Tips on teaching


Johnny on Moe following Holly on Roscoe.
Johnny on Moe following Holly on Roscoe.

Over the weekend, I gave Johnny a riding lesson. He caught, groomed, and tacked up Moe, then mounted and spent 25 minutes walking, halting, and practicing simple ring figures.

Johnny’s a lot different from most people I’ve taught riding skills to. I spent the better part of three years working as a certified therapeutic riding instructor; I basically adapted horseback riding for people with a wide variety of special needs. After that, I taught lessons sporadically for extra cash. Regardless if you’re teaching a 30 year old first timer or a visually impaired 12 year old, there are some basic tenets to follow for teaching effectively:

  • Break skills into small steps. Think through the process you go through to ask your horse to turn left. You might tell someone, “Pull your left rein out to the side” or “Pull you left rein back to your hip”, but if you really think through the process, that’s not what you do at all! You look where you’re going, then gently pull your left rein, and release once the horse has turned. If the horse begins to go off-target, you pull gently again and release. With beginners, it’s tempting to just give them a general instruction, but you’ll help them become a better rider if you’re more specific with your directions. Tell them, “Look where you want the horse to go and gently pull your left rein back. When your horse turns, stop pulling.”
  • Remind, don’t nag. Beginners make a lot of mistakes (as does everyone!) but there’s nothing like constant nagging to dampen their spirits. Instead of chiding them every time you notice them slumping in the saddle, remind them sit up tall once or twice during the lesson. There’s a lot going on when you’re learning to ride- balancing on the horse, remembering how to steer and stop and go, conquering nervousness or anxiety that sometimes comes with trying something new. As students become more comfortable and confident on horseback, you can give more frequent reminders for things they ought to know. (My sometimes-trainer Anne is constantly reminding me to bring my shoulders back!)
  • Specific praise is key! When you’re teaching, it’s easy to give general encouragement like “That looks good!” or “Nice job!”. While that’s important, the real trick to helping students understand what they’ve accomplished is specific praise. “I like how quiet your hands are right now!” or “You did a great job squeezing your horse back to a trot when he started walking!” are examples of specific praise. You’re telling the student what they did that was good instead of leaving them to figure it out for themselves.
  • Have a plan. It’s not impossible to just wing it for a lesson; I’ve certainly done that. But it’s easier for everyone if you, the instructor, have a plan. Take the time to organize your thoughts (or write them down) for each lesson you’re teaching: what do you want the student to accomplish? How will you help them accomplish this? What exercises do you want them to do? Do you need any equipment like jumps or ground poles? You’ll have to take into account things like the student’s goals, their ability level, their horse’s ability level, how much time you have, and what external conditions like temperature are like.

I’ve always found teaching riding lessons to be extremely rewarding; I love sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired and help other people become better horsemen!

Anyone else have experience teaching? What tips would you add?

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

7 thoughts on “Tips on teaching”

  1. I love teaching! Another technique I love to use is having the student verbalize to me how they are going to perform a task – a jump, a pattern, etc. So I’ll give them an instruction and then ask them to tell me what their plan is for riding it, step by step. Afterwards, I’ll ask them what they thought was good and bad about it, and then go over with them how to improve their ride.

  2. LOVE this! I also really enjoy helping my trainer teach lessons. Like you said, I try to break everything down into smaller pieces and make skills easier to understand. I think sometimes, us riders take the little things for granted!

    1. you’re absolutely right we take the little things for granted! I think that’s the case any time someone is very proficient at something- you forget how long you took to learn it!

  3. the specific praise comment is great – as a student i really like hearing when something is working, rather than just a general positive throwaway line

    1. Specific praise is like #1 in therapeutic riding! And it’s a hard habit to break, so I do it to EVERYONE. EVERYONE. My friend is riding with me and her horse has a good trot transition? I am like, “Way to go! You did a great job using your leg aids!”

      This is why I ride alone. 😛

  4. This is great! I sometimes coach too. ‘breaking skills into small steps’ can be so hard. It’s so much easier to do the skill than explain how to do it.

Leave a Reply