Copper Boy_Sean gets mail 520If I had a dollar for every time one of our students was surprised that the lesson was over, our horses would never be out of carrots!

Especially with the therapeutic riders, I try to keep the same rhythm or structure for every lesson: groom, lead, warm-up, lesson, game and cool-down.

Now, admittedly, there are very few times that I’ve had an over-heated horse at the end of a class, but, the cool-down is as important as the warm-up for both the horses and the riders.

It gives them both a time to relax and get ready to complete the class. Most of the time we end the class with a game. It could be a ring-toss, bean-bag throw, scavenger hunt, or just a stop/start game like red-light, green-light.

Why games?

When I took lessons, our cool-down was just walking the horse. In circles, or down the path after cantering around the field. Five or ten minutes of slowing down and, if we were really running the horses, cooling them off. Boring!

Games, to me, is when everything comes together. It gives the rider a chance to relax after learning and practicing a new skill. Gives the horse time to regroup before the next riders come in. But, more importantly, it distracts the rider from the task of riding.

This is not counter-productive. This is often when everything comes together for the rider.

The game is now the focus, not the horse, not the skill. Even if the game practices the new skill, it is still not the same as the “lesson” itself.

Horse-rider skills

So one week I notice that the riders are having a hard time stopping their horses. Another time, the riders need to work on keeping their horses going straight. It’s game time! Nothing like ending with red-light/green light to get the riders to focus on stopping their horse. And yes, there is a three-step backward penalty if you can’t stop your horse! Funny thing, every rider can stop their horse within two steps of the call. A relay-type game of taking an object to the other end of the arena and returning is great for practicing keeping the horse on a straight line. The focus is on the target, not the skill.

Rider self-improvement

The riders improve their hand-eye coordination with a ring or bean bag toss game. Not to mention motor skills when they pick up an object and move it to another part of the arena. One of the attributes we look for in a rider is fluidity. Can the rider move one part of the body without moving the rest of the body, or move the body in a manner that would cause the rider to loose balance? We teach this with games where they have to grab something like a flag without stopping the horse and placing it in the target area.

So, in a sense, it’s all fun and games, and the lesson is over quickly. And the rider is gaining skills without even realizing the learning that is happening!

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

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