Hierarchy of Prompts

What is a prompting? Freedictionary.com says:

  1.  To move to act; spur; incite
  2.  To give rise to; inspire
  3.  To assist with a reminder; remind.
  4.  To assist (an actor or reciter) by providing the next words of a forgotten passage; cue.

For the therapeutic horseback riding instructor, prompting is what we do to encourage our students to perform a skill or activity. The end goal is that the student will be able to do it without any prompts, on their own initiative. This happens by starting out with as much prompting as the student needs, and then taking away prompts until none are needed.

The following is the Hierarchy of Prompts from PATH’s Region 5 2012 Handouts page.

  1. Independent Prompt
  2. Gestural Prompt
  3. Indirect Verbal Prompt (hint)
  4. Direct Verbal Prompt (clear directive)
  5. Model (demonstrate)
  6. Minimal Physical Prompt (light physical contact)
  7. Partial Physical Prompt (physical contact to start off then release for the student to complete on their own)
  8. Full Physical Prompt (physical movement is completely molded by the teacher or sidewalker)

For example, the Hierarchy applied to turning right at a cone:

  1. Independent Prompt – the cone indicates where to turn right, student is given no help from instructor
  2. Gestural Prompt – instructor points the direction to go
  3. Indirect Verbal Prompt – “what should we do at the cone? show me how.”)
  4. Direct Verbal Prompt – “turn right at the cone by bringing your right hand to your pocket”
  5. Model – mimic steering your horse right with your hands, have a helper walk in front of the student imitating where to go and what to do with their hands
  6. Minimal Physical Prompt – have the sidewalker tap the student’s right hand
  7. Partial Physical Prompt – have the sidewalker start to bring the student’s hand back to their pocket, but let the student finish the action
  8. Full Physical Prompt – bring the student’s hand to their hip for the turn, then back to normal to release the horse

As the student practices, remember to remove prompts gradually or the student could become dependent on them.

I like to start off with less prompting and work my way up as needed, giving the student a chance to do it on their own before I help, then throwing in a praise at the end. For example: “Reverse your horses, please.” (Student does nothing). “Jan, what should you do to turn your horse around?”  (Student still does nothing). “You bring your left hand back-” (Student bring hand back all the way to pocket). “-yep, all the way back to your pocket! Very nice steering.”

So in short, the order I keep in my head is:

  1. No prompt
  2. Gesture
  3. Verbally hint
  4. Verbally tell
  5. Demonstrate
  6. Tap body part
  7. Move body part for them

Good luck!


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!

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