What to Teach – Riding Skills List

When I first started teaching, I had a hard time even knowing what to teach, much less how. Once I went through the PATH certification process and learned about goals, objectives, lesson planning, and progression it became easier to decide what to teach in each lesson.

Something that also helped was listing out every possible skill I could teach, in increasing order of difficulty. This way I could look on spectrum, see where my student was, and plan where to go from there.

I made my list using the CHA Composite Horsemanship Manual, which explains riding and horse care skills in good detail through 4 levels. I just listed the skills in what I thought was the best order and put the book and page number after the skill for reference (b1p24 = book 1 page 24). And this is the list that I’m sharing with you today!

Note: Order of skill progression will vary per student and per instructor’s preference. For example, some instructors prefer to teach the sitting trot before the posting trot, or to teach two point before they teach trotting. This totally depends on the student’s abilities and goals. So take this list as a rough outline that can be rearranged and edited as desired.


Note: Not all the following are Skills. Skills are aids used to communicate with the horse (such as direct rein steering). Some of these are figures (such as the reverse) which are used to practice skills. The list is meant to give you ideas for what to teach.

THE BASICS (order of easiest to hardest will vary per rider)

  1. Mounting and Dismounting
  2. Posture & Balance
  3. Woah
  4. Walk On (b1p26)
  5. Turn (b2p27) – Direct Rein or Neck Rein
  6. Circle on rail (b1p28)
  7. Reverse (b1p28)
  8. Working Walk
  9. Back up (b3p28)
  10. Bending (b4p47)
  11. Arena Spacing, what to do if you’re too close to someone – pass, circle, cut across
  12. Sitting Trot (b1p30)
    1. how to sit the trot
    2. develop a secure seat
    3. walk > trot transition
    4. trot > walk transition
  13. Two Point or Half Seat (b2p30)
    1. why: to develop balance, leg strength, leg control, and prep for posting
    2. 2 point walk
    3. 2 point trot
    4. 2 point trot while counting the beat to prepare for posting
  14. Two Point Steering
    1. 2 point steering through small circles on wall
    2. 2 point steering through figure 8s
    3. 2 point steering around barrels and cones
  15. Posting Trot (b1p31, b2p25)
    1. posting trot
    2. correct diagonals
    3. changing diagonals
    4. change of rein across the diagonal at a posting trot
    5. changing diagonals doing figure 8’s
  16. Rating your horse  (b2p37)
    1. how to slow down
    2. how to speed up (& how to pass another rider)
    3. how to keep an even pace
    4. all the above at the walk, trot, canter
  17. Canter (b2p16)
    1. how to canter (b2p28)
    2. how to be on the correct lead (b2p29)
    3. canter circles
  18. Gait Extensions (can teach before canter)
    1. the extended walk
    2. the extended trot
    3. the extended canter
  19. Smooth Precise Transitions (can teach before canter)
    1. walk, trot, walk
    2. trot, canter, trot
    3. walk, canter, walk
    4. halt to canter
    5. precise transitions exactly at the letter (b3p29)
  20. Bareback Riding (can teach anytime) (b3p44)
    1. how to ride bareback
    2. how to mount bareback

REFINEMENT OF THE RIDER (working toward more perfect posture, more accurate control, clearer and more invisible aids)

  • The Natural Aids
    • rein aids (b3p22)
      • leading rein
      • direct rein
      • indirect rein
      • pulley rein
      • reining
    • leg aids (b3p24)
    • seat aids (b3p25)
    • voice aids (b3p25)
    • coordination of all the aids
    • demonstrate precise, clear and invisible aids
  • Using Artificial Aids (b3p20)
    • spurs
    • crop
    • whip
  • Contact (b3p26)
    • at walk
    • at trot
    • at canter
  • Improve their Seat
    • joints as shock absorbers (b3p28)
    • at sitting trot (b3p29)
    • at canter (b3p30)
  • Canter Lead Identification without looking (b3p30)
  • Precise Schooling Figures (b3p32)
    • circle
    • serpentine
    • figure 8
    • diagonal
  • Controlled Speed
    • Speed at Gymkana patterns

REFINEMENT OF THE HORSE (working on the horse so it listens more closely, becoming unified with the horse)

  • Lightness of Aids (b4p22-23)
  • Coordination of Aid (b4p22-23)
  • Half Halt
  • Suppleness (b4p22-23)
  • Bending (b4p47)
  • Relaxation (b4p22-23)
  • Rhythm and Tempo (b4p22-23)
  • Balance (b4p24-25)
  • Working gaits
  • Extended gaits
  • Collected gaits
  • Conditioning your Horse  (b4p60)


  • Reins (b4p26-27)
  • Collection (b4p28)
  • Head Position (b4p28)
  • Weight Aids (b4p29)
  • Bending and Suppling (b4p30)
  • Leg Aids (b4p31)
  • Lateral Leg Aids (b4p32)
  • Western Reinback (b3p34)
  • Two Tracking (b4p32)
  • Sidepass (b4p32-33)
  • Turn on Forehand (b4p33)
  • Lope > Stop (b4p34)
  • Simple Lead Changes  (b4p36)
  • Flying Lead Changes  (b4p37)
  • Pivots  (b4p38)
  • Rollbacks  (b4p39)
  • Performance Patterns  (b4p40)
  • Speed Event Training  (b4p42)


  • Lengthening and Shortening  (b4p45)
  • Longitudinal Flexion  (b4p46)
  • Lateral Flexion and Bending  (b4p46-47)
  • Half Halts  (b4p47)
  • Simple Lead Change  (b4p48)
  • Flying Lead Change  (b4p49)
  • Leg Yield  (b4p40) – at walk, trot, canter
  • Semi Forehand Turn  (b4p50) – haunches turn in larger circle than forehand’s smaller circle
  • Turn on Forehand  (b4p51)

EVENTS (used to teach skills)

  • Gymkana
    • cloverleaf barrel (b2p34)
    • pole bending (b2p35)
    • other gymkana patterns, etc.
  • Trail Obstacles (b2p36) and (b2p38)
    • mailbox
    • bridge
    • stream
    • logs
    • jump
    • uphill, downhill
    • creeks
    • bridges
    • roads
    • etc.
  • Show Rules (b4p52)
    • how a class goes, what the judge will ask
    • how to reverse – teardrop shape
    • what to do if you’re too close to someone – pass, circle, cut across
    • line up and backing
  • Jumping
    • Jumping Position  (b2p30)
      • 2 point
      • post without stirrups
      • 2 point no stirrups
      • jog over crossrails without stirrups
    • eye control exercises  (b2p31)
    • The Release  (b2p32)
    • Cavalettis and Practice Poles  (b2p32)
    • First Jump, Crossrail  (b2p33)
    • Lines of Fences  (b3p36)
    • Cantering Fences (b3p36)
    • Turns to Fences (b3p36)
    • Jump a Small Course (b3p37)
    • Dealing with Problems, Refusals, Runouts (b3p38)
    • New Typws of Fences (b3p39-41)
    • Gymnastics (b4p53-57)
      • placing pole
      • bounce
      • jumping grid
      • chute without reins or stirrups
      • combinations
      • in and out
      • triple combo
      • two stride combo
    • take off point
      • first learn to see your distance, if will take off too close/far
      • then learn to rate your distance, respond by adjusting stride
    • jump a whole course
    • hunter coursework
    • jumper coursework
    • cross country jumping – natural obstacles, learn to jump downhill/uphill

And those are just the riding skills! There is so much more you can teach about horse care and groundwork, too!


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!

11 thoughts on “What to Teach – Riding Skills List

  1. I did some basic riding as a kid and now as a young adult I am looking at getting some riding lessons. Being an elementary school teacher it was important to me (and my learning) to have a set of competencies or goals of what I want to achieve. This list and your Groundwork and Horsemanship lists are exactly what I was looking for. It gave me a logical list of progressions to work through.

    Thanks for your hard work in developing these. It’s appreciated!

    • Thank you for your comment, I’m so glad you found the list helpful! That’s neat to hear this list is helpful for not just instructors but students as well!

  2. My knowledge of horses extends to the fact that they have four legs; my knowledge of therapeutic riding is even less. However, after seeing this list I have a newfound profound respect for you, Cindy, and your fellow instructors. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and helping others who are in the same boat.

  3. I am a trainer of both English and Western riding. I don’t have therapeutic students, but basics are the same. Love your blog as I am familiar with all you mentioned, but always looking for something new to mix things up. Thanks for a great blog.

    • Hi Cherly, I’m so glad you love the blog and find it helpful for all types of riding lessons! I hope it continues to be a help! Happy Teaching!

  4. I am an older adult beginning rider. I have only been riding about 7 years and only the past three years with good instruction (although the lessons are few and far between because of distance). Things are finally starting to click and I want to put it all together in goals. I have been looking for a list to help me organize my goals for riding dressage. It’s hard to know what you need to know if you don’t know enough about what you need to know about!!! I feel slightly overwhelmed as I think about my fitness goals, my horse’s fitness goals, my skills (such as seat, legs, etc.), my horse’s skills (rhythm, balance, etc.), and finally, how we put it together as a team. This is a big help. THANK YOU!

    • Hi Barb, I’ so glad the list helped you! That is great you are setting goals for yourself, as an instructor so often we are the ones setting goals for our students, and when the student does it themselves…excellent! I wish you all the best in achieving the goals you set! Also, you should check out my post “The Training Wheel” to see where the skills list fits in to all the other things you mentioned!

  5. I ride a style that isn’t mentioned on here, but there are so many things that also apply! I’m doing a project for school on learning to teach, and your blog has been super helpful for me. Obviously the bulk of my learning is coming from shadowing and observing professional instructors, but the school rules say I must have citeable sources, so here I am! Thanks for posting all this helpful stuff!

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