Starting with new students can always be a challenge, but a good one. At our center all new riding students have been through a free screening process, so as an instructor I have a screening form filled out with information about the new student from their first ride.
As the instructor you need to see what the rider/family want the rider to learn (usually being as independent as possible, having fun, progressing in riding skills, sometimes competition) and matching your teaching and lesson plans to meet those goals. If your rider wants to be able to do an obstacle course or trail ride, what skills
will he need? Once you can list the skills (control the horse, steer, stop, adjust position, follow directions, etc) you can make a plan of teaching and practicing those skills.
When beginning with new students, I review my lesson plans to look at the range of riding skills and rank them from easiest to hardest (riding progression) to meet the families or students goals. I plan to begin at the very beginning- holding reins, walk on and whoa. These are the basic skills that all riders need to be safe and on the road to independence. There are games you could use to re-enforce these first lessons, so think of ideas that involve lots of stop/go practice. The beauty of being a therapeutic riding instructor is ADAPTING the teaching of riding skills to meet the abilities of the rider.
I usually follow a lesson progression of reviewing last weeks’ material, introducing a new concept and then an activity that practices both old and new material. In riders with cognitive challenges, we spend more time on review and practice and the new material is broken into smaller chunks. In riders with physical challenges, I would provide them with increased time to practice each new skills. An example of a lesson progression for a beginner rider might look like this:
- Review stopping and walk on with a “do you remember how to” attitude
- If the rider struggles with stop/go, review and practice red light, green light or similar game, increase the support with hand over hand or visual cues
- If the student does well with stop/go, talk about steering left and right (do they know L and R)
- Practice steering: turn L at the yellow cone; turn right at the window, etc
- End lesson with a combination of stop/go and turning skills.
Then next week you build on the steering.
What has been your most challenging new student and how did you begin them in your riding lesson program?