What to Teach – Horsemanship and Groundwork Skills

So far all my posts have emphasized riding skills, but there is more you can teach your students off-horse! Today’s post will give you 2 lists: Horsemanship Skills and Groundwork Skills.

Remember that everything must have a purpose. Reasons you may want to teach off-horse skills include:

  • Your student’s long term goal is to graduate from the therapeutic riding program and ride at a public barn, therefore they need to know horse care and groundwork as well as riding.
  • You want to facilitate your student’s bond with the horse through face to face time with the horse.
  • Your student can benefit physically and/or emotionally from being on the ground with the horse (through walking, fine motor coordination, confidence building, etc.).
  • The weather doesn’t allow you to use the horse.

Horsemanship (Horse Care) Skills

The following can be taught with or without a horse.

  • The horse’s senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, sense danger and peoples’ moods.
  • The horse’s instincts – herd animals, pecking order, follow the leader, routine, naturally excitable, courage and laziness, etc..
  • How a horse communicates – body language of ears, legs, tail, head, hindquarters, vocalizing, moving, etc.
  • Types of grooming tools.
  • Types of bridles.
  • Types of bits.
  • Types of saddles.
  • Types of extra equipment such as boots, martingales, pads, etc..
  • Types of riding styles.
  • Parts of the horse.
  • Parts of the bridle. Take one apart and put it back together.
  • Parts of the saddle.
  • Horse colors and markings. Go out to the pasture and have them identify the different ones!
  • Horse feed (show the different kinds, have them help feed the horses).
  • Horse stabling – stalls, pastures, bedding, cleaning, safety, etc.
  • Horse showing (hold a mock show in the arena on foot – it can help to practice on foot before in the saddle).
  • How to do an emergency dismount, perhaps off a low barrel with feet into pillows.
  • A horse’s vital signs.
  • How to tell a horse is not feeling well.
  • Horse first aid.
  • Horse parasites and deworming. Show them how to deworm, even have them help!
  • Horse diseases and prevention.
  • Horse’s teeth care – floating. Have a vet come out and let them watch.
  • How to tell a horse is lame. If a horse turns up lame one day use it as an example.
  • How to tell a horse’s age.
  • How to measure a horse’s height and weight.
  • The gaits of the horse. Put different colored leg wraps on a horse and lunge it to demonstrate the gaits.
  • How to train a horse – pressure and release, reward vs. punishment, consistency, etc.
  • How to handle behavior problems – nipping, biting, kicking, bucking, spooking,etc.
  • Horse shoeing (watch a farrier shoe a horse).

Teaching Horsemanship Without The Horse

You may need to teach off the horse if the day is very hot or the weather is bad. You can teach indoors in a class room or in the barn itself. You can teach straight-forward, simply showing the kids the tools and equipment and reviewing the names, or incorporate teaching into a game or activity.

Teaching Horsemanship With The Horse

It is easy to incorporate horsemanship into horseback riding by creating a game or activity out of the topic you are teaching about. Such as by sticking word for the body part on the horse poster. While doing the activity, the kid also gets the benefits of riding on horseback and can practice the skills they are working on!


  • Riding skill practiced: woah and walk on.
  • Horsemanship skill taught: the grooming tools.
  • Activity: two barrels are set on opposite sides of the arena with a bucket of grooming tools on each. The student will pick a random grooming tool out of the first bucket, the teacher explains the tool’s name and what it is used for (and can give the student time to use it to brush the horse’s neck), then the student leaves the tool on the barrel and rides to the second barrel practicing walk and woah. There the student finds the same tool, gets it off the barrel (practicing balance skills to reach it or practicing social skills to ask for it), and lastly rides back to the first barrel using woah and walk on. Repeat with all the tools. Review at the end.
  • Note: any skill can be taught in this activity – to teach direct rein steering incorporate a few cones to weave in between the barrels, or for posting have them first posting walk between barrels and then progress to posting trot.

Groundwork Skills

The following should be practiced with a horse.

  • How to catch and halter a horse.
  • How to lead a horse – stop, go, turn.
  • How to have control of a horse on the ground when leading and when tied – how to ask to move over, back up, pivot, etc.
  • How to groom a horse.
  • How to saddle a horse.
  • How to bridle a horse.
  • How to lead the horse to the mounting block.
  • How to mount with help / without help / from the block / from the ground / from the off side – for off horse work use a barrel with feet.
  • How to dismount with help / without help / to the off side – for off horse work use a barrel with feet.
  • How to lunge a horse.
  • How to roundpen a horse.
  • How to give a horse a bath.

Teaching Groundwork

I love groundwork because it’s a great opportunity to increase your student’s confidence around the horse and encourage their bond with the horse. Many kids go straight to the horse’s back without getting to know him first, and without understanding how to read a horse. This lack of understanding can cause fear. So incorporating horse handling and behavior knowledge can help build confidence.

Additionally, giving the student time to groom and just be with their horse helps them bond with the horse and offers another aspect of physical and emotional therapy, from working on walking around the horse to becoming comfortable around such a large animal. It is hard to incorporate groundwork into a half hour lesson so this will take some time management, but soon you will figure out the timing. In my experience kids are usually happy to give up part of their riding time to help take care of their friend.


What would you add to the lists above? Do you have any thoughts to add about teaching with and without the horse?


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 – Horsemanship and Groundwork Skills

  1. God informative list of skills…… I often have to cancel lessons due to bad wind or rain, but still want the continuity of student attending. This list of ideas will be helpful at devising lessons for those horrible “non” riding days. I have a barn that could be used for a “mini classroom” or even the Tackroom…. probably warmer too…… Originally, when I had only a smaller group of regular students (20 a week) I use to do “worksheets” to reinforce different ideas…. some required a bit of research and others were of a “fun” activity dealing with horses. I haven’t done that for a while but might be time to try them again. I also provided a folder for each student to keep their papers and if they brought them back for “checking” I gave them lots of positive reinforcement… stickers etc…….don’t know if that idea is useful for you and your students…… Happy Riding! from Nan 🙂

    • Thanks for your input Nan! I love the idea of giving them worksheets and homework, and stickers, to facilitate learning!

  2. *good….. sorry, old fingers…… I now have 38 students on a fortnightly roster…..a few are weekly……. I also use to do a bi-monthly Newsletter with a Handy Hints section and Horsey facts etc and incorporate the students achievements ……just another idea for you, that I might try again!!! To reinforce and continue the learning at home……..

  3. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks
    for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

  4. This is just what i need to help our riding for disabled group improve their skills..some of our more advanced students will really benefit..i hope

  5. I am just beginning to teach lessons and I wanted to focus on broad horsemanship. This is a FANTASTIC article for fundamental ideas!!! Thank you so much!

  6. Love this list!! I have also incorporated Equine Career Awareness….so that riders/participants have the knowledge that they can take their passion further!

  7. In the Ground Work section, I think it would be better described as the “off side” rather than the “wrong side”. It may be unsafe to be on the usual side of the horse ie. uneven terrain. I prefer to have a horse that I can mount or dismount from either side with no problems, balanced on both sides. Thank you for this wonderful information.

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