Three important parts of good riding are balance, tact, and consideration. These are all abilities that take time to develop.

Instructors have the job of convincing students it’s worth their effort and time to develop these skills, which may require subversive skills on your part as you incorporate interesting riding lessons using repetition without being repetitive.

Is that even possible? How do you repeat experiences in lessons without appearing repetitive? How do you use variety, so your lessons are never boring?

Is Your Toolbox Boring?

One way to keep from teaching boring lessons is to make sure that your instructor toolbox is filled with lots of tools. Tools being multiple ways to teach one subject, a knowledge of learning styles, and plenty of activities to include in lessons for variety.

It helps to develop a system for teaching, or make a plan, so you know ahead of time what you will teach, and which exercises you’ll use based on what you did or didn’t do in the last lessons. A plan helps to keep you from falling into a teaching rut. Planning pays off. It keeps your material fresh.

There is no way to get around the fact that good riding takes practice—lots of it. Most of our students never reach the amount of practice they need to truly succeed. So, good instructors search for ways to give students the most effective experiences for their muscle and mind memory in the shortest amount of time.

Things Have Changed

Why? Because everyone’s time is short. And because we live in a generation of visual people who need to be entertained. People who need everything fast with the least amount of effort. This is not to dismiss those special riders who are horse crazy and devoted to riding. Gosh, we love those students. They make teaching easy. Compared to the day when our Olympic teams were the contenders, the horse show world has created instant wins, easier entry into competition, and we have lowered-the-bar a lot. Literally.

Developing good balance is one of the most important tenants of riding. An unbalanced rider is constantly fighting his or her own body against the horse. There is no way to be tactful in this condition and a tactless rider is not considerate. Tact and consideration come with the knowledge and experience that leaves the rider with balance as a foundational base.

Should You Harp?

Some horsemen would contend that teaching/harping on the correct position creates mechanical ineffective riders. I would say that teaching the rider the correct position puts their bodies in the optimal position, the best opportunity to develop balance. When we teach position based on a picture or an ideal we see on a chart or read in a book, or saw on the winner at last week’s show, the rider learns a copy-cat position rather than the balanced position that is best for the natural conformation of the individual. The result is a rider who looks like you could position their arms and legs, wind them up with a key, and send them along the rail without a horse.

Good instruction develops balance that follows the of center of gravity. We do this by encouraging the rider to send their weight to their heals, keep their hands down, and pick up their heads to look in front of them. Picking up their heads and looking where they are going is no longer a natural habit for people who spend their time looking down at phones in their hands.

In order to develop your rider’s balance, you have to show him proper body alignment and give him the right thoughts and perspective. Then we do things to disrupt the balance so the rider can find it again using what he has learned from the correct position as a barometer.

The Toolbox

This is where the instructor’s toolbox comes in. How many activities on horseback can you think of that create opportunities for the rider to adjust their balance?

Our most elementary disruption is halt-to-walk. Successive disruptions are stops, turns, and basic gaits. These occur throughout the rider’s career. Transitions do as much to re-balance the rider as they do to re-balance the horse. At the beginning levels we add transitions, changes of direction, games, circling barrels, exercises. We may use school commands, trot polls, drill riding, and other formations. It’s all about developing the balance and the only way we can really be effective is to continuously disrupt the balance in small ways so the rider can find it again.

This is one of the reasons playing games is so important in lessons. It might seem counterproductive to fine tuning for the show ring, but once your rider knows what it feels to be balanced, their body will automatically search for that sweet spot. Doing anything that takes their focus off the details of balance or position will give them the opportunity to develop automatic skills, balance without hunting for it. Plus, anytime your students have fun, they’ll go home with additional thoughts of how great their lessons are.

You Probably Have More in Your Toolbox Than You Think

All this brings me to the point of asking. Have you ever sat down and thought about all the skills you can teach to students? Do you think about how to arrange them in lessons? For instance, if I teach my students toe touches this week as something new or as something we’re still working through, when can I move this subject into the warmup or cool down category? How many games do you know to teach riders? What are their purposes, and can you adapt them to all kinds of lesson and all types of riders? What about obstacle courses? Do you have some planned out for different levels that will give your riders a new challenge and something to focus on? What are other things you can do to add variety? Tools for your toolbox. Drill rides, pair riding, school figures…

It’s so easy to fall into a rut and allow lessons to become stale, especially when you don’t take time to think lessons through, or you go into class ready to wing it and see how the day goes. Yes, every instructor must be able to change their plan, adapt, adjust, but guess what? You can have a plan to do that too.

If your lessons have become dull, or if you’re losing your enthusiasm for teaching riding, take a look in your toolbox. Are some of your tools shiny but others are dusty? Are there a few tools in there that you’ve forgotten about? This might be a great time to take everything out, dust it off and give it a good looking over. Your students will appreciate the effort and you may you’re your lessons are a lot more fun, even for the instructor.

Thanks for joining me. Here's to great lessons and happy students.

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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