Gymkhana Lesson 3: Cloverleaf Barrels…and a Circle Exercise!

PATH Intl. standards state there needs to be no unnecessary equipment in the arena when you are teaching. Instructors also tend to have students working on different skills in back to back lessons, with little time to switch the arena set up in between. Arranging the arena during the lesson is not really an option because you are supposed to have your eyes on the students at all times.

So what to do? There are several solutions: 1) Get lots of volunteers so you have extra ones to switch the arena props for you in between lessons (in a perfect world :)! ) . 2) Use the same props for each lesson, such as the same gymkhana pattern, and change the skill you teach or emphasize. 3) Set up props that can be used different ways and switched briefly and easily!

I have an example of that last one for these two back to back lesson plans, which use barrels and cones to teach the Cloverleaf Pattern and a Circle Exercise.

First Lesson: The Cloverleaf Pattern

Arena Setup:

  • 3 barrels in the cloverleaf pattern
  • 5 cones set up as pictured

Lesson Plan

  1. Mount
  2. Tack Check
  3. Warm Up – walk on wall and medium then small circle at each letter for 1 lap in each direction
  4. Tack Check
  5. Cloverleaf Pattern – Explain. Show a picture or use whiteboard if needed. Or draw it in the ground. Or run yourself or a volunteer around the actual barrels!
  6. Practice – have the first student go. Tell the second student they may begin when the first has finished circling the first barrel. Talk them through it and encourage volunteers to assist with remembering the pattern as needed.
  7. Progression – remove verbal prompts for pattern memory. Add trot on strait stretches, first going home then on each straight stretch. Take away assistance. Etc.
  8. Cool Down – walk on the wall without stirrups
  9. Dismount

Example objectives for this lesson:

  • Student will demonstrate direct rein steering with no leader and no sidewalkers for 2 pattern attempts.
  • Student will perform a 3 step pattern with no verbal prompts.
  • Student will demonstrate the sitting trot with a leader and sidewalker 4x during the lesson with minimal verbal prompts.
  •  Student will demonstrate direct rein steering at the sitting trot without a leader and sidewalker for 2 patterns during the lesson with no verbal prompts.
  • Etc.

Second Lesson: The Circle Exercise

The next student is working on steering precision and bending, so I wanted her to work on riding a perfect circle. I was able to modify the Cloverleaf Pattern into the Circle Exercise pattern by only moving two cones quickly between lessons.

New Arena Setup, same props:

Objective for this lesson:

  • Student will demonstrate bending on a perfect circle 2x without a leader, sidewalker, or verbal prompts.

Lesson Plan:

  1. Mount
  2. Tack Check
  3. Warm Up – walk on wall and in the corners use your inside leg to bend your horse into the outside rein
  4. Tack Check
  5. Circle Exercise – Explain how to ride a circle: when we ride a circle we divide it into quarters and focus on bending through one quarter at a time. The barrels and cones mark each quarter of the circle. The rider will ride between the barrels and cones in a circle (as shown above). Explain how to bend your horse, if the student does not know.
  6. Practice – Have the student start by riding a circle between the barrels and cones. Do 3x in each direction. Give verbal prompts as needed for bending and where to look with their eyes, etc.
  7. Progression – Have the student do a circle inside the cones so it is smaller, or outside the barrels so it is larger. have the student trot, and even canter. Etc.
  8. Cool Down – walk on the wall without stirrups
  9. Dismount

Note: This is an exercise taught to me by one of my riding instructors name Sofia, so I always want to call it Sofia’s Circle. I’m pretty sure she didn’t make it up herself, but I still want to give her credit. Thanks Sofia for the great exercise!

The Circle Exercise is a great one for you to do at home with your own horse, too! Doing this will help you know how to teach your student the pattern better, and understand what they are experiencing when they ride it.


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

One thought on “Gymkhana Lesson 3: Cloverleaf Barrels…and a Circle Exercise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *