for the student, especially if you include prep in your lessons. Some students get frustrated with too much help while others are happy to let helpers do all the prep work for them. For the first lesson, your assistant will do lots of demos. Be sure they know what to expect.
Teach them what to do in an emergency. For example, what will they do if a student gets their foot stepped or what if they are leading someone who panics when their foot slips out of the stirrup? How should they handle a horse spooking, or one that trips, or a student who loses their balance? What if someone else falls off a horse?
Or how should they respond to a student who panics if a fly lands on them? Yes, it has happened. Once.
Instruct helpers not to laugh at students, even if they are very cute.
Train them and your lesson horses to lead from both sides.
Assistants should understand you don’t want them to teach the lesson, particularly after the rider is mounted. Their job is to help keep the rider safe and to direct the student's attention to the instructor.
Work Out Communications
And work out a communication system between the student and the helper. For instance, if the helper is leading the horse at the trot, they will need to warn the student before they bring the horse to a walk so your student is not thrown out of balance. Another example would be the student who loses a stirrup or feels like they are slipping or gets worried for any reason. They need to know how to get the helper's attention and quickly let the helper know their needs.
Hold a Training Class or Make it a Course
You can take this one step farther and have a class a couple times each year for training helpers. Call it on-the-job-training. This gives structure and respect to the position of helper, and you may end up with more help than you need.
Having an assistant to help with lessons will free you to concentrate on your students. There are enough distractions and changes in lessons. Have your assistant help you assemble the things you need for your lesson before the lesson begins. This avoids confusion and makes it easier to focus on your students. Being prepared ahead of time is an area you can control.
Remember- an instructor always stays with the students, even ones who seem proficient. If you need something, send an assistant for it.
For more about how instructors can prepare in advance for good lessons, check out Teach Riding With a Riding Lesson Plan.
Safety has priority, especially when teaching beginners. Check out my blog post Signs of a Safe Riding Lesson Program.
Those are my ideas for assistants, but what about you? Do you use an assistant? Where do you find them? How do you compensate them for their work? Have assistants made your life easier? I’d love to read your experience and suggestions in the comments.
Thanks for joining me!
Barbara Ellin Fox