Games are an important teaching tool because they engage students and keep them interested. However there is a right time and a wrong time to use them in lessons.

When Not To Teach Games:

Games are not normally used to teach a new skill. 

  • A new skill requires concentration and thought. It’s much easier for students if they can concentrate on acquiring a skill before they have to use it under pressure.

Don’t use games until basic skills are solid

  • Skills, such as balance, use of hands, and use of legs should be solid for the level you will have students play.
  • The faster the gait and pace, the more skill required for aids and tact.

Games should not be played at the horse’s expense.

  • Lesson horses need to be comfortable in order not to sour. In other words if a rider’s skills are appropriate for the level and the horse is playing a game he is suited for, chances are the horse will be comfortable.
  • Teach students to be aware of the horse’s comfort.  The natural competitiveness of students can translate into rough treatment of the horse.

Games should not be played when a rider is scared.

  • Fear will escalate during excitement.
  • Address fear issues before playing games.
  • Putting pressure on worried or frightened riders will usually increase their anxiety. You also run the possibility of the riders natural self-defense setting in and they may refuse to play.

Playing a game is different than making a game out of something. Playing a game indicates there are rules and competition. Making a game out of something is a method of accomplishing a goal in a fun manner.

When To Teach Games:

Test a new skill

  • Once students have learned or developed in a new skill, such as turning accurately at the trot, games are the perfect test.

Practice a skill

  • Use a game at low level to provide additional practice with a skill
  • Most games can be played at slower gaits.
  • Games that require students to maneuver their horse around or close to obstacles can give ample opportunities for riders to practice their aids and turning skills even when they are played at a walk  and trot.

Add fun to a lesson

  • Games can be exciting and students love to cheer each other on, and they take some of the pressure for perfection off.
  • Give students a break from serious work
  • Get students to loosen up and enjoy their lessons.

Challenge riders

  • Games can be used to challenge riders.  They can compete against themselves when you use a timer, they can compete against another student, or they can compete as part of a team.
  • If you teach group lessons try dividing into teams.

When you want to ramp up difficulty

  • Games are a great way to ramp up the difficulty of using a skill and still keep the student in a safe situation.  You can provide opportunities for quick thinking and thinking under pressure.

To develop bonding with other students

  • Dividing up for team play is a great way for students to bond.  This can be especially beneficial for camps and for stables with a large youth clientele.

When you want students to develop feel and automatic responses

  • Teaching games helps riders to get their minds off their bodies and puts them in a situation to develop reflexes and responses.
  • When they use their skills automatically they take one step closer to riding naturally.

What Do You Think?

Do you use games in your lessons? Have I missed any good uses or any times when they should not be used? Let me know you thoughts.

Stay cool and ride on!

Barbara Ellin Fox



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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
    • Cindy
      I’m happy that you enjoyed this post and very flattered that you shared it with your readers. Thank you. Barbara Ellin Fox

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