Group riding lessons used to be the most common form of riding instruction, but factors today have developed a private and semi private riding culture.
I believe group riding lessons have tremendous value causing beginner and intermediate riders, in particular, to advance more quickly. Here’s why:
Social Horse Lovers
One of the reasons soccer is popular among kids is because it involves other kids. Just drive past a soccer field with a 7 year old kid in your car. You’ll notice that their eyes don’t leave the hoard of kids who look like they’re having a great time together. Kids are social creatures. They want to be with other kids.
Adults may carry more baggage learned from life lessons, but most of us look for a group that is somewhat like ourselves, just like we did as kids.
Let’s face it. Riding is a social experience. People who take lessons and ride want to connect with other people who take lessons and ride. Group riding lessons are one way to feed the social needs of the horse lover. Even adults look forward to riding together.
Group Riding Lessons Are a Better Teaching Pattern
I believe group instruction, taught by a competent instructor, is a better teaching pattern for most people (and horses). Because the instructor’s focus moves from student to student, rather than resting on one person for the entire ride. This provides smaller information bites which are more easily absorbed. Plus not having the instructor focus on them relentlessly allows the student the opportunity to make adjustments and corrections themselves. And even though the pressure is off for a short time period, the instructor is still aware of what is happening with her student.
The Visual Learning Tool
For some people, riding snaps into place much faster when they can see what they are trying to achieve. Group riding lessons provide the instructors with demo riders. Take teaching diagonals as an example. Instead of exhausting the “rise and fall with the one on the wall” ditty and instead of having your students struggle looking at their horse’s shoulder to try to coordinate it with their posting, you can let them watch each other. The first part of learning diagonals is seeing the relationship between the horse’s shoulders and the rider’s posting. I’ll have one rider watch the group and I say, “Tell me which shoulder comes back as this rider sits into the saddle.” It works every time because it’s that old “a picture is worth a thousand words” theory at work. The visual tool works at all levels, over and over again. The bonus is that when they see that one of their peers can achieve something, they know they can too. So I guess I have to add that group lessons give students confidence.
The Element of Fun in Group Riding Lessons
Games are an excellent way for riders to put their skills to practical use. There is an endless number of games that an instructor can use; from dropping rocks in a pail to relays over fences. These games can all be used in private lessons as exercises but they are so much more fun when you can form teams.
In the same sense that group riding lessons give students confidence, group lessons also add the challenge factor. When peers ride together and they see one another achieve, that nudge to do it better seems to find its way in.
One of the most delightful lessons I have ever witnessed was with Molly Sivewright. Mrs. Sivewright is the author of both “Thinking Riding ” books, as well as a book on lunging. She is the founder of Talland School of Equitation in England and is a Fellow of the British Horse Society. I met Mrs. Sivewright at a dressage clinic in Kansas. In a matter of minutes, through the use of school commands, Mrs. Sivewright had 8 dressage riders divided into two circles, going the opposite direction and changing circles smoothly on command. Believe me when I say, that this didn’t start out pretty! These horses and riders were used to riding alone. But after a few minutes, this group looked like an experienced drill team. I’ll bet those riders will never forget Ms. Sivewright’s lesson. Her example that day was the epitome of group riding lessons.
Working in file and trying to keep the correct distance from the horse in front of you is challenging for students. Adding changes of rein, circles, and transitions on command gives students a new way to work on their skills. I call this “learning through necessity”!
For Pony Club camp, I hired a man who’d ridden with an Andalusian drill team that exhibited all over America. I had my doubts that the older, higher rated members would be comfortable using their hot thoroughbreds for drill riding, but I was wrong. This instructor’s classes were the thrill of camp for all levels that year.
And Then There’s the Economics of Group Riding Lessons
Group Lesson Students Can Carpool
Let’s face it. Travel time and cost are a big deal to everyone these days. It’s a bonus anytime moms can take turns transporting kids, and riding lessons are no exception.
Group Lessons Cost the Student Less But Make You More Money
Do the math. If you charge $50 for a private lesson and $30 for group lessons, (these figures are only examples – I’m not telling you what to charge.), with five students in a group you will bring in $150 as opposed to $50 for the same time spent with a private lesson. And the bonus is that at $30 per lesson your student has a better chance of taking more than one lesson each week
Keep Your Students Coming Back
Group lessons are an important part of an instruction program. It takes work to become proficient at teaching group lessons and requires the ability to “multi task” as well as have “eyes in the back of your head”, but it’s worth it. Group lessons have benefits that range from progress, to social, to use of time, to finances, to fun. In the long run its the progress and fun that will keep your students coming back for more.
Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor
Barbara Ellin Fox
I teach mainly private lessons right now, but would like to gradually transition to mainly semi-private and group lessons. I have found that my students who get to ride together tend to have a lot more fun overall and still improve at a steady pace. The only hiccup I’m having is trying to plan for beginner students. I have new students streaming in at what seems like random intervals and I’m not sure how to go about setting up group lessons for them. For beginners, is it best to set up a series/course with a set start date?
And do you try to keep kids and adults in separate lessons/groups?
Any insight would be great. I love your articles and feel like I’m always re-reading them :).
Thank you for your comment and encouragement. I’d suggest that if you start beginners in a group to be sure that you have some “helpers” that could lead students and keep horses and ponies organized until your students have progressed to be in control themselves. A lot of times you can find helpers by offering an extra ride or to ride in another lesson after they’ve helped with so many (number determined by you) lessons.
I think a series/course is a very wise way to teach beginners, especially if you have reliable lesson horses. Since not all students will learn at the same pace you will have to have creative ways to repeat more difficult lessons. So for instance if you have 6 things you want your beginners to learn it may take 12 or 18 actual lessons to accomplish your goals. If you set a series/course perhaps you could allow students to take extra lessons until they catch up with the students that are already started and then let them join the group. There is so much that can be done in group lessons to make learning enjoyable. I’m really glad to read that you are transitioning from privates to groups and semi privates.
Yes I do my best to have separate adult classes from children or youth. You will teach adults and children differently. I find that adults are so much harder on themselves than children are (unless we are dealing with unrealistic expectations). I think it’s easier to learn when we ride with peers that we can identify with. Most of the time adults really enjoy having time with other adults when they ride and they may not be as fearless as children.
The best of luck to you in your teaching
If you have a group riding lesson program where your non show horse students ride in group lessons how do you incorporate private lunge lessons?
I offer the private lunge lessons separately, that way the riders can still continue with the group. You can work out a separate time or right before or after your group. Since lunge lessons are usually a half hour it would make a perfect pre group lesson. Or if you want them only on lunge lessons for a time period just save their group spot for when you have them return.
You have to be really sure of your horses with a group of kids riding! I have ponies that are terrific by themselves in private lessons but get them together and they start to compete with each other (the ponies, not the kids)! Some kids, when they’re old enough and skilled enough, can learn a whole lot with a little naughtiness from their mounts but the little kids (which I seem to have a bunch now) can’t handle the frisky ponies!
My grandfather who was a graduate of the Pinerolo and Tor Di Quinto cavalry schools had an old saying that relates to your post:
“You learn to ride on well trained horses that behave well, and where you really learn to ride well is on horses that are not so well mannered.”
I agree- learn the foundation on the good old school horse, and then learn to use it.
I could be jealous of you having a graduate of Pinerolo and Tor Di Quinto for a grandfather!!!
Yup those ponies will go ahead and use their natural herd instinct if their rider can not take charge of them. But if you could put a more skilled rider on those ponies and add them to lessons for a bit of schooling, you might be surprised how good they can become. Good lesson horses are worth their weight in gold but they are developed over a lengthy period of time. They’re an investment and a good one is hard to replace.
People have to learn to ride horses with others and horses need to learn to get along in a group. If your students are going to show they need to be able to ride with other horses. Even if you only show in dressage classes chances are there will be others around during warm up. If your students aren’t going to show they are probably going to pleasure ride- hopefully with other horse friends. And ponies are so good at games…
One of the things that I didn’t mention was that I don’t put tiny children in groups. They need to be at least 8 years old and with very beginners I have helpers. The whole group thing takes a bit of planning but it can be so rewarding.
Thanks for your comment
As a mom of a rider and of another daughter who did team sports, I do understand and agree with much of what you are saying. What number of students do you see in a group lesson and for how long should that group lesson last? The reason I ask is because we have been involved with group lessons in the past where there was a lot of time spent in the center of the ring watching others. Honestly, she got to ride about 10 during the lesson. It was not good. Also, when the skill levels were mixed, in this particular situation, the more skilled riders rode more during the group lesson.
I am a speech therapist and see students in both an individual and group setting. I have found in therapy I prefer individual sessions as I feel I am able to accomplish so much more then when I see a group. Some skill learning does much better in group such as language learning, but overall I like individual. I try to do a bit of both.
I guess I am not sure where I fall on this and have great apprehension giving up individual lessons at this time based on my experiences.
Thanks for your comments. I promise to expand on the group lesson theme in future blogs. I want to assure you that I don’t advocate group lessons only. I also teach private lessons. Both types have their place, which you have mentioned in your comment. I also don’t advocate mixing skill levels.
What I didn’t mention because I was hoping someone would point it out, (as you did- indirectly) is that the quality of lessons that you receive, group or otherwise – has a direct relationship to the ability of your instructor to instruct. Bad instructors beget bad lessons. Good group lessons are hard to teach and they take skill that goes a step beyond just knowing what to teach. An instructor who teaches groups has to know how to teach and how to teach more than one person at a time. Group lessons require being able to keep a class moving with everyone focusing on the goal of the lesson. Those “sit in the middle” lessons that you mentioned are all too common and they are the biggest reason students don’t want them. Too many times a student walks away from a group lesson feeling ignored, frustrated, and unsuccessful. If instructors teach groups they need to learn how to make classes challenging.
As far as size, I like a group of 4-5 but it’s more important to me that the riders are comparable. And group lessons should last at least an hour.
You brought up another topic that is a gripe of mine, sitting on your horse. (You mentioned sitting in the middle of the arena most of the time) I truly hate to see a horse treated as if it is a sofa. Yes, all horses should stand still with a rider for “time periods” but a horse’s back is not meant to be a chair. It’s one of my gripes about kids at shows but also about round pen/natural horsemanship type clinicians. They sure aren’t hanging around in good posture!
Thanks for you good comments