My barn used these groundwork activities for a special group of Big Brothers/Big Sisters they just had in and I thought they were great. The organizer based them off camp games and adapted them to horses. They’re good for incorporating horse skills into teaching life lessons and social skills.
Need: horses, leaders for each horse, spotters, grooming materials (optional: put questions on grooming materials with tape)
- Grooming Demo – Pull a horse out and quickly show the group how to groom a horse using the metal curry, rubber curry, hard brush, soft brush, and hair brush (mane/tail comb)
- Explain the activity – You will break them into pairs, each pair gets assigned to a horse, each horse is in the stall with a leader and spotter. One partners stands on each side of the horse (so they don’t have to be constantly passing from one side to the other). They will be given each grooming tool in order, and each one comes with a “get to know you” question. When you are holding the brush, it is your turn to talk. So the first person to get the brush will answer the question as they groom their side of the horse, then pass the brush to the other person who answers the question as they groom their side.
- Split the group into partners and assign horses – Take them to their horses and introduce the leader and spotter. Explain the leader is in control of the horse so if they ask them to step back so they can adjust the horse, they should listen. Explain the spotter will help facilitate the grooming and questions while you are walking around checking in on everyone. Start the first group off with the first grooming tool and question, then take the second group to their horse and start them off, and so on. Try to have the person who goes first be someone who will give a good answer to the question to set an example for the other, or have your leader or spotter answer first for example.
- Use these questions for each grooming tool:
- metal curry –
- What is your favorite thing to do?
- rubber curry –
- What always makes you laugh?
- hard brush –
- Who do you look up to and why?
- soft brush –
- How have you changed in the past year?
- hair brush –
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why? Is it a good thing to change?
- (additional questions if needed)
- If you could attempt something you couldn’t fail at, what would it be?
- What are some of your weaknesses?
- What are some of your strengths?
- What is the first hing you think people see when they meet you? What do you hope they would see?
- You, leaders and spotters facilitate – ask related questions, try to dig deeper
I love this activity because grooming the horse seemed to make the participants feel comfortable enough to honestly think about and answer the questions. It facilitated bonding with their partner/leader/spotter/horse while teaching grooming skills.
Coordinating Aids (Tacking)
Need: horses, leaders for each horse, spotters, tack
- Tacking Demo – Pull a horse out and quickly show the group how to tack a horse. I just used the saddle pad, saddle, girth, and reins on the halter.
- Explain the activity – You will break them into pairs, each pair gets assigned to a horse, each horse is in the stall with a leader and spotter. The partners will link arms and attempt to tack up the horse just like they saw done, with their arms linked. So choose carefully which arms you want linked based on your strong arms!
- Split the group into partners and assign horses – If you just did the grooming activity, take them back to the same horses. Again explain the leader is in control of the horse so if they ask them to step back so they can adjust the horse, they should listen. Explain the spotter will help facilitate the activity by making sure the tack goes on right so they are learning while they’re at it.
- You, leaders and spotters facilitate while they tack the horse up.
- When they have finished, check the tack and make any corrections.
- Then have them attempt to untack their horse – but this time no speaking!
- Debrief – stand in a circle and ask:
- What made this activity hard? How did you respond?
- What made this activity easy?
- What did you learn from this activity? About yourself? About working with others?
Need: horses with 2 lead ropes attached to each halter (untacked), leaders, spotters
Arena: divide into 3-4 sections with cones (depending on number of participants), obstacles in each section (barrels, rings, hula hoops, beanie babies, balls, etc.)
- Leading Demo – Use one of the horses to explain how to approach, lead, and move around a horse.
- Practice Leading – Put them into partners and match each pairs with a horse. Have them lead from the left, and explain that the leader/helper will be on the right of the horse with the second lead rope attached so they can still control the horse. Have them practice leading around the arena, circle, and reverse. Switch partners and repeat, until you feel they have a good grasp of leading.
- Explain the Activity – Partners will verbally guide their blindfolded teammate and horse across the arena without touching any obstacles. The teammate directing will be one end of the section, and the teammate leading the horse will start at one end of the arena section, blindfolded, with a spotter near them so they don’t run into the horse, and the leader/helper still clipped up on the other side of the horse to help lead if needed.
- Do the activity – Have the teammate leading go to their end, get blindfolded and setup with their leaders and spotters. Place the other teammate at the other end of the section. Begin!
- Repeat multiple times. Switch roles, so everyone gets to lead and direct.
- As they get better, add:
- more obstacles
- moving obstacles (have volunteer move obstacles around as they are trying to walk through the course)
- 3 word max to be used by direction giver
- What worked?
- What didn’t?
- What did you learn?
Include your volunteers:
- Have them give the demos. If you do each activity several times with different groups, it may work best for you to give the first demo so volunteers have the idea for how to do it next time.
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!